DTC brands can't determine whether retailers open their stores or the number of consumers allowed inside. But brands can control their online sales channel. From checkout to last-mile delivery, DTC brands can ensure a seamless ecommerce experience.

Zach Thomann: executive vice president and general manager, PFS

Zach Thomann: executive vice president and general manager, PFS

COVID-19 has caused brands to rethink their sales strategies entirely. The past few months have led to an enormous shift in consumer spending towards online channels. 

There is lingering uncertainty of how and when brick-and-mortar retail locations will re-open. Some shoppers may look to return to the pre-pandemic method of shopping. In contrast, others will continue the online shopping behaviors they either adopted or expanded due to the pandemic. 

Regardless, we are anticipating monumental sales volumes for brands online with the approaching holiday season. To capitalize on this transition to online shopping, DTC (direct to consumer) brands must take back control of their sales channels. DTC brands can’t control whether big-box retailers open their storefronts or the number of consumers they allow inside. They can’t manage the customer experience with the brand, especially given the many variables COVID-19 has thrown at brick-and-mortar retail. 

Brands can control their online sales channel. From checkout to last-mile delivery, DTC brands can ensure a seamless ecommerce experience. With the majority of Q4 and holiday shopping expected to shift online, brands must have their entire ecommerce channel prepared for an optimal customer experience. According to Voxware, 76% of respondents intend to purchase more than half of their gifts online.

Hindered by brick-and-mortar

DTC brands have typically relied on a blend of online and brick-and-mortar retail sales to comprise their revenue. Many startups began by selling their products exclusively online and then pivoted to placing goods in select department stores and big-box retailers. Some DTC brands even have opened stand-alone brick-and-mortar locations for consumers to try out products before purchasing.

In the age of COVID-19, many DTC brands will have to recalibrate and devise new plans given the current environment. In the case of the department store, the brand loses control once a product is on a shelf. The brand can’t prepare for the new protocols a retailer will put in place that could hinder the experience a consumer has buying said product. That is if the store is even open at all. Early reports show big-box retailers such as Target, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, with more likely to follow.

DTC brands can control the in-store experience by opening physical storefronts, but not the safety guidelines from state and local governments. Governments might force some locations to close, leaving brands with an expensive problem. 

Ecommerce takes the reins

Thus, ecommerce becomes the only sales channel brands have complete control over and can rely on in what will be a busy end of the year. Not only does ecommerce offer brands full control, but it’s also quickly becoming the preferred shopping channel, whether brick-and-mortar locations are open or closed. From our recent research, COVID-19 has encouraged 63% of U.S. consumers to buy goods online that they had not considered before the pandemic.

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To recoup lost sales from brick-and-mortar closings, DTC brands must prepare their supply chains to handle sustained periods of increased ecommerce volumes. For some, this means expanding distribution space to account for higher volumes, and ultimately, looking to hire additional warehouse staff given an expected extended peak season. It’s likely far too late for brands that have not yet established expansion plans at this stage. Most fulfillment partners are filled to the brim, managing existing client volume that has grown tremendously due to COVID-19.  

Alternative solutions

Alternative fulfillment solutions are a great way for brands to handle peak volumes in 2020, offering a creative and cost-effective option. The goal is to get products to consumers as efficiently as possible. By thinking outside the box and leveraging partners with extensive experience in alternative fulfillment, brands can win in the coming months. 

Pop-up distribution centers (D.C.s) or micro-fulfillment centers are a great example. Pop-up D.C.s have emerged as one option that can remove significant friction from the fulfillment process and ensure consumers are getting the goods they need in a timely fashion. Pop-up D.C.s can be set up anywhere and help online retailers get their products closer to the customer. This focus on regional fulfillment is crucial in the face of COVID-19 to shorten the supply chain and make sure products are as close to end consumers as possible. This is vital as, despite the impacts of COVID-19 to supply chains, 71% of U.S. shoppers expect goods to be delivered in a week or less.

This strategy can be taken a step further with the idea of in-store fulfillment. For DTC brands with brick-and-mortar locations, turning storefronts into small distribution hubs can turn lost real estate into a revenue-generating opportunity. Items can be shipped out directly from various store locations to tighten the supply chain and ensure delivery isn’t overly reliant on one or two primary distribution centers. Automated technology can help speed up this process even faster without putting a strain on store associates. 

As we inch closer towards peak-season, DTC brands are at a tipping point. The holidays present a golden chance to make up for lost revenues experienced in the COVID-19 fallout. If they can ditch the big-box retailers and take control of ecommerce channels, success will follow. But their supply chain must be up to the challenge, as the overall customer experience has never been more critical.

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PFS, part of PFSweb Inc. offers retailers services in such areas as fulfillment, customer service and fraud prevention.

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