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Discovery in the Age of D2C

Modern brands need to ensure shoppers find the most relevant products at the right time. In this lesson, learn how to create a discovery path that leads to purchase.

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Chapter 2
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Bridget Fahrland
astound logo Bridget Fahrland
Head of Digital Strategy at Astound Commerce

In this lesson, learn how to create a discovery path that leads to purchase.

Creating a Buzz

Discovery today is a social experience. Most of us learn about new products on Facebook or Instagram, from people we follow or from ads. With the heavy competition facing up-and-coming brands, choosing the right platform is critical for cutting through the noise in the eCommerce space.

I think that despite some of the bumps it’s faced this year, Facebook advertising is still hugely important for digitally native brands. It allows for granularity that can be tough to get elsewhere, and that’s worth the cost when you’re acquiring your early customers. Another interesting channel for DNVBs is Kickstarter. There are a lot of companies that have already developed their product, and then they put it on Kickstarter for pre-order mostly to generate buzz.

The other piece for creating excitement around your product is the format of your ads. I think what’s been most successful is short videos — 10-25 seconds — that autoplay. These videos should show you a little bit about the product while blending in social proof by featuring real people using it.

A Deeper Discovery Experience

Direct-to-consumer brands that are just starting out tend to have fewer products — you might even have just one single product. To create a powerful discovery experience, you need to make that one product a Tesla. You just take that one item — even if it’s a $5-dollar razor — and make it feel like the most special thing in the world. Go as deep as you can into why it’s the best product in its category, and then bring in the social proof. There are so many opportunities for engaging content here that brands with hundreds of SKUs just don’t have.

We’re so often saying to bigger brands, “Let’s curate your stuff down to a smaller set of products for discovery because it becomes a curse of choice.” So when you have fewer products, you have the natural opportunity to create a curated package.

Even if your single product isn’t the most visually appealing — maybe it’s protein powder or soap — there’s a lot you can do here. We’ve worked with vitamin brands that showcase images of the actual ingredients in the product, because they’re much more beautiful than the package. You can even use iconography to talk about the benefits of the product.

I think one of the biggest missed opportunities when it comes to discovery is using snackable content sprinkled throughout your site. You need to invest in collecting and producing that content the same way you would invest in making your physical store look nice, folding merchandise every day, etc. The more content-rich and robust your product pages are, the more deeply invested shoppers will get.

Introducing Guided Shopping as You Scale

As more D2C brands grow up, we’re seeing a trend towards expanding product lines. So for these bigger brands, the deep discovery route might not be as feasible across all products. When you have more SKUs, in addition to curating groups of products, you should also use an interactive guided selling approach.

This approach means asking shoppers about their needs and recommending products based on their answers. You can do this through a questionnaire, a quiz, or even through live chat. A beauty brand might ask about skin challenges, for example, and then recommend a dry skin line to the right customer right away.

Another way to do this is by creating targeted discovery experiences on your product pages. In many ways, product pages are becoming the new homepage. You have to build out a product page with modules that include reviews, introduce shoppers to the wider product category, and cross-sell related products.

There’s also an opportunity here for customizable products. We’ve noticed that when our clients have a module highlighting their customized products on their homepage and product pages, as well as making customization its own section in the navigation, they get much more traffic actually using it. Also, when you include galleries from people who’ve already customized, there’s a much higher conversion rate because people don’t have to start from nothing; they have inspiration to work from.

The next step here is personalizing not just product recommendations and customizations, but also personalizing the content and the overall experience. If you use a more modular design, a shopper would come to your outdoor goods site, for example, and if they’re an avid kayaker, when they land, they’re going to get a different set of targeted products, promotions, and content than someone who’s a rock climber.

The challenge with this type of personalization is getting your head around how to segment your customers and getting that critical information from them. You can do this by looking at their past visits and purchases, of course, but also by asking them. They don’t have to fill out a long survey, just ask them a quick question every time they visit. When I visit REI’s site, they ask, “What was your last outdoor activity?” or “Which do you like better, water sports or hiking?” It’s kind of like slowly building a customer profile over time.

Using ‘AI-Powered Humanity’ to Get Ahead

Brands that are able to combine their data with their in-house talent are in a unique position to get ahead when it comes to showing customers the products they want to buy. If you look at Stitch Fix, which has built their business model on data science, they’re not just creating computer-designed clothing based on what shoppers keep and return — real people are also looking at it, making sure it’s aesthetically pleasing and attractive.

I call that “AI-powered humanity,” where real people have the final say of what looks good or what you’ll recommend, but using AI behind the scenes empowers that customer service team, sales associate, or product designer to make the best possible choices.

On your site, you can better equip customer support or live chat personnel to answer customer questions and recommend products when they have this kind of data to work with. They can become experts rather than just support agents. In a physical store, you would leverage your sales staff, so you should use the opportunity to leverage that expertise online.


  • Dive deep. Use robust product pages to give shoppers as much information as possible about your products.
  • Guide your shoppers. Use interactive personalization tactics to ensure you’re sending shoppers to the most relevant products for them.
  • Empower your staff with data. Combine data about your shoppers with the knowledge your sales, service, and product staff already have to spur product development and improve on-site discovery.