As brands struggle to stay afloat in light of the coronavirus's spread, what the DTC industry will look like is a big question mark. Big brands will likely adopt DTC-like tendencies, and small startups will probably die. The one thing that's for sure is that earlier doomsday predictions have rapidly accelerated.
As shoppers in the U.S. and Europe are spending more time in their homes thanks to shelter in place orders, apparel brands are seizing the opportunity by offering sales on items like loungewear and leggings, and marketing their products as essentials for people working at home. Everlane is hosting a sale this week where shoppers can get a discount if they buy two pairs of leggings or two sweatshirts. Universal Standard is having a mix and match sale where if customers buy three products from a selection of tank tops, t-shirts, and sweaters, they get 30% off. It's an easier lift for some companies than others.
People don’t think of co-working spaces as operations for physical products, but all our fulfillment is done out of our office, where we have expensive equipment for custom label printing. Our teammate from California was feeling uncomfortable being in New York and went back home, and I wanted to support him on that. The timing also coincided with our other teammate leaving to have surgery, so now it’s just me, our full time head of engineering and a few part time workers.
As many states are continuing to order non-essential retail stores to stay closed, and shoppers tighten their wallets, startup founders are having to take a look at what costs they can cut to ensure their can keep their business running through the coronavirus outbreak. Many startups are cutting their digital advertising spend. Others are trying to renegotiate leases. Many founders are taking extreme pay cuts themselves, and asking their executive teams to as well. And, ultimately many of them are also having to layoff or furlough staff, or asking them to take unpaid leave as well. Modern Retail will be tracking the job and salary cuts announced by startups, by date of when they were first reported, in order to get a better sense of how the coronavirus outbreak will impact the burgeoning direct-to-consumer industry.
Many brands have relied on out of home ads, like subway takeovers, to diversify away from social and digital. But now that everyone is staying home, these businesses are being forced to rethink where best to reach audiences and how to message to them.
"With everyone staying home, it’s actually been good for the puzzle business."
For the past couple of years, investors have been urging direct-to-consumer brands to rely less on digital advertising to acquire new customers. While they may be hesitant to admit it, many direct-to-consumer advertising brands are pulling back on their advertising spend on Facebook and Google as they anticipate shoppers will tighten their wallets in the coming months.
"Landlords have been sympathetic to the retailer brands’ situation during these shutdowns."
"This could be the tipping point that finally gets Americans to adopt the bidet.”
More and more companies are announcing plans to have most employees work remotely. For smaller DTC brands, that rely on both selling physical products and having a scrappy agile work culture, this is especially difficult. But as the coronavirus spreads, so too does the need for a work contingency plan.
Shark Tank investor Matt Higgins remains bullish on the potential of DTC brands to upend traditional consumer companies, and make a profit while doing it. "I think that innovation cycle is never going to end," Higgins said.
Though stocks are tumbling and some businesses are facing big obstacles, the coronavirus is causing some brands to see big gains. In the DTC space, companies offering higher-end home and health products have observed more new customers and bigger order sizes. It makes sense: Why go to Costco when you can buy nice toilet paper online?
Companies that sell primarily direct-to-consumer already faced a tough time raising venture capital funding in 2020. And that was before an outbreak of COVID-19. Most investors say it's too early to tell if other venture capital firms will prove less willing to make investments in the coming months, and certain categories like like travel may be more negatively impacted than others. But nearly all are counseling companies to rethink their growth projections for 2020, and start thinking now about how they can tighten up expenses in a worst case scenario.
In the past two years, Grove Collaborative has become one of the biggest companies in cleaning supplies, hitting a $1 billion valuation last September following a $150 million series D funding round. Like other modern brands, it comes with a do-good, purpose-based mission. Having already implemented practices like having all facilities running on renewable power, Grove Collaborative is now committing to go plastic-free by 2025. “This timeline also forces it to be done on my and my team’s watch, unlike corporations that promise change down the line through a different CEO and management,” Landesberg said.
DTC healthcare startup Ro announced a new assessment tool for COVID-19. It's the latest -- and perhaps most extreme -- example of businesses shifting strategies to deal with the epidemic. Questions abound about how such a program will be executed.
While many channels factor into customer experience, email has by far the most reach. In a new guide for retail marketers, learn the best practices for using email to drive revenue, increase brand awareness and boost traffic.
A series of presentations, workshops and talks to help you navigate and survive our current crisis and the acceleration of e-commerce that has come with it.Register Now