By Laura Lough, Fulfilment & Logistics Partnership Director at Digital River
As restrictions lift and a sense of normality resumes for consumers, it has become apparent that the commerce landscape is, in fact, changed forever. Merchants who had to deal with mandated closings are still navigating various restrictions brought on by the pandemic. On top of that, supply chain issues exacerbated by a shortage of lorry driver have presented yet another challenge for brands to contend with.
Through it all, shoppers have proven themselves to be resilient and willing to try new things, so much so, ecommerce has advanced much faster than anyone could have imagined pre-pandemic. Brands looking to build business continuity during times of disruption, be it geo-political concerns, changing regulations or technological innovation, can take advantage of this new reality by focusing on their digital strategy.
A direct-to-consumer (D2C) channel can be a key part of that digital portfolio, even for B2B brands where buyers are increasingly demanding a more consumer-like experience. While shifting to D2C may mean brands have to pivot their channel strategy, it comes with significant long-term benefits and opportunities for retailers:
Command your own brand
A strong D2C channel allows brands to control their own destiny and navigate through challenges that could negatively impact business operations, including a pandemic that shut down physical locations. By selling directly online to the consumer, brands have the opportunity to get it right, for themselves as well as their customer. While online marketplaces can be useful strategies, priorities don’t always align with your business needs. Amazon provides one example. When the world was at the crux of the pandemic, Amazon prioritised essential goods over nonessential shipping. Brands that fell within the latter remit faced grave delays, and it was completely out of their control.
A well-built D2C channel puts brands in the driver’s seat, giving customers value with personalised communications and incentives, while merchants retain control over the buying experience as well as customer service. When done right this helps build a consistently strong brand image and customer loyalty.
Put your customers at ease
A key aspect of creating and implementing an effective D2C strategy requires you to understand your customers and how to reach them. One of the strongest values of a D2C channel is the access to customer data it provides. That data reveals valuable insight into customer behaviour, what they are looking for and even pricing. Savvy brands can utilise this to tailor experience, improve customer interaction and increase revenue. Understanding what drives conversions can help brands establish an emotional connection with users, nurture those relationships and ultimately build customer loyalty.
When the time comes to expand your direct channel into new markets, it’s important to localise the content, from the language you use on your website, to culturally appropriate payment methods and fulfilment expectations. If you aren’t presenting your customers with a familiar and comfortable experience online, they might look elsewhere.
Leave the back-office to the experts
Channel conflict can be a concern for many business leaders today, but by using data gathered across all sales channels and a pricing strategy for your D2C ecommerce on the same level as your retail partners, brands can resolve these concerns. Still, many brands have found themselves at a standstill, unsure how to implement a successful digital strategy in the face of complex global markets. It’s a good idea to partner with companies specialising in various aspects of ecommerce, rather than trying to do everything yourself, which can create inefficiencies, add to your cost and slow down your speed to market.
Back-office processes including compliance, payment processing and taxes require expert teams. Building those teams in-house can be a huge investment, and risky if you don’t get it right. Consider a partner who can focus on those elements of your ecommerce channel, helping you scale your business while you focus on the customer experience and marketing your product.
Never neglect fulfilment
Source the right partners that work for you to ensure the fulfilment process is smooth from the minute the customer has paid for their goods or services right through to delivery. The final mile of delivery is one of the most meaningful interactions shoppers will have with your brand and mustn’t be underestimated. It’s also one of the hardest things to get right, especially in this current climate.
Brands continue fine-tuning their strategy on cross border commerce, including returns, replacement, and taxation. Efforts to minimise the impact to shoppers following Brexit and other global regulation changes will continue for the foreseeable future. Customers are looking for transparency when it comes to shipping and delivery even as they demand the fastest service solution. If delays are anticipated, it is critical to keep your customer updated. Loyalty and repeat business are generated by brands offering the best communication and service.
Sustainability and factors that relate to the health of the planet must also be considered by brands looking to satisfy shoppers’ demands. Sustainable order fulfilment means consciously reducing not only the impact of your labelling and packaging but also looking at ways to make the journey greener in terms of delivery. Consciously working to reduce the impact of supply chain on the world is a worthy investment that can drive customer loyalty.
Be one step ahead
When we first entered lockdown last year and the high streets were empty, an enormous, unanticipated challenge was presented to retailers- those without an ecommerce strategy found themselves behind the curve and are now playing catchup. Channel conflict has become irrelevant as merchants focus on survival and meeting shoppers wherever they want to shop. With huge disruptions to supply chains and the future seeming uncertain for brands, it has never been more important for brands to cultivate strategic partnerships and flexible strategies. By carefully considering a D2C strategy, brands are much more able to meet customers’ ever-changing needs and maintain control over their own products, minimising risk.