Meeting Consumer Expectations Means Getting on the Same Timeline
For manufacturers going consumer-direct, the benefits are obvious: better margins, the opportunity to interact with enthusiastic consumers and important trends at ground level, and the chance to unplug from an entire layer of distributor logistic hassle and slow payments. But, the journey can also be a harrowing experience with a steep learning curve, too. It’s often replete with much of the good ol’ awfulness that can accompany fickle consumers: outsized expectations of the product itself, insistence on fast and free(!) shipping, painfully liberal return policies, and the expense of a skillful customer service team.
And that’s the good news. This underlying shift in sales channels is also happening contemporaneously with a shift in consumer loyalty habits. Consumers are, in short — without the hard work and diligence by a brand to build a meaningful relationship with a new customer — less loyal to specific brands as a matter of cultural dynamics, as referenced in this Forbes article. Direct-to-consumer manufacturers — these “new-to-the-game” retailers with their perfect websites and fancy dynamic pricing — are still left with the distinct possibility of a substantial investment to attract a one-time customer. Here’s why:
Many new retailers assume the start of the relationship with a consumer is the first paid click and the end of the relationship is the sale itself. That’s not how consumers perceive it. Consumers, instead, see the start of the relationship as the moment the product arrives at their home. That’s why ‘unboxing’ videos are so ubiquitous on YouTube. Everything before that delivery moment is research and anticipation.
To cultivate the kind of long-term relationships that matter to legitimate, calculable, bottom-line, put-it-in-the-valuation, lifetime-consumer-value, brands in the direct-to-consumer space need to rethink assumptions about that timeline — so often perpetuated by monthly agency reporting and superficial KPI metrics that stop at the sale itself — and build processes that extend into the consumer relationship after the product delivery. To earn the next sale, direct-to-consumer manufacturers need to deliver on price and product, of course, but also in their post-sale presence to best align with the consumer expectation of the sales cycle timeline.
What that post-sale presence should look like will vary, but consider, for example, email outreach designed specifically for consumers who have purchased a product in the last 12 months — emails that bring the product features, benefits, and brand identity to life while acting to guide the new-user experience over a 6 month window — rather than simply treating this new buyer group to the same email campaigns designed to elicit sales out of prospects.
To be sure, the story is not entirely written on how eCommerce will affect retail at large, but this much is clear: even an exceptional experience at checkout on the first sale may no longer be enough to bring the consumer back the next time without an earnest effort at a deeper bond. Smart retailers will jump at the chance to build sturdy, worthwhile relationships even and especially after the box leaves the warehouse.