Building loyalty in an evolving D2C landscape

Customers have turned to online ordering en masse as their preferred purchase channel this year thanks to the pandemic, putting retailers and brands under pressure. It’s been a steep learning curve for those players new to ecommerce or who have never seen their systems and processes stress-tested to this extent.

Pure play D2C brands have been ahead of the ecommerce curve for some time; success has been down to a ferocious focus on the customer experience (CX) and creating a community feel. However, the landscape has changed significantly in recent years with rising cost and more competition. 

Propeller’s panel at Ecommerce Expo titled Algorithms & Advocacy – How D2C businesses Can Build Loyalty brought together a brand relatively new to D2C, an established specialist D2C player and an omnichannel retailer to discuss how to drive repeat business and loyalty.

The panel included Matthew Gratze, Director of Digital at Signet Jewelers, Mona Nikzad, Digital & E‑Commerce Marketing Strategist at Organix and Janis Thomas, eCommerce & Marketing Director – Look Fabulous Forever. The session was moderated by Propeller’s Director of Content Branwell Johnson.

Personalisation and relevance

The essence of making customers feel part of an exclusive community is personalisation and that depends on having relevant data about the customer and being able to anticipate their wishes or read their ‘signals of intent’.

Matt from Signet said that when he worked at Mothercare there was a predictable life cycle for the customer from pregnancy to birth of baby and early months. This meant a unique customer journey embracing communications, the web experience and the promotion relevant products at the right time could be created.

Organix is a well-established baby and toddler food brand but has only had a transactional website for a few months. Mona said that the company “has a very short window to capture and keep customers” and to ensure the right messages and offers are being communicated. She pointed out that Organix has a personalised sign up programme where parents provide the age of their child and any allergens and once they have ordered they receive a personal welcome pack.

She said all communications were “extremely personal to child’s age and mindful of any allergies and intolerances. For example, we’ll never talk about a recipe with dairy to someone who is dairy-intolerant.” 

Personalisation will soon become a hygiene factor, according to Matt, and customers will be puzzled if they are not receiving tailored messages. “It might seem creepy to some but at some point it will be normal. Take the distraction [of irrelevant products/recommendations] out.

Marketing needs to ‘test and learn’

D2C lies at the intersection of ecommerce and marketing and using the right platforms and channels to drive a consumer action is imperative. Mona said: “The majority of our marketing used to be outdoor and in-store but more and more we are focusing digitally and majority of budget goes there. We’re doing test and learn all the time.”

Look Fabulous Forever provides ‘perfect make up for older faces’ and Janis takes an omnichannel approach to marketing. “Digital is important for us and is in bottom of funnel when ready to convert but offline is important for us as well.” The company positions itself as ‘a movement’ and its founder Tricia Cusden is a passionate ambassador. She has appeared on TV’s This Morning and devises and fronts plenty of YouTube content to drives brand engagement.

Matt said SEO was still very important for Signet and the company found “so much growth in organic search”. He cautioned against dedicated channel marketing teams working in isolation when they need to work together to amplify a core campaign message. 

The role of automation

Businesses are lowering costs and finding efficiencies by introducing automated practices across their operations, from marketing to monitoring the supply chain. With D2C particularly focused on building a rich connection with customers choices must be made about the balance between human resource and technology. 

Mona points out: “We know our target audience likes to speak to someone and it’s very much on brand to have a human on other end of the channel – we all use real names and give personal email addresses for follow-up. We won’t introduce automation for the customer experience, but we will look at it for different types of service like managing subscriptions.”

Matt said Signet was heading in the opposite direction and looking at ways to involve AI bots in live chats “to give our resources a break”.

Janis added that automation could help with managing and scheduling messaging to customers around replenishment intervals for skincare products via smart use of customer data “and to start anticipating customer needs”.

Advice for the future

Looking at the future for D2C and the ways to differentiate and stay competitive Janis said: “If you can provide a better product or experience then you always be more compelling. With the time we’ve been through people’s standard decisions have been disrupted and they may have found a different way to do what they’ve been doing for many years. By using first party data and targeting D2C will win more than brand selling purely through physical retail.”

Matt added: “It’s down to individual businesses, as long as you can adapt to consumers and are agile enough to do that, then it’s within your gift. The ones that don’t adapt and get stuck, not knowing their customer, are going to face hard times.”

Mona urged businesses to encourage feedback and said: “We respond to every piece of feedback we receive. The worse thing to do is to ignore it and think as a business you know best – the best thing is to use it, learn from it and factor feedback into creating a great customer experience.”

To hear more from Mona and Janis on ecommerce issues listen to Propeller’s Views On The News podcast, which also features contributions from app commerce company Poq and digital marketing and advertising agency Cheil.