The last couple of years brought a crop of first-generation websites from manufacturers going direct to consumer. After some initial hesitancy, big names in apparel, electronics, footwear, and cosmetics launched branded sites that were fairly basic compared to their retail predecessors (and anxious channel partners). During their short online evolution, these brands have narrowed in on how their eCommerce site fits in to their overall company strategy – and are seeing great results.
In recent conversations with brand manufacturers, there are consistent themes across verticals when it comes to direct-to-consumer eCommerce:
Brands are looking back with some relief that direct to consumer eCommerce is paying off across channels, and are energized to figure out how the next rev of their site can drive more results company-wide. Even luxury brands (the last eCommerce holdouts) are realizing the opportunity, with Chanel, Tom Ford and Fendi announcing that they are going transactional this year.
So where should brands focus their next-generation eCommerce sites?
1. Remember the role of the site in the overall business
The site should serve as the brand’s authentic voice, with the goal to get consumers to fall in love with the brand experience and it’s products. Brands selling online are realizing the nuances of research, shopping, and ongoing engagement. Those having the most success understand that the site must cater to various goals, and that shoppers may choose to purchase their products anywhere.
2. Unite storytelling and selling
Creating a destination site where visitors can research, buy, or engage with the brand is all about unifying content and commerce to support sales in all channels.
The site must be optimized for the most common task: consuming content. The ability to purchase products should be woven in to editorial content. Investing in product content will inspire shoppers to make informed purchases in any channel. Cultivating amazing product content like glossy images, videos, downloads, and optimizing site content for scannability should be a core focus of the site.
One of the greatest benefits of a branded site is the direct relationship the manufacturer gets with end users. Brands must include social elements to engage consumers in active dialogue, allowing shoppers to serve as an advocate loving their products. Burberry does this incredibly well. Email and social marketing are other major areas of investment, channeling users to the website as the hub of activity. Mining the data social and marketing brings will improve experiences on-site and company-wide.
3. Elements of exclusivity.
Why would a consumer come to a branded website versus shopping with a retailer? There needs to be a draw – whether that’s amazing content, exclusive products, or interactivity.
Where’s the only place you can design your own custom Jordans? Nike has figured out how to create an online experience that attracts loyal brand advocates with unique experiences and exclusive products.
Personally, I go to branded sites to see the full range of product, whether it’s jeans or car seats. A manufacturer’s eCommerce site is usually the only place to research and purchase from the entire product line (versus a subset of SKUs in retail).
Selling products on a branded site that are not sold in retail helps to alleviate channel competition, and also serves as a platform to test new products, sell limited edition goods, and reduce inventory with special sales.
4. Simplify buying anywhere
No matter when and how they want to buy, invest in features that make it seamless for shoppers.
Direct to consumer eCommerce will continue to be a disruptive force. Consumers increasingly want to know who’s behind the products they’re buying. Meanwhile, brands need to band together with their channel partners to create stellar customer experiences that drive positive company-wide results. Brands who come out on top will make it incredibly easy (and enjoyable) for consumers to get to know them and buy their products.