What Is The Next Evolution of Direct-To-Consumer Disruption?
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands are often referred to as disruptors because they use digital and mobile channels to sell directly to consumers. By bypassing distributors and third parties, DTC brands can deliver a more convenient shopping experience while building a more direct relationship with customers.
The movement toward DTC gained even more momentum during the pandemic. In fact, direct-to-consumer trends show that US DTC ecommerce sales have more than tripled in the past six years. Experts estimate that by the end of 2024, the market will grow to over $212 billion.
But how will DTC continue innovating and expanding to compete against traditional retailers? Let's review the key factors influencing the next evolution of direct-to-consumer disruption.
- Direct-to-consumer brands use emotionally charged messaging to build one-on-one customer relationships.
- Most DTC brands find success, meet consumer needs, and accelerate growth using a single channel.
- Successful DTC brands know how to maintain emotional connections by expanding customer loyalty programs.
How Has DTC Disrupted Traditional Retail?
With the rise of digital commerce, the modern consumer prefers personalization and direct engagement with the brands they buy from. The DTC model is built on relationships, and that's one of the main reasons these brands have seen so much success in recent years. DTC brands also offer other advantages over traditional retailers, which gives them a competitive edge.
- Emotional storytelling: according to direct-to-consumer trends, companies in the DTC space are pivoting to "ethos" as a competitive differentiator. Instead of focusing on manufacturing and distribution, the focus is on building one-to-one relationships through emotionally charged messaging on mobile and social media platforms.
- More attractive pricing: DTC brands enjoy more profits by eliminating the middleman. This approach provides more control over pricing and discounts, leading to better margins and perception of product value.
- Better customer experience: having access to detailed customer data is a huge advantage for DTC companies. That's because customer insights give brands visibility into who their ideal buyer is so they can deliver a personalized customer experience.
However, while direct-to-consumer trends indicate incredible growth, traditional retailers and wholesalers are catching up. So, how do DTC brands evolve to remain competitive? The answer is embracing an omnichannel marketing strategy.
DTC Embraces Omnichannel
Most DTC brands reached success by leveraging a single channel. Think about these hypothetical scenarios where that's the case:
A mattress company launched its website featuring one model at an affordable price delivered directly to a customer's home. That company reached $100 million in sales in less than two years. In another scenario, an eyewear brand launched its website in 2010. The goal is to deliver high-quality frames to a customer at a low price. Five years later, that company's value reached $1.2 billion.
But these companies have had to embrace an omnichannel marketing strategy to accelerate growth and meet new consumer demands. That means relinquishing control over some areas of distribution. For example, the mattress company sells its products through stores and conventional retailers.
That takes us to another hypothetical scenario. A men's razor company launched its website in 2013. But, today, these products are sold primarily in large retailers. As a result, the meaning of D2C has expanded. It no longer describes brands that only sell through their own direct online channel. Today you can find small D2C brands on Amazon that also have their own website. And then you have big brands that have their own online presence.
Expansion of Customer Loyalty Programs
D2C brands rely on the power of marketing much more than typical brands. Specifically, top-of-funnel branding activities are crucial in helping launch a product successfully. Then, as those brands grow, they must find ways to carry the emotional connection they have established to customer retention models. Retention is a powerful growth lever. For one thing, loyal customers spend 67% more than new customers. Then combine that with the fact that it costs five to 25 times less to retain a customer than acquire a new one.
D2C brands must evolve, or they'll perish over time. That means leaning into omnichannel marketing strategies and leveraging customer loyalty programs. Fortunately, those elements align with emotional storytelling and connection components that propelled D2C companies early on. With a view into 1 in 2 U.S card transactions, Cardlytics' Purchase Intelligence offers powerful insights that help brands shape their omnichannel marketing strategy. Contact us today for an analysis and campaign strategy customized for your brand.
What Can Retail Learn from Direct-to-Consumer Brands?
The face of retail is changing. Over the last few years, spending with direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands has nearly doubled. While the retail industry suffered pandemic-driven setbacks, DTC ecommerce steadily grew. According to Cardlytics first-party data, DTC spending jumped from 8% in 2020 to 14% in 2021.
The growth in DTC eCommerce spending reveals bountiful opportunities for retail brands to improve sales performance by taking a page out of the DTC playbook.
- DTC companies capitalize on the tech-enabled service model, abandoning traditional retail outlets.
- As the demand for online purchase power increased during the pandemic, DTC ecommerce brands met that need effortlessly.
- DTC brands know how to build authentic customer relationships by delivering consistent and honest messaging.
How Has the Direct-to-Consumer Model Transformed ecommerce?
Direct-to-consumer companies cut out the middleman to save consumers money. But this business model is much deeper than a cost-saving ploy. Direct-to-consumer trends feature niche companies that embrace a digital-first operating model, appealing to younger adult audiences with significant buying power.
Successful DTC ecommerce brands leverage technology to enable a complete product lifecycle feedback loop. These brands maximize their value proposition by providing simple solutions to common consumer complaints. When the cost of disposable razors had reached a fever pitch with shoppers in the retail market, DTC brands, like Dollar Shave Club, offered a solution–quality razors at affordable prices, delivered to your door.
What Can the Retail Industry Learn from DTC Brands?
Consumers flocked to DTC ecommerce, and while the easy success seen with these models began with a good value, there's a little more to it. These disruptors are doing more than filling a need. They're breathing new life into stale business models by abandoning traditional retail outlets for a tech-enabled service model.
DTC companies are capitalizing on the digital experience by focusing on user-friendly design to create a simple, effortless shopping experience. And, with quality products and genuine interactions – all things the modern consumer craves, DTC brands are going beyond marketing claims to build authenticity.
DTC Marketing Abandons Outdated Systems for Reimagined Service Models
The idea that manufacturers don't need to rely on retailers to distribute their products fuels the entire direct-to-consumer market. The retail market, ranging from mom-and-pop shops to big box stores, might be the clear winner of the one-stop-shop experience; but there's something more convenient out there–home delivery.DTC brands are keen on data-driven strategies with nimble agility. They wholeheartedly embrace the idea of riding life on the leading edge of change. For example, when Warby Parker closed its 160+ physical locations during the pandemic, its tech-friendly, digital-first strategy paid off big. The brand effortlessly slid back into its eCommerce roots with the right technology in place to meet the needs of those looking for prescription glasses from a safe distance.
Capitalizing on a Mobile-First Experience
The customer experience is the top priority in DTC marketing. These disruptive brands understand that consumers want quick, simple, endlessly personalized interactions to their specific needs – something that's hard to achieve without technology.
According to Salesforce, over three-quarters (76%) of consumers think companies should understand their expectations and needs. And as of 2020, Gartner says that over 40% of all data analytics projects are geared toward improving the customer experience. Retail is making headway, but this is one area where DTC brands are gaining the most ground.
These companies have built their service model based on the tech-friendly culture of millennial and Gen Z consumers, investing most of their resources into building a simple and efficient customer experience. Ordering products and services with user-friendly apps and AI integrations feels almost effortless.
Focusing on User Design & the Customer Experience
We've also noticed many DTC models obsessively prioritize the customer experience. It's not a coincidence that these brands favor clean, simplistic web design with intuitive features. Sure, the business model of providing just one specialized product or service helps keep the clutter down. Still, it's more than that – these brands are hyper-focused on delivering a seamless customer journey filled with big promises, bigger follow-throughs, and effortless upkeep.
While some retailers might shy away from the scaled-down product catalogs serving as the cornerstone of DTC ecommerce, there's something to be said for offering too many options. Decision paralysis, fueled by an overabundance of choices, often leads to abandoned carts. The feature of the traditional retail business model might be what stands in the way of future success as direct-to-consumer commerce gains a foothold, eating up competition across multiple categories.
Living and Breathing Brand Authenticity Through Social Media
Another cornerstone of successful DTC ecommerce is authenticity. Consumers are more driven than ever before to spend their money with values-aligned services and providers. In the last few years, hot-button topics like sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and employee culture have made news headlines. Many retail brands have been quick to take note of how important these issues are to consumers.
DTC brands seem to already be in the know, placing authenticity high on the company values list. Given the small, curated audience and built-in need for strong loyalty, the DTC business model is rooted in building authentic relationships. These brands are very hands-on with their customer communications, weaving between an active social media presence and a strong customer relations approach. Wherever customers are in their journey, the DTC business model is there, delivering a consistent and honest message.
Retail Brands Can Adopt a Similar Approach, Meeting Consumers Where They Are
Direct-to-consumer marketing trends and business models have laid out a clear path for the retail industry to follow suit. Instead of relying on convenience or bargain prices to get foot traffic, retail brands must adapt to modern consumerism with technology and a passion for customer-driven simplicity. This change requires the courage to try new things and a willingness to engage with customers on an authentic level. Change begins with quality insights, from reimagining the customer experience to embracing a digital-first approach. Cardlytics purchase intelligence can provide meaningful insights to help retail brands harness the same level of loyalty and engagement that direct-to-consumer brands have found. Imagine a future where weekly groceries arrive on auto-delivery and smartphones become personal shoppers, finding and previewing curated collections of new retail merchandise. Cardlytics first-party data insights can help transform your retail strategy.
Cardlytics Survey: Chock-Full of Intelligence, Contradictions, and Purchase Data Validation
eTail West in Palm Springs, California, was back this year as an in-person event , and it was superb to see so many of retail’s leading marketers gathered once again. eTail was kind enough to invite Cardlytics to talk about how brands can use purchase data to achieve sales growth and inspire loyal customers, and which revenue plays should have our focus in 2022 and beyond.
For those of you who missed it, here’s a summary of the top insights I shared.
Standing strong amid disruption
The power of Cardlytics’ data is the reason I joined this company nearly three years ago after working at notable technology companies such as Google and Facebook. Through our partnership with top banks in the US and UK, the Cardlytics ad platform serves over 175 million consumers with cash-back offers, which enables us to leverage $3.7 trillion in annual spend data to create precise targeting strategies and performance metrics. From a longer point of view, digital advertising is embarking on an historic transformation thanks to third-party cookies going away and Apple’s app tracking policy – our targeting and insights rely on neither.
Because of such disruption, many brand marketers may feel as though they are at a crossroads, but there is good news, and plenty of it. Marketers can lean into real purchase data and eliminate the guesswork inherent in demographic and contextual data to find out what really moves the needle for both online and offline sales. More specifically, they are starting to develop ad investment strategies around incrementality, which measures sales that wouldn't have occurred without a specific interaction.
Pressure-testing our assumptions
From talking regularly with Cardlytics advertisers, we know that there’s been a shift in marketing mindset. Yet, we didn't want to assume anything and decided to pressure-test what we’ve been hearing. So, we surveyed roughly 100 marketing execs to understand their current priorities.
Here are the key findings:
An eyebrow-raising contradiction
Interestingly, 79% of marketers admit a lack of accurate data or analysis was their biggest problem. At the same time, nearly everyone (99%) believes they have it all figured out. It’s an eyebrow-raising contradiction.
More focus should be on loyalty
We were surprised that only 4% said their biggest growth opportunity was with infrequent or lapsed customers even though our platform insights challenge this notion. Studies show that repeat customers spend 67% more than new patrons, which also cost around 5X more to convert. The ROI related to customer loyalty cannot be underestimated and is a huge growth opportunity we see for brands that may be lacking in this area.
Old-school demographics don’t work well enough
Demographics, as an indicator of consumer spending patterns, are far from the most efficient targeting model. In fact, we learned that 47% of marketers believe they need to challenge long-held notions that demographics should steer their strategy. The idea that segments of hundreds or thousands of customers should all be thought of as virtually the same person seems to have run its course. One-to-one advertising is now advanced enough for marketers to zero in on different customers at an individual level.
Not all customers are worth the same investment
Using actual purchase data can guide marketers on the true loyalty of their customers. Take these two customer types, for example:
Does it make sense to target the “loyalist” with the same ad spend or cash-back offer as the “customer of many”? Of course not. Ultimately, marketers want to convert the “customer of many” into a “loyalist” with targeted advertising that draws intelligence from their shopping habits. In short, you should invest in the customers with the highest spend potential. The best indicator of this is how much they are spending in the category when they aren’t spending with you.
And, as our survey found, nearly 6 in 10 marketers (59%) lament the lack of competitor visibility due to not having the right data and set of tools. Their shopping habits, in other words, go beyond your brand, as do the indicators of their true value.
Allocate more spend where it has actual impact
Marketers need to allocate more spend toward generating loyalty and purchase data needs to be the source of that intelligence. Cardlytics partners with top financial institutions such as Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo to serve their customers relevant ads based on purchase history and location. This data allows marketers to not only accurately target customers but also reach customers who regularly shop with competitors, and then accurately measure the incremental impact of that campaign on growth and loyalty.
How should marketers keep the momentum building?
The answer to that question is to measure, improve and continuously repeat your process. Understanding a customer's consideration set means knowing what it takes to win them over. And that means going beyond traditional attribution models—where isolated actions like click-throughs get too much credit for a consumer’s purchase decision—and embracing data-based incrementality analysis.
Test, test, test
To do all of that, marketers must have data to understand the impact of each channel. They should form test and control groups based on prior spend data—from category to amount to frequency—to ensure a clean test, which isolates the variable to measure marketing channel, creative, or messaging. While such testing can be a lot of work, it’s the difference between brands that grow their revenue and loyalty and those that are falling behind.
Cardlytics is here for brands that want to strengthen relationships with their most valuable customers and win new customers from competing brands. Take advantage of our free advertising opportunity report to learn how consumers spend with your brand versus competitors. Click here to get started.
The Rise of the Second-hand Marketplace: Conscious Consumerism Demands a Fresh Approach
The reduce, reuse, recycle mantra is seeping its way into how we shop.
A growing focus on climate change over the past few years has created a new sustainable generation that demands more from brands, while at the same time pushing “conscious consumerism” into the mainstream.
From investing in quality, timeless wardrobe staples to shifting their spend to second-hand marketplaces and choosing brands based on their ethical credentials, today’s consumers are increasingly re-evaluating their purchase decisions and the impact they have on the planet.
The result? Brands are now being forced to re-think how they market their goods, while having a tangible impact on retailers’ bottom lines.
Our latest spend data, based on the purchasing habits of over 22 million UK bank cards, shows that in the past year, spend at second-hand marketplaces has jumped 85%.
Whether it is a high-end designer bag, a vintage chair, or some pre-loved children’s toys, with ‘new’ no longer being on trend, it’s no surprise that UK consumers are now almost four times more likely to make a purchase with the likes of Depop, Vinted or eBay than they are with fast fashion brands.
In fact, the number of second-hand purchases customers make on average per year increased by 28% in 2021, compared to a 1.1% rise for traditional retailers. It is clear that second-hand marketplaces are taking a slice of the traditional retail pie.
Conscious consumerism isn't a "flash in the pan" fad
This shift in consumer behaviour is pivotal and one traditional retailers must respond to. We have already seen large fashion brands venturing into the sustainability space to capitalise on this trend, offering consumers an alternative and more sustainable way to shop.
H&M invested heavily in its Conscious range, ASOS created its own marketplace to give second-hand and vintage items a platform, while M&S introduced in-store clothing recycling programs to boost circularity of its products.
Even “fast fashion” brands like Missguided are taking steps to improve their climate footprint and appeal to this consumer base, with the introduction of a new Restyld range made from recycled materials.
Marketers should think of conscious consumerism not as a challenge to their traditional growth plans, but – like Missguided has - as an opportunity to tap into a new consumer group, create new opportunities to engage with customers, and build more meaningful and more loyal relationships with shoppers.
So how can retailers compete with the second-hand marketplace?
To stay “on trend” with this growing set of consumers, retailers and marketers should consider making their eco-friendly ranges front and centre of their marketing campaigns and offer discounts on such clothing lines to shoppers.
Retailers could also introduce incentives - such as vouchers - for consumers to recycle their old items in store, to help drive footfall, future purchases, and build brand affinity.
Targeting customers with relevant offers through their banking channel, based on their spend patterns, is an effective way retailers and marketeers can increase engagement and purchases, whether that is online or in-store.
And with more consumers looking closely at brands’ ethical endeavours, creating hubs on your website and app for your environmental credentials will go a long way in appealing to this growing consumer group.
How Cardlytics can help
Because we see 1 in every 4 UK bank transactions, we can develop a marketing strategy to help your brand compete in this new retail market. Contact us today for an analysis and campaign strategy customized for your brand.
State of Apparel: Athleisure Reigned Supreme in 2021
As the pandemic raged through 2020, apparel sales plummeted a record 77% while we all stayed home in our comfortable old clothes. But the slump began to turn around in early 2021 as vaccines unleashed restless shoppers from quarantine. We were finally going out—and were ready to trade in those baggy sweatpants for a new look.
4 Key Takeaways for 2021 Apparel Trends
- Customers are coming back to retail and apparel spending is slowly returning, hitting pre-pandemic levels for the first time in April 2021.
- Recovery is uneven, brand name stores, athleisure, and discount store subcategories performed well in 2021, increasing their share as well as spend.
- Customers are making fewer trips to shop, but they are spending more per trip.
- Many women (40%) are wearing a different size than they were when the pandemic started, which means that shoppers are ready for a wardrobe refresh.
Let’s dig into some of the data and discover which shopping trends are growing fastest – and how they’re creating new opportunities for brands.
2021 Recap: Apparel Bounces Back
After one of the most challenging years on record, the apparel industry saw sales begin to recover to 2019 levels as early as April 2021. This growth was primarily driven by increases in basket size. Customer counts and number of purchases still lag 2019 levels, but there are a few exceptions.
Winners for overall spend growth in 2021 included brand name stores, discount, and athleisure apparel subcategories. All three have also increased their sales over 2019 levels:
- Branded: +2% over 2019
- Discount: +7% over 2019
- Athleisure: +21% over 2019
But when it comes to attracting new customers, athleisure and footwear were the stand-out performers this year:
- 62% of athleisure customers were new
- 69% of footwear customers were new
Apparel Shopping Trends: Subcategory Spotlight
What’s behind the consumer behavior that’s pushing these subcategories forward—and what does it mean for your brand?
Athleisure: Comfort & Practicality
It’s easy to understand why we reached for joggers and sweatshirts during the early days of the pandemic. But the athleisure trend was going strong long before lockdown. In fact, the ‘casualization’ of America is nothing new. Athletic fashions boomed through the 80s and in the early 2000s.
This is no flash-in-the-pan fad—and our insights back this up. Athleisure did not see a sales decline in 2020, in part due to the growing popularity of on-demand workouts for exercising at home during the lockdown, which saw 21% growth in sales over the same time period in 2021 vs 2019.
Unlike most other subcategories, athleisure spend was fueled by growth in the number of customers, purchases, and basket size:
2021 YTD vs 2019 YTD
- Customers: +6.4%
- Purchases: + 12.1%
- Basket: + 7.8%
Discount Stores: Hungry for Deals
After a rough year for the economy, many Americans are still tightening their belts and looking for deals—and they’re finding them at discount stores like Nordstrom Rack, Marshall’s, and TJ Maxx. Consumer spending growth in this subcategory is driven by basket size growth over previous years, despite fewer customers and purchases.
2021 YTD vs 2019 YTD
- Customers: -8.7%
- Purchases: -2.6%
- Basket: +5.7%
Department Stores: Catching Up
With sprawling footprints and sizable overhead, department stores are struggling to adapt to the online shopping era. A shrinking middle class that’s feeling the squeeze is heading to discount stores instead. While overall spend has increased since 2020, the numbers still haven’t returned to their year to date (YTD) pre-pandemic levels.
Like most subcategories, basket size for department stores is up since 2019, but customer counts and purchases are down:
2021 YTD vs 2019 YTD
- Customers: -13.7%
- Trips: -18.7%
- Basket: +11.4
Children’s Apparel: Growing Strong
There’s a strong overlap between people who purchase children’s apparel and those who shop in department stores, and these two subcategories share similar data trends. Children’s apparel sales have increased year-over-year but haven’t fully recovered to 2019 levels.
Basket size shows an impressive improvement, yet customer counts and purchases are far below 2019 through the same period:
2021 YTD vs 2019 YTD
- Customers: -23.1%
- Purchases: -32.8
- Basket: +21.0%
So, what does this mean for retailers?
People are willing to buy more than they need to reduce the frequency of in-store visits. Brands should focus on continuing to improve their overall experience and lean into omnichannel marketing for sustained growth.
2021 ended strong with sales matching or exceeding 2019 levels, and we can expect these sales rates to continue as long as retailers are able to contend with supply chain issues.
Partner with Cardlytics to Leverage Insight into New Spending Habits
The state of the apparel industry is never static, but the changes over the past two years have been especially dramatic. Every shift and every new trend creates another opportunity for brands to grow, but only if they can learn how to change, too.
Cardlytics’ offers a brand-safe, fraud-free advertising platform that allows our partners to reach real people at the right time, all while helping them save money on their purchases. Learn how we deliver guaranteed incremental return on ad spend by contacting us today!
What the Delayed Back-to-School Season Means for Retailers
September is here, and with it, a back-to-school season unlike any other—for families and retailers alike. As schools delay reopening and many opt for virtual learning, the needs and timing of the traditional retail holiday have significantly transformed. Even Prime Day, the once unofficial kickoff to the back-to-school shopping season has been postponed to October.
So where, when, and how should retailers prepare to ramp up their 2020 marketing efforts? Cardlytics analyzed consumer spend behavior to identify what you need to know.
Back to school drives comeback for specialty retail
Although tardy, the back-to-school shopping season eventually arrived for specialty retail categories. As schools finalized reopening plans later in the summer, students and parents knew what to prepare for and began gathering necessities. Traditional categories like books, office supplies, and apparel saw week-over week gains in the last days of July and early August.
With many classes going virtual, families had to invest in new desks and laptops for their learn-from-home setups. This resulted in a late-summer boost for categories like home décor and technology. A hint that some students are starting to prep for in-person classes: shoe spend jumped up 13.1% week-over-week in early August, despite being down for the majority of July.
Tip: Reach customers before new habits solidify
It’s a busy time, and customers are rushing to prepare for new school-year routines and set their kids up for success regardless of whether they’ll be attending in person or virtually. Marketers must act quickly to get their share of back to school spend before customers cross all their items off their lists.
Cardlytics helps brands acquire new customers by prioritizing people who are spending on back-to-school categories such as apparel and technology. Targeted ads in our native ad platform give customers a reason to make their next purchase — either in-store or online. Build loyalty by helping them save in a time when it matters most.
Postponed Prime Day to compete with Black Friday
Despite a slow start to the back-to-school season, retailers now have an opportunity to make the most of an even bigger retail holiday. With Prime Day now rumored for early October — a month before retailers normally offer holiday deals — retailers should prep for an unusually early holiday season. Looking at Prime Day’s previous influence on the start of the back-to-school season helps us understand the impact it will have on this year’s holiday spend.
Over the past few years, growing Prime Day buzz has set the pace for when back-to-school shopping kicks off. As you can see in the chart above, which looks back at 2016 spend trends compared to 2019, the retail event pulled forward the back-to-school season from August / September to early July. Last year, as traditional retail brands offered their own versions of Prime Day sales, that week over indexed typical retail spend by 19% and drove continued higher spend in the following weeks.
Brands looking to win more than their fair share of winter holiday spend will need to start their marketing early to capitalize on the Prime Day buzz and keep momentum going through the end of the year.
Engage key holiday shopper segments starting this Prime Day
Cardlytics’ ad platform can help marketers maximize Prime Day momentum by precisely targeting holiday shoppers based on their spend behavior.
Reach more Early Birds
Start your holiday marketing in the weeks leading up to Prime Day — these shoppers will start checking off their gift lists as soon as the deals are in.
Reach more Deal Hunters
Use the Prime Day buzz to time your own campaigns and secure share of holiday budgets with deal-conscious shoppers who take advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.
Reach more Steady Shoppers
Steady shoppers have the highest average holiday spend. Engage them consistently throughout the extended holiday season with rewards that drive repeat purchases.
Want more actionable insights?
There is no doubt that consumer spend has yet to normalize. We’re still seeing dramatic shifts between industries, categories and even buying channels. We’re here to help you make sense of it all and find your most successful path forward. With insight into 1 out of every 2 U.S. card swipes, Cardlytics puts purchase insights into action every day for advertisers in banks’ digital channels. Contact us today for an analysis and campaign strategy customized for your brand.
These trends were recently featured in our Cardlytics State of Spend report, which follows important shifts in consumer spend and tracks early signs of recovery. Download our latest issue today and be sure to check back for the next issue.
Analysis in this article is based on data derived from the Cardlytics platform between March 5th and August 13th. While analysis is representative of purchase behavior, it does not include every customer or every financial institution on the Cardlytics platform.