Editor’s note: This is one of our more popular posts, so we gave it a refresh on February 9, 2021 to keep it fresh and reflect recent developments.
Manufacturers have an exciting opportunity to augment distributor networks with their own digital commerce site. Going direct to consumer (D2C) builds the long-lasting relationships with brands that customers crave. It avoids some problems caused by outside forces like the pandemic. And when done right, it boosts growth: More than half of consumers intend to make a purchase when they visit a manufacturer’s website.
But a D2C ecommerce site is more than just another way to sell products. It increases brand awareness and transforms experiences. Manufacturers can use deep subject-matter expertise to create content that builds credibility, establishes trust, and differentiates the brand experience. A D2C channel also enables experimentation with specific product lines. And it’s less costly than going through distributors.
Going D2C comes with a lot of questions as you shift focus away from a strictly B2B model. You may have limited resources, or you want to carefully navigate around existing distributor relationships. In this article, we’ll show you how to:
- Balance existing distribution streams
- Differentiate your D2C ecommerce site
- Update operations and fulfillment
- Maintain a consistent relationship with consumers
- Define D2C goals and success metrics
Read on for our top tips.
1. Complement existing B2B partnerships
Consider potential channel conflicts and think about ways to minimize them. Communicate your goals and D2C strategy with existing distribution partners ahead of time. It’s a courtesy and opens the door to working together in new ways, from reimagining channel management strategies to creating new partnerships.
In fact, your B2B strategy can fund your D2C site. Consider the following approaches:
- Establish a market development fund
- Create a special product line available for purchase on your site with access to select partners
- Offer certain distributors the exclusive ability to discount from the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP)
- Help partners with the content on your D2C site, such as a store finder or detailed product information that can help consumers make purchase decisions while in the store
2. Differentiate with a customer-centric, brand-first approach
Content and experiences bring consumers closer to your brand. Everything that you do should support the consumer journey, from discovery through loyalty, with regular, personalized engagements that resonate. Consider your D2C channel as your hub. Fill it with detailed product histories, descriptions, and how-to videos.
3. Update your operations and fulfillment to accommodate D2C sales
Ensure customers have a great experience when they make a purchase on your D2C site. Outsource parts of the supply chain to handle individual shipments and consumer inquiries. Or, update your existing infrastructure and operations to handle individual orders by working with third-party fulfillment partners. You may also strengthen your relationships with shipping carriers to get a discount on shipping rates to offset the high cost of last-mile delivery.
4. Deepen relationships with continued engagement
The best experience consumers have anywhere is what they expect everywhere. In fact, 53% of respondents say whether you trust the company that owns the brand or brand that makes the product is the second most important factor when purchasing a new brand. Engage them with messaging and experiences — from content to service interactions — that ensure satisfaction, across every channel.
Innovate continuously so your engagements better meet consumer and market needs.
- Content: Deliver a steady stream of high-quality content on your site, social, email, and SMS channels. Mix product imagery with content that positions your brand as a trusted authority, such as tutorials and how-to videos.
- Customer service: Empower consumers with self-service. They can find answers to common questions with a simple FAQ page and resolve more cases faster with chatbots. If a case is too complicated, the bot can seamlessly escalate it to an agent for additional support.
- Personalization: Let artificial intelligence (AI) personalize ecommerce experiences at scale. AI identifies the nuances and behaviors of each consumer and shows them relevant content that increases the chance they make a purchase.
5. Develop a clear vision with key performance indicators (KPIs)
D2C is an investment in technology, resources, and time. Clear KPIs (beyond sales targets) like repeat purchase, loyalty, and consumer satisfaction should match your company’s overarching goals.
Chart a path forward by taking a crawl-walk-run approach. Go slow and be judicious. What can you do to develop a D2C strategy over time? Start small with limited products (which helps you to avoid channel conflict early on) and think about softer goals or strategic initiatives and metrics. For example, it’s not only about marketing and transactional needs — it’s also about fulfillment. Your new services can expand over time to include fieldwork and technicians.
This is your chance to establish the relationship with your brand that consumers want. Are you ready to go D2C? Dive deeper into the steps you need to take to bring your brand and consumers together.