Building for growth: Creating DTC experiences for scale in a downturn

In an uncertain economic climate, it’s important for DTC merchants to pivot and refine their strategies, looking for new growth and retention opportunities at every touchpoint. 

That means taking a close look at your digital sales channels to ensure that they’re designed to deliver a superior customer experience at every stage of the buyer’s journey, from first touch all the way through to the post-purchase experience.

In this webinar, a team of ecommerce experts shared their insights on strategies for optimizing your website and mobile applications to deliver maximum customer engagement and retention.

In a panel moderated by Mac King, managing director of the digital agency Half Helix, we learned tips on digital engagement in a recession from:

  • Madeline Paymer, Senior Manager, Digital Product at Fellow
  • Sabena Suri, Head of Curation at Canal
  • Samir Kamnani, Product Marketing Manager at Loop

Here are some of their most important takeaways.

Build features that can be customized and used for new purposes as your brand grows.

“When we approach a new product launch, we really try to think of it as we’re building new software features, and not we’re building for this specific product launch,” says Paymer. “So that really lets us get into a mindset of thinking about trade-offs, thinking about the goals of what we’re doing.”

As one example, she cites the launch of a new tea kettle product last year, for which Fellow built a landing page that showcases the difference between the new kettle and their existing kettle product so that customers can choose which one is right for them.

“We were really deliberate about building it in a general way. Instead of calling it a kettle page, we came up with a name internally. We call it a family page. It’s an internal-only name, but it reminds us that we’re building not for kettles, but for general purposes.”

Building digital products with flexibility enables your brand to use them as templates, and find new use cases for them – for instance, the same product comparison page template could also be used to showcase different varieties of coffee grinders.

By being purposeful in how you build digital products, you’ll be able to easily adapt them to a wide range of use cases without needing additional technical support, saving you money and time.

Use data insights to decide which pages to optimize and how.

The company began thinking about which pages to refresh on their website. “…Our instinct was the homepage — everybody sees the homepage all the time [since] it’s the first page,” Paymer says. “But we dug into some data a little bit more and that reminded us that customers experience the site in a completely different way than we experience it.” 

“In fact, five times as many of our sessions start on a product description page (PDP) as start on the homepage. It’s not really that standard funnel from the early days of ecommerce of homepage, collection page, PDP card. Instead, they’re coming in from an Instagram ad or from your browser autocomplete or a Google search. We found that PDPs are where everybody was starting. And so that’s where we’re starting too.”

As part of refreshing your PDPs, it’s important to look at your product return insights to help you optimize those pages with better descriptions, so that you’ll be able to reduce the number of future returns.

“For an apparel brand, let’s say an item is too big or too small. That gives you the opportunity to update your size chart and more reflectively show what size a consumer should get,” says Kamnani.  

“For example, you could say ‘X percent of shoppers say this item runs big.’ Another example would be color. If people are saying ‘it isn’t the color I was expecting,’ maybe you need to take some new imagery to more accurately reflect that. Or if a particular product repeatedly comes up as an issue, then maybe it’s a manufacturing error that means you need to go back to your manufacturer and see what’s really going on.”

“But again, looking at those return reasons as a learning experience can help you optimize for future growth.”

Grow your merchandising opportunities through partner promotions.

Adding new merch to your site is a great way to grow excitement around your brand. But frequent product launches are resource-intensive and require a lot of R&D.

“It’s not necessarily a reality for every brand, especially at the rate that customers expect new products,” says Suri. “I think we live in this TikTok era and people have really short attention spans. So how do you keep merchandising interesting without having all of your money tied up in your own inventory?” 

Canal’s solution to that problem is to help merchants identify complementary partners, whose products are a natural fit for cross-promotion. For the cookware brand Great Jones, for example, they helped them launch a line of “pantry pals” — the products that you’d use with your Great Jones cookware.

“We’ve got pasta, sauces, pasta, olive oil, spices, all the things that would go into building a best-in-class pantry. And these are all brand friends of the Great Jones founders. So there’s that cohesive story. And what we saw was that orders from Pantry Pals had a 66% higher average order volume than orders just on the Great Jones website alone. You can see the revenue lift that you’re looking for without it necessarily coming from a first party product.”

Fellow has also seen success with this approach, using Canal to promote independent coffee bean roasters. “It lets us partner with so many cool smaller roasters in a way that doesn’t require us to take inventory, which would really limit the number of partnerships we would be able to take on.”

Optimize your returns experience to ensure post-purchase customer retention. 

In the current market, customer acquisition costs are going up, so it takes more money to market to your target audience through social ads, PPC, and other digital channels. Once you land a customer, it’s even more of a priority to keep them for the long run.

“When we think about the entire customer experience and the entire journey, it really is important to place a focus on retention post-purchase,” says Kamnani. “Once you’ve acquired that customer, what do you need to do to keep them coming back and being a loyal repeat purchaser?”

A positive returns experience is crucial. Loop’s research has found that 84% of customers have said that a positive returns experience would encourage a repeat purchase. And when customers have negative experiences with returns, they’re far less likely to shop with the brand again.

To remove friction from the returns experience, Kamnani recommends offering a self-service portal where shoppers can initiate returns and providing a variety of convenient options for returning products. Some of these options include offering printable return labels for at-home pickup and scannable QR codes that enable shoppers to drop their products off at a drop-off center where it can be repackaged on their behalf. 

Loop also found that 88% of shoppers say that an eco-friendly returns experience makes them more likely to shop with a brand again, so make sure that you build sustainability into your returns model. For example, by offering to let customers keep products that would not be eligible for resale, using eco-friendly packing materials, and providing the option to consolidate their return in a bulk shipment at a drop-off center. 

And don’t focus on refunds as the only option: by promoting other options including product exchanges and store credit, “it turns returns from this cost center and headache to a new sales channel for you and an opportunity to not only retain that revenue from the original purchase, but leave your shopper with a good experience that encourages them to come back to you again.”

To learn even more from our experts on how to optimize your online customer experience during tougher economic times, watch the full webinar.