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Cristina Dinozo
Senior Director of Marketing Communication @ Yotpo
January 2nd, 2019

6 Ways Direct-to-Consumer Brands Are Making Old School Cool Again

Sometimes innovation requires some inspiration from the past…

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This past year, we’ve seen direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands explode into our collective consciousness, social media feeds, subway ads, mailboxes, and doorsteps in a very real way. So much so that a recent survey conducted by YouGov found that 8 out of 10 consumers are planning to buy at least one product from a D2C brand in the coming years.

The fascination makes sense. These new-wave disruptors are completely changing how we shop and how we experience brands and products. But as bright, shiny, and new everything might seem, part of the magic is that they’re also taking old — practically dead — conventions, and leveraging them as a way to connect, surprise, and delight.

Here’s how D2C brands are reviving old school industry tactics:

1) The brick and mortar store

Digitally native brands are projected to open 850 physical stores over the next five years. A couple of noteworthy examples include:

Beauty brand Winky Lux is pioneering an Instagram-ready, barely retail experience, and they’re thinking strategically about their pop-up shop locations. After New York City, they set up shop in Atlanta, where they discovered an underserved community of makeup lovers. Beauty fans from the city and beyond are enthusiastically flocking to the Winky Lux Experience, where 85% of visitors are buying products, and 82% of those purchasers are providing their email, making offline a massive acquisition channel for the budding brand.

By now a grandfather of D2C, sleep company Casper goes beyond their offline stores with The Dreamery, a nap center in New York City. In addition to experiencing what it’s like to sleep on a Casper mattress, visitors are treated to pyjamas, toothbrushes, free premium skincare products, and “sleep audio” provided by other brands: Sleepy Jones, Hello, Sunday Riley, and Headspace, respectively. This type of experiential collaboration between brands is happening more and more; something to keep an eye on in 2019.

2) The salesperson

More than 8,500 stores are predicted to shutter by the end of this year, and many of them won’t be missed. Department store experiences with sub-par service have become the norm, but D2C brands are seeking to change that.

Walmart-owned Bonobos offers consultative, one-on-one service in their stores. Even better, they serve free craft beer (at least at their Manhattan location). Meanwhile, women’s workwear brand MM.LaFleur stretches that high-touch sales approach to digital channels. They send personalized emails to customers, offering curated clothing options based on their quiz-generated profiles and previous purchases. On their site you can chat with sales reps about sizing or styling.

3) The layaway

Visit a KMart and you might find a service window with a sign above it saying “Layaway.” In the past, there might have been a stigma associated with the practice. But nowadays, younger Millennials who are horrified by how much credit card debt older Millennials and Gen Xers are facing are either opting to pay in cash or embracing installment payments via companies like QuadPay, Bread, and Affirm. Sure, it helps to break down payments for bigger-ticket items (like furniture for a first apartment out of college), but shoppers are paying in installments for cheaper items too, given that two-thirds of Millennials refuse to sign up for a credit card.

4) The gift-with-purchase

Decades later, the advertised free gift-with-purchase for buying makeup or perfume from a beauty counter has become entirely too predictable: a makeup case, a tote bag, a cosmetics set, another cosmetics set…. It’s a relief to see D2C brands begin to approach the gift-with-purchase with some creativity. Home lifestyle company Brooklinen sends along a special laundry detergent with their bedding, and beverage delivery service Drizly cheekily adds Pedialyte to some alcohol orders.

On the digital track, Forbes Next Billion Dollar Startup ThirdLove recently launched a loyalty program that automatically adds free products to the shopping cart based on a customer’s VIP tier. It would be amazing to see that kind of personalization happen with offline rewards.

5) The handwritten note

The handwritten note is making a comeback as brands take a much more personal approach to customer engagement. Whether it’s Glossier including a detailed letter about new products on company letterhead, or the completely individualized note with every order from John Lee Cronin, the co-founder of John’s Crazy Socks, every eCommerce unboxing experience can turn into a special occasion. This hot trend has led to the launch of Bond, a startup that automates “handwritten” notes at scale.

6) Magazines

Despite continuing turmoil in the print industry, magazines are seeing something of a revival. Adding to Airbnb and even Facebook, D2C brands are now dipping their toes into print. One standout example is Here, which Away Travel includes with their popular suitcases. Casper partnered with McSweeney to produce Woolly. HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines, who sell home goods online via a Shopify eCommerce store, have launched a magazine called Magnolia Journal. Published by Meredith, the magazine is a runaway success that sells for $7.99 on newsstands or $20 for an annual subscription. When an annual subscription to Vogue sells for half that amount, it’s clear that the power of a brand that prioritizes direct-to-consumer commerce is undeniable.

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