As online shopping evolves, so too are DTC brand websites.
When brands first began building direct-to-consumer channels, the idea of selling certain products online was still novel. Now, certain categories like suitcases and swimsuits have become crowded with dozens of online-only brands. What’s more, recent Apple privacy changes have made it more difficult for brands to target new customers through social media channels like Facebook. As a result, it’s getting harder for brands to win over new shoppers, and every sale counts.
In turn, brands are giving their websites a facelift and rethinking their roles. Executives at direct-to-consumer startups say they are now putting more resources into redesigning their homepages, blogs and FAQ sidebars to guide customers along the shopping journey. They’re providing more details about ingredients and product differentiation, alongside educational videos and blog posts in the hopes of raising conversion rates. According to a number of brand founders who spoke to Modern Retail, they’ve redesigned their companies’ websites to adapt to these changes.
Stephen Clements, chief creative officer at digital design agency Y Media Labs — which works with companies like Yeti and Thrive Market — said brands are increasingly looking for ways to engage customers through storytelling and education in particular. He confirmed that much of this trend’s trajectory is also due to the move toward organic marketing and reducing data-driven paid ads.
“Clients are asking ‘why do people want to come to our site?,’” Clements said. And as more digitally-native brands branch out to wholesale distribution and marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart, Clements said there is more pressure to offer something exclusive to their DTC customers, whether it’s a product, service or storytelling.
‘A mobile-first design perspective’
This past fall, air conditioner brand Windmill rolled out a new website just two years after launching.
According to founder and CEO Mike Mayer, the brand “wanted to optimize performance on iOS so that larger imagery wouldn’t slow down internet speed and deter customers from continuing to engage on the site.” This was done in preparation for Windmill’s new HVAC model launch in the first quarter of 2023 that’s geared to suburban homeowners. As part of the rollout, the company will include interactive elements like quiz, reminder texts and educational videos on the new product.
“Close to 65% to 70% of our site visits come from a mobile device,” Mayer explained, adding that it was important to optimize every page for a mobile experience. The new website also features landing pages for QR code scans. “We want to see our mobile conversion increase as we make it easier to browse and check out right from your phone.” This will be put to the test coming summer season, when Windmill will offer same-day delivery in New York City.
Other newly-launched high end brands are also considering the mobile experience.
Homeware brand Lemieux et Cie, which launched its DTC website in April, is another brand focusing on decor inspiration imagery as opposed to a product grid. Founder Christiane Lemieux said her goal was to make coming to the brand’s website from social pages more seamless.
“These days, people browse their social feeds like Instagram and Pinterest for design ideas,” Lemieux said. “So I wanted our site to mimic that scrolling habit when they visit it.” Each of the brand’s product sections is designed as an Instagram-esque photo grid, which is reshuffled based on trending products or latest releases. Lemieux said this minimalist and clean browsing journey only shows prices or “add to cart” tabs once a customer clicks on a product to learn more. So far, she said, this look has received positive feedback from customers visiting for ideas.
So far, daily traffic sessions have increased 113% month-over-month since the first month of launch. The company solely relies on organic traffic from social media, and hasn’t spent on advertising or marketing since launching at the end of 2021.
An emphasis on educational content
Skincare brand Stratia also overhauled their website over the past summer, centered around an ingredients glossary created by founder Alli Reed. “Every single ingredient used in any product has its own page highlighting what it is, why we use it, and the research behind it,” she said. We built out the ingredient glossary so that skincare fanatics can follow their curiosity down the rabbit hole and learn to their hearts’ content,” she said.
As visitors scroll and click through, they can use the glossary to filter products, ingredients or skincare concerns, with pop-ups explaining how each combination impacts skin. For those who want quick info hits, Reed said “they can just hover over any ingredient on a product page to get a one-sentence description.” The site also features a new quiz that recommends the best products for each person’s skin type as the visitor browses.
Reed told Modern Retail that the company “redid the entire website from scratch and kept very little from the previous site.” In the year leading up to beginning the redesign, the Stratia team kept track of all consumer feedback on that site: asking what they liked, what they would change, what was confusing and what was helpful.
Reed said the ingredient glossary has also been “a huge benefit for organic SEO,” with visitors finding Stratia’s website as they search formulations. “If someone discovers our site because they want to know what n-acetyl glucosamine does for their skin, that’s a major win,” she said.
Indeed, interactive features and storytelling are a big trend among beauty brands, especially those that specialize in specific ingredients or formulas.
Greek skincare brand Korres also relaunched its site in fall 2022, featuring in-depth info on each of their recycling labs under Korres’ Full Circle process. Korres, which was founded back in 1996 and relaunched in 2018 with a digital-first model, previously touted its history as an herbal remedy pharmacy brand.
But the company has also gotten a lot of positive feedback from its customers whenever it shares information about the brand’s Greek heritage or a behind-the-scenes look at its formulation lab, according to founder Lena Korres, spurring the brand to redesign its website to focus on this.
“We developed an interactive map of Greece that educates on different towns, local herbs and the farmers that harvest them so visitors can learn how and where a formula is made, from seed to skin,” she said.
The emphasis on education is especially important among brands trying to disrupt well-established categories.
For example, when Windmill first launched the brand and website back in 2020 (at the height of the pandemic’s stay-home orders), Mayer said the company’s goal was to grab attention from shoppers looking for any product that was in stock.
Now, he said “we’re focusing on the buying experience and trying to make the site as informative as possible.” This was a result of customer feedback from over the past couple of years, who have asked Windmill to include more information about the product and specs when browsing.
Fit and compatibility is one of the biggest pain points on this front, he said. “Our biggest reason for returns is not problems with our product, but consumers trying to use it with incompatible windows,” Mayer said. “We’ll also provide more automation in our customer support, so customers can get answers quickly without needing to wait for one of our support associates.”
Clements noted that people make up their minds about a website in about three to five seconds, so first impressions are important. “We advise brands to follow an ‘inspire, engage then convert’ model,” he added. “The website is the front door to your brand’s house,” Clements said. “It’s the only place brands can own their own story, and not let it get diluted by other products displayed next to them.”