Why read this? : We look at how to improve the Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) experience for your customers. Learn how to sharpen your thinking with insights, competitive strategy and positioning. And then learn how to turn those thoughts into customer-facing marketing activities and systems. Read this for ideas on how to make your D2C experience better.
Your store website supports that experience by acting as a :-
Most ways to improve the D2C experience for customers link to one of these 3 areas. In this article, we’ve broken down these larger topics into smaller chunks to make them easier to work through :-
- Refine your insight.
- Define your competitive strategy.
- Clarify your e-Commerce positioning.
- Drive traffic with your digital media.
- Drive conversion on the store website.
- Build advocacy with CRM and customer service.
Refine your insight
Make it relevant for your target audience
You also look for insight ideas from other parts of your business. From the sales team for example. The brand team. Your customer service team.
You can also look at what works in D2C for other markets and other businesses. (See our e-Commerce insights article for more on this).
Ideas are everywhere if you know where to look.
You then test these ideas with customers. This helps you work out what’s needed to improve different parts of your D2C experience.
You can help stimulate ideas by creating a customer segment profile for your ideal shopper. This is a description of what that shopper looks like. How they think. What drives their decisions.
You use this to come up with ideas about how to improve the D2C experience you offer them.
It helps you identify functional needs the D2C experience needs to meet. For example, the transaction needs to go smoothly. An easy to use website. Clear product page information. Reliable payment and delivery systems.
But most D2C sites do those things. It’s hard to make your D2C experience stand out in those areas.
So you also look to engage the shopper at an emotional level. You want them to feel good about shopping on your store. This often links to how you bring your brand identity to life. Customers connect with your brand, its purpose and value. You use these in D2C to connect with customers and stand out from competitors.
Define your competitive strategy
E-Commerce is competitive. It’s estimated there are over 12 million e-Commerce stores online. And more appear every day.
The reason they’re fast though, is because they work on standardised templates.
And as everyone uses the same template, it’s harder for you to stand out.
With a cost leadership approach, your focus is on the financials.
In simple terms, you keep costs low to offer customers the best value on price.
It’s easy for customers to understand. And there are always customers in every category who choose based on value.
If that’s your strategy, it means you highlight this good value at every stage of the D2C experience. You reinforce it in the customer’s mind.
You can even extend this into a price guarantee like Bunnings do in this example. They guarantee to beat competitor prices by 10% if their listed price is lower. That’s driven by cost leadership.
It’s a good example of a competitive strategy and D2C experience driven by price and cost.
With a differentiation strategy, you prioritise something other than price.
You highlight that element so customers associate it with you more than your competitors.
It could be the quality of your products. The high level of customer service.
You look for a benefit that’s relevant to shoppers which you can deliver better than competitors can. You then showcase that benefit to make yourself stand out.
They differentiate by offering speedy delivery across Sydney. In some cases, they can deliver in 30 minutes. That’s much faster than bigger players like Dan Murphy’s.
But that offer means they have to make trade-offs. So, the delivery cost will be higher for example. And they can’t offer the same range.
Differentiation is about being known for one thing. To achieve that, you have to be comfortable sacrificing performance in other areas.
Focus is the final competitive strategy option. Here, you offer something unique. Something customers can only get from you. It often means you have less customers as you focus on a niche need. But those customers will be very loyal. Because only you can meet their need.
It often comes from how you make or do something, rather than how you sell it. A unique ingredient for example. Or a unique manufacturing process.
A good example is UGG Australia.
What makes their D2C experience unique isn’t how they sell. It’s what they sell.
They’re the only place you can buy 100% made in Australia UGG boots. They run the only sheepskin footwear tannery in Australia.
This point of difference is highlighted at all stages of their D2C experience.
Clarify your e-Commerce positioning
Your competitive strategy sets the broad direction for your D2C experience. But it’s your positioning which helps you define how you’ll specifically stand out for customers.
It’s a short statement which covers your :-
It usually looks something like this, where you fill in the blanks :-
To (Target Audience), (your brand) is the (frame of reference) that (benefit) because (Reason Why and Reason to Believe).
Our e-Commerce positioning article covers this in lots of detail (as well as how to do a positioning map). But in short, you’d use it refine your D2C experience by deciding on these key areas :-
- Target audience – which customer segment you focus on.
- Frame of reference – how you define the category you sell in.
- Benefit – what you offer customers which makes them want to buy from you.
- Reason why and reason to believe – The proof behind your benefit.
Drive traffic with your digital media
Your first D2C marketing activity is getting shoppers to visit your site. To do that, they need to know you exist. And how to find you.
That’s the job of digital media.
This is usually the customer’s first experience of your store. That’s important because it’s an entry point into your D2C experience (see our design psychology article for more on entry points).
It sets the tone and expectation for every part of the experience which follows.
The message in your digital media needs to bring your competitive strategy and positioning to life. You use images, words and a clear call to action to show customers what D2C experience to expect from your store.
You highlight your point of difference – price, range, service – and your brand identity in your digital media. That drives the call to action to visit the store. And it’s what’s in a customer’s mind when they first land on your site.
Digital advertising to drive awareness
Digital advertising works because it builds awareness of your store. It’s an important early part of the brand choice funnel.
It puts your store and its key message in front of your target audience.
The more often they see that message, the more likely they’ll remember it. And the more likely they’ll eventually be curious enough to visit.
Of course, not every advert placement drives a visit. Click Through Rates are typically low, at around 1% to 2% (see our D2C freaking out accountants article for more on this).
But drive enough impressions with the right customers, and they’ll eventually visit when the time’s right.
A customer’s visit to your store is a sign they’ve moved from awareness to consideration. They’re considering buying from you.
Social media content to drive consideration
You create longer-form and more interactive content to connect with customers.
You can be more entertaining or educational. Something which will benefit the customer.
One of our favourite examples is the US kitchen equipment business Blendtec.
They show off their blender with videos showing everyday objects being put into the blender. Iphones. Camcorders. Transformers toys.
Since the campaign first launched back in 2007, it’s racked up over 292 million views on YouTube. It’s clever, because it doesn’t feel like an advert. It uses entertaining and educational content to drive consideration.
Search to drive clicks
If customers don’t click on your adverts or social media content, the other way they find their way to your site is through search.
For example, they search when they run out of what they’re using now. Or a product breaks. Or it goes out of date. Sometimes they search because a special occasion triggers them to think about buying.
They may remember your advertising and content and search on you directly. Or they search on more category related terms.
SEO D2C example
If you sell unique products, it’s a little easier. You focus your D2C SEO work on buying search terms related to those products.
But if your products are similar to other sellers, search is harder.
Look at channels like marketplaces and Print on Demand for example. You may well be selling the same basic product as many other stores. You need to work out what makes you different so you stand out in search.
The materials, the country of origin, and the sizes. All the information you’d see on every online store website.
But what’s different about these T-shirts are the designs. So to boost the SEO and make our shop stand out, we got the designer of the T-shirts to talk through how they came up with the idea. And we used that as extra content for the SEO product description.
It includes a good amount of links. And it takes the description over 300 words which helps from a technical search point of view. (Google tends to ignore pages with less than 300 words). And it adds a point of difference beyond the basic physical description of the T-shirt.
The design notes make the description more unique and relevant for the customer. They’re relevant to our brand identity as they show how we think and how we work.
Drive conversion on the store website
Once a customer visits your store, your next challenge is to persuade them to buy. To convert them to be a buyer, not a browser on your store.
The challenge is not all visitors will be the same. Your store has to be flexible enough to handle different types of shopper needs. It needs to handle all sorts of online shopping scenarios.
For example, first time visitors just want to browse and check you out. They want to explore. To see what you have to offer. You need to guide these customers through the site.
But regular customers know what they want. They want to go straight to buying with no fuss or friction.
Other visitors might be gift shopping. You need to offer help and inspiration.
And others will want to get into the detail of ordering. How much the delivery costs are, and how long it’ll take. Some may even want to check your warranty details and return policy before they buy.
These are all different D2C experiences you need to cater for.
Does it work for the target shopper?
Your first job is to make sure your D2C experience works for that target customer, and whatever it is they need. The more specifically it meets those needs, the more likely they’ll buy.
That’s usually about creating and testing the content, style and functionality of the site. As per our e-Commerce testing article, there are many different tests you can run.
But to optimise your D2C experience, it’s key to put yourself in the target customer’s shoes. Make sure the site’s doing what it needs to for them.
For example, you can apply the usability questions from Steve Krug’s highly recommended Don’t Make Me Think. For each page on your site, you aim to answer these questions as if you were the target customer :-
- Where am I?
- Where do I begin?
- What are the most important things on this page?
- Where did they put (something)?
- Why did they call (something) that?
Getting to the right page
If the customer’s landed on your site via a specific search, chances are they’ll land on the right product page. And from there, it’s easy to check out and place an order.
But if they land on your site via other means, you need to make sure the site’s navigation and hierarchy support your D2C experience.
For example, if you sell high ticket items, you usually include extra entertaining or educational content as part of your D2C experience.
This can help convince customers of the benefit and drive them from consideration to trial. (see our advanced e-Commerce selling techniques article for more on this).
Extra content needs to be easy to find and experience, without distracting customers who’ve already decided to buy.
Your menus, layout and links need to make moving around the site easy. And of course, eventually, you want the customer to buy. You make buying as easy as possible, by progressively disclosing the buying process.
Progressive disclosure is a design principle which means you only show the customer what they need when they need it. (see our design psychology article for more on this).
Navigation and hierarchy example
To see how navigation and hierarchy works, let’s look at an example from our own online shop.
You can see from the listing page we’ve grouped products into different themes. That makes it easier to find what you want.
So, for example you can browse by design themes. When we have several designs which share a theme – inventions or gaming for example – these are grouped together.
But you can also look at product type as a category. So, hoodies versus T-shirts for example.
We’ve also made sure the search bar is prominent on the navigation bar. It’s another easy way for customers to find what they need.
Our product naming and product descriptions, plus our category and sub-category hierarchy are all set up to help with navigation. They’re written so it’s clear what it is, and it’s easy to search for.
We also make it very clear and obvious how to buy.
There’s a separate button below the text. It’s got a shopping cart symbol and BUY NOW in large easy to read type.
That takes you to the checkout page which handles delivery and payment details. (we progressively disclose that when the customer decides to buy).
Consistent brand assets to build brand identity
The final pre-purchase D2C experience factor to consider is your store design and how it supports your brand identity.
You need to apply all those same elements in the same way throughout your website. Consistency is key with brand identity.
On our shop page for example, you can see our logo is prominent. It’s the first thing you see on the page.
You can see we also use the Ruby Red from our brand colour palette on headings and on hyperlinks.
We use the same font family (Poppins) and size (18) as on other parts on our website.
This creates consistency across the D2C experience. It helps reinforce our overall brand identity. And that helps build trust with customers.
Secure and efficient payment and delivery
There’s a lot of choices in the D2C experience up to the point where the customer decides to buy.
But once that decision’s made, the choices get simpler. It’s more predictable, because the buying decision’s been made.
Now you need to build trust that your payment and delivery systems are secure and efficient. You need to meet customers expectations on this. The order to delivery system needs to run smoothly.
So, for example you need to make it easy for customers to enter or save their contact details. Make it easy to do repeat orders.
You also need to be transparent about the final order cost. That’s the cost the customer pays, including delivery costs.
You need other functions in your business to make all these things happen. Your finance and IT teams for example to manage payments and customer data. Your supply chain team to handle deliveries, particularly the last mile to the customer’s doorstep. And of course, your customer service team to handle any issues which crop up. Part of the D2C experience is solving problems like damaged products, wrongly delivered products and incomplete orders.
Your D2C experience shouldn’t stop when the customer places the order. It needs to keeps going until the customer receives the order and they’re happy with it.
Build advocacy with CRM and customer service
The final part of the D2C experience comes after the sale. It’s about keeping customers happy. Happy customers come back more often and they tell other people how good you are.
They’re loyal to your store and want it to thrive. They buy regularly, and they encourage family and friends to shop with you too.
It’s in your interests to keep them happy. So, build an engaging CRM program for example. Offer extra benefits like a subscription service for easier re-orders. Keep customers happy and they’ll keep coming back.
Conclusion - How to improve the D2C experience
It’s hard to define a perfect D2C experience. Much depends on who the customer is. And where and when they buy.
Describe what your customer segment looks like so the need and the benefit your D2C experience has to deliver is clear.
These key strategy elements then shape how you deliver the overall D2C experience.
Ultimately, get all this right, and you get loyal customers. Loyal customers who tell others how good you are is the sign of a great D2C experience.