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What used to be the most important place for fashion and apparel brands? The dressing room.
This small space used to be the only place where clothing shoppers made buying decisions. There was quite literally no other way to understand whether a garment had desirable fabrics, colors, and textures.
But the world of fashion has changed dramatically in recent years. With the rise of direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands, including digitally native vertical brands (DNVBs), shoppers have discovered that the right product content can deliver shopping experiences that rival in-store shopping.
As a brief sidebar, it's important to understand what D2C brands are in general. D2C brands, also known as DTC or direct-to-consumer, develop, manufacture, and ship or purvey products directly to consumers.
The 2020 pandemic only served to accelerate the rise of digital shopping options like online shopping, same-day delivery, and buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS).
The world of fashion is no longer limited to a dressing room — and product videos, editorial images, 360-degree product views, customer reviews, and other enhanced content have created an endless aisle for shoppers.
Fashion and apparel brands must be able to meet shoppers whenever and wherever they shop. Many D2C brands successfully navigate some of the biggest industry challenges, including:
Here are seven D2C fashions and apparel brands shaping the future of ecommerce to help inspire your brand to drive winning shopping experiences on the digital shelf.
Retail giant Levi Strauss & Co. is driving growth and customer loyalty while sustaining profits based on its laser focus on customer experience.
The company has 43 websites (generating hundreds of millions of visits), brick-and-mortar partnerships with stores like Bloomingdales and Nordstrom, online partnerships wholesaling to Amazon, and its company-owned retail stores.
Digital Commerce 360 reports that online sales in 2020 accounted for nearly a quarter of Levi's revenue.
The brand embodies the future of D2C shopping by seeking out opportunities for engaging user experiences with customers.
Image Source: Levi's
Customers often shop digitally, but jeans are a notoriously hard-to-fit apparel item. Levi's launched an artificial intelligence (AI) bot, which becomes a "virtual stylist" to help shoppers determine fit and style online — 24/7.
"No matter where the consumer chooses to shop, we want to give them a personalized experience that leverages our expertise in fit and style to address the biggest challenge of finding the pair of perfect-fitting jeans," says Marc Rose, executive vice president and president of global ecommerce at Levi's.
Warby Parker is an early D2C pioneer that began with the mission to democratize pricing for prescription glasses and give consumers affordable alternatives. Part of its strength has been owning its brand messaging throughout the sales cycle.
Warby Parker has enabled online try-on features and has its own app that lets customers check prescriptions at home without needing to visit their eye doctors.
The company is continually innovating through technology, such as its visual recognition tools (i.e., face mapping) that analyze customer face dimensions to provide personalized product recommendations.
Image Source: Warby Parker
“Using tech to make the buying experience better is one of the most powerful ways that online D2C brands can disrupt big incumbent competitors,” according to CB Insights.
Technology and innovation is “a way to bet both on the model and on the future — assuming that technology will get better and more accessible over time, a digitally-enabled distribution model is going to have a more obvious upside than a traditional, lower-tech model,” says CB Insights.
D2C sock brand Bombas began marketing its products directly to consumers online, primarily through ads on Facebook and podcasts.
The brand’s bee logo and mantra, “Bee Better,” encapsulates the socially conscious brand’s ethos, as philanthropy is at the heart of its business. For each pair of socks sold, the company donates a pair to the homeless through its nonprofit and shelter partners.
Image Source: Bombas
This focus on philanthropy has an increased benefit for brands, as 66% of internet users believe brands should take a public stand on important social values, according to eMarketer.
D2C apparel brand H&M began transformation efforts to catch up with shopper buying habits and move online — and the brand is starting to reap the benefits.
H&M's growth has been fueled by a concerted global investment to further integrate stores and online sales, with a new online platform and faster development of customer-facing technologies.
This shift includes mobile-enabled features, enhanced in-store experiences, and improved online shopping tools. Image Source: Pexels
Allbirds, an eco-friendly sneaker brand, started as a digital native in 2016, selling a merino wool sneaker.
Allbirds sells limited varieties of its shoes in solid, muted colors, which is in stark contrast to the global athletic footwear market, where leading companies produce hundreds of sneaker varieties and customization options.
The D2C model enables Allbirds to move quickly, build direct relationships with customers, and innovate and improve the product over time.
Image Source: Allbirds
American shapewear and leggings brand Spanx is well-known within the fashion community, driving both word-of-mouth and unofficial celebrity product endorsements for many years.
As the brand continues to expand its product offerings, social media influencers are featured front and center on its D2C website.
Fashion and apparel brands have a unique opportunity to leverage shoppers' demands for style tips and inspiration. Influencers allow shoppers to explore styling options and build trust through their product reviews. Highlighting outfit inspiration with its products, in addition to other engaging product content, helps answer customer questions and builds trust with the products.
Image Source: Spanx
American luggage and handbag brand Vera Bradley differentiates itself from its competitors with its unique designs and exclusive patterns.
Its D2C website allows its shoppers to take this personalization one step further with custom and personalized products. Shoppers can add embroidery to existing products or completely design their own bag style — from choosing the pattern and fabric to the trim, pocket style, and lining.
Targeted messaging matters to customers: The "2021 Salsify Consumer Research" report found that 51% of shoppers are "very likely to buy" when they see relevant images, videos, text, and reviews on a website.
Personalization and custom products are two ways to drive this connection.
Image Source: Vera Bradley
Each of these seven D2C apparel brands has succeeded by retaining control of their products and building direct relationships with customers that demand a seamless buying experience, loyalists who care about social and environmental impact, and people who want the best quality at a fair price.
The route to that outcome is often streamlined product offerings with the right level of choice, as well as exceptional and responsive customer service.
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