The Direct-To-Consumer Experience Relies On A Great Product Experience

Richard Howells

In case the stories of closing malls and empty storefronts haven’t caught your attention, shopping has changed. With an ever-growing focus on customer experience, old models upend the established process, bringing consumers and companies together like never before. Think Warby Parker, Casper Mattresses, the list goes on. These are hugely profitable businesses that have cut out the retailer completely.

Clearly, there is money to be made. In fact, former Google executive Tim Armstrong recently launched a new company to bring products and experiences directly to consumers. His new venture, the dtx company, will invest in direct-to-consumer product companies with a goal to “empower consumers and companies to build direct relationships.”

What is direct to consumer?

Direct-to-consumer (or D2C) companies manufacture and deliver their products directly to buyers and totally cut out the middlemen and retailers. This can reduce the total supply chain costs, which can then be passed on to the consumer. D2C companies can still have an omnichannel strategy, from selling online and shipping directly to consumers, to opening pop-up shops in areas that are showing the most demand or interest via social media or actual sales.

D2C success stories from A to Z

The direct-to-consumer model is not new, but it is very lucrative.

According to Diffusion’s 2018 Direct-to-Consumer Purchase Intent Index, one in three U.S. consumers plans to do at least 40% of their shopping from D2C companies in the next five years.

And there are many great success stories for the D2C model:

  • Allbirds built a brand around “non-branding” and focusing on the design of the shoe, with shape, look, and feel being the key elements. In October 2018, the company had an estimated valuation of US$1.4 billion.
  • Barkbox realized “man’s best friend is his dog” and caters for them with a monthly subscription for a box of goodies and samples.
  • Bonobos showed who wears the trousers, initially designing a single style of superior pants that focused on a few key elements. Men do not like to shop and the pants usually don’t fit. The company was acquired by Walmart for $310 million in 2017.
  • Casper made its own bed by delivering affordable mattresses by limiting choice – and generated $100 million.
  • Chubbies literally shorted the target market of “bros” (men from 18-34) who wear shorts and generates $23 billion annually.
  • Dollar Shave Club shaved money from its competitors by offering “shaving as a subscription” promoted by memorable viral video campaigns. The company was purchased by Unilever for $1 billion in 2017.
  • Harry’s also took a cut into the razor industry and built up a customer base of over 1 million in two years through the design of “one great razor and cheap refill blades.”
  • Hubble set its sights on the $12 billion global contact lenses market with a subscription-based offering to an increasingly growing and captive market. In 2018, Colgate Palmolive invested in the company.
  • Warby Parker had a clear vision for the prescription glasses and sunglasses market with try-before-you-buy, either at home or now via augmented reality on your iPhone.
  • Zappos realized you don’t need to use your feet to buy shoes; you can also do it from the comfort of your own home. In 2009, Amazon bought Zappos for a reported $900 million.

Don’t be stuck in the middle – evolve or die

At the end of the day, D2C is here to stay. To paraphrase Charles Darwin, “It’s not the strongest of companies that survive, but the ones that are most responsive to change.”

D2C is not only good for the consumers who are demanding a better experience on their own terms.

It is also good for the manufacturer that is looking for an opportunity to build a brand relationship with customers. Having this relationship enables them to collect more customer data and, as a result, have a much better understanding of how to design, manufacture, and deliver exactly what they want.

Drilling down into customer experience

However, selling directly to customers doesn’t necessarily translate to a better customer experience. There is no point delighting the customer with the initial sales and marketing experience if you don’t have the necessary insights, processes, and culture in place to deliver on that promise.

For example, if you are thinking of moving from selling, let’s say a drill, to delivering a service based on hours of usage, you must rethink your business processes from the design of the product or asset, all the way through to how it is used and operated by the customer. You also want to know that it is performing well, as everybody loses if it breaks down. The customer is unhappy (bad customer experience) and you don’t get paid. So, the drill must be designed with IoT sensors that not only track usage but also can sense when the drill is going out of calibration so that you can send a replacement or a service technician to fix it before it breaks down (great customer experience).

When you look at all the examples of successful D2C companies, from A(llbirds) to Z(appos), they all have one thing in common. To keep customers coming back for more, a great customer experience is directly linked to a great product experience. And a smart supply chain helps make that dream come true.

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Join an interactive session featuring me, Jeff Hojlo, Program Director of Product Innovation Strategies at IDC, and Hans Thalbauer, Senior Vice President of Digital Supply Chain and Industry 4.0 at SAP, to get inspired by how best-in-class companies are reinventing their supply chain. Register here.


About Richard Howells

Richard Howells is a Vice President at SAP responsible for the positioning, messaging, AR , PR and go-to market activities for the SAP Supply Chain solutions.