Four Rules for Starting an Online Retail Business in 2019

While the direct-to-consumer market may feel like it is dominated by a few industry giants – companies like Amazon, Rakuten in Japan, and others – savvy entrepreneurs know the landscape is teeming with many. opportunities. In fact, if you have the right product for one of the many untapped markets, you can thrive in a world where tech giants cast long shadows.

The direct-to-consumer space, for example, is full of businesses catering to the needs of customers who can’t find the products, quality, or experiences they’re looking for on larger platforms. Not only are they creating more nimble and innovative brands, but many also have entire product categories – Mr Gemi, Warby Parker and Casper, for example.

There are a number of reasons beyond just being smaller and more agile as to why this is happening. Direct-to-consumer businesses can build more personal relationships with customers, have more access to consumer feedback that allows hyper-personalization of products and total control over the brand’s experience. But for many direct-to-consumer businesses, this can be a challenge. The e-commerce experience has created expectations of instant gratification throughout the buyer’s lifecycle, from online “cart” to returns.

Working closely with the direct-to-consumer brands at Returnly, I’d like to share what I’ve learned not only to navigate this playground, but also to delight buyers and build brand loyalty. Here’s how:

Invest in data-driven small batch production.

An agile, small-batch approach to producing products at an early stage has benefited many startups launching a direct-to-consumer brand. Leveraging these products as prestigious, exclusive or unique has benefited brands such as Away, with its “Perfect Suitcase” and Satva, manufacturers of “luxury” mattresses.

This approach becomes ideal for brands looking to disrupt a market when combined with a hyper-personalized product iteration that is informed by customer data and feedback.

A direct-to-consumer brand that we’ve worked with at Returnly that does well is a Brooklyn-based sneaker supplier. After launching its first two products, the brand sold out of stock in just 90 days. By focusing on the direct feedback loop with customers and early adopters, she was able to react quickly to the size and styles needed to hyper-personalize her catalog.

Establish direct relationships with customers.

By taking the more personal, customer-centric approach a step further, businesses that build an emotional brand story can build deeper connections with consumers. More and more, I’m seeing direct-to-consumer businesses focusing on storytelling in ways that brands couldn’t even imagine a decade ago. Now you can explain a reason behind each product, why specific choices were made with materials, where it was built and, more interestingly, why.

Direct-to-consumer brands Brighter, outward voices (a Returnly customer) do a fantastic job with personalized experiences for their consumers. Not only do they eliminate the middleman – and additional cost savings – they instill in consumers a sense of being part of a larger community through personalized ratings and local meetups.

These brands prove the importance of offline engagement and community amplification through social and digital media. This is especially vital in our current retail climate where customers often cannot see the products they are purchasing in person. Having a network of satisfied customers ensures that potential consumers know there is no risk in purchasing the product – with free shipping and hassle-free returns as a bonus.

Respond to the request for instant gratification, including after purchase.

Once the cart is converted, the buyer’s journey – and, more importantly, their relationship with the brand – is just beginning. As mentioned above, building a community around the brand is one way to do this; Plus, providing consumers with similar or better experiences is another tactic less agile businesses can’t match.

Some of the most successful direct-to-consumer brands harness an array of technologies to deliver a post-purchase experience that goes beyond a standard transaction for instant gratification and hyper-personalized return experiences. Zappos led the way with its well-known customer-centric approach to returns, and we’re now seeing many direct-to-consumer brands doing the same as customers seek our help to streamline the returns process.

Invest in marketing in a much smarter and deeper way.

There are so many mistakes that can be made in online marketing today. If not approached in the right way, marketing can become the death of growth-seeking direct-to-consumer brands.

Diversifying channels is key to finding new ways to reach your customer. Beyond investing money in Facebook marketing, there are other paid digital opportunities – building community using Instagram, for example – that are more profitable ways to attract potential customers. .

Creative pop-ups, if executed well, can be another way to outsmart the powers of the incumbent e-commerce. Take for example a 2017 Pop-up Mr. Gemi using a vintage ice cream truck. Not only can these real-world experiences be a great way to leverage customer feedback to ultimately increase sales and reduce overall returns, but they’re also great ways to test, learn, and evolve your approach. marketing.

At first, launching an e-commerce brand can feel like you’re jumping off a cliff without a parachute. The key is that you have to believe in the brand to attract others as well.

These steps do not constitute a comprehensive roadmap for direct success with consumers. However, these are the best practices and traits we’ve seen in those who have been able to break into an untapped market and find loyal customers that cannot be reached without the agile approach that retail behemoths cannot match.

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Anne G. Cash

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