5 Mistakes Brands Make Selling Direct-to-Consumer
1. Using a bolt-on shop
When brands make their first foray into ecommerce, they typically have an existing site complete with (non-transactional) product pages. But rather than integrate commerce into the dot-com site, often a separate ecommerce site is created on its own domain (or sub-domain of the dot-com), with its own look-and-feel, content, administrators and IT systems.
While this is faster, cheaper and simpler than integrating commerce into the existing CMS (or replacing the existing CMS for one with ecommerce capabilities), there are several pitfalls:
Branded domains enjoy high search rankings and reap a lot of traffic (they often outrank Amazon!)
They also tend to have richer content and product information, presented in a way that shows off the product more than retail partners constrained by category and product page templates. For example, Philips Norelco’s electric razor landing page:
Though some of Philips’ channel partners, like Boots, have fantastic and content-rich brand category pages, manufacturers have more skin in the content, presentation and merchandising of their own products, including rich media, video, interactive demos, large images, product finders, etc.
So what happens when a customer hits the brand site, experiences this great content and is ready to buy? If the site uses a bolt-on ecommerce site, the user is hijacked out of a rich content experience and dumped in a very catalog-like shop. Often, they’re taken to a home page which requires them to perform a product search, or otherwise reorient themselves through the site. Ugh.
Rich brand content can emotionally and rationally incent a purchase, and having the immediate option to purchase in that moment, on that page can deliver higher conversion than kicking the customer out of the experience.
It’s not uncommon for the “shop” team to operate independently from the corporate site (even be outsourced to a third party), especially when the bolt-on store is localized to multiple geographies, which each may have their own content creators and administrators. This results in inconsistent messaging, duplicate content, inferior content, time lag in updating content, fragmented analytics – the list of pain goes on. This is less than ideal.
Maintaining separate stores doubles the work when it comes to providing mobile-friendly experiences. Both domains need to be optimized, and with brand and ecommerce teams operating in silos, you may experience a decent mobile experience on the brand site and a dreadful one on the store or vice-versa. Usability and customer experience hiccups are exacerbated on the smaller screen.
While not always possible, a corporate domain with ecommerce baked in is ideal, simplifying content management while maximizing SEO and customer experience. Versioning, extensibility, marketing campaign agility, content updates and analytics are all simplified with an integrated site (typically driven through a CMS rather than an ecommerce platform). Brands adding ecommerce for the first time should seriously consider this approach over a bolt-on shop.
2. No value prop
When competing against channel partners (especially Amazon), a brand site needs to clearly convey why to buy direct rather than through another site, which may have lower prices, offer loyalty rewards or have easy-access coupons.
A brand's ecommerce value proposition may be a full assortment of all products and accessories (hint: this may be a high-level strategy), creative bundle offers, extended customer service options, or an exclusive gift with purchase.
It’s not enough to have a value prop, you need to boast of them. On. Every. Page. Clearly.
Losing a sale to a channel partner means losing a direct relationship to the customer. Fight for it.
3. Avoiding reviews
It’s easy for a Best Buy, Walgreens or Home Depot to host customer reviews – they offer a variety of alternatives if a brand or product has less-than-awesome star ratings.
For brands, star ratings hit closer to home.
Though it’s tempting to prevent any negative sentiment on your site by avoiding reviews altogether, they’re critical content in the discovery, decision and even post-purchase stages. Customers crave reviews, and not showing them prompts customers to research elsewhere. Keep ‘em on your site.
A site feature that mitigates negative reviews is staff responses. It gives your team the opportunity to clarify or educate customers about an issue (for example, the customer may have had a negative experience due to improper use), or simply show your company’s commitment to customer service, publicly acknowledging each issue and offering a remedy.
Another FUD-crusher is clearly communicating your guarantees and policies on every page, proximal to the customer review section.
4. Overestimating mobile
Much money can be thrown at branded apps that nobody wants or uses, or native shopping apps that need to be built and maintained over an increasing number of platforms. While apps can be profitable and are sometimes the right choice depending on what features you need, a brand should evaluate whether a universal HTML5 experience with app-like features is a better long-term strategy.
The mistake is to assume you need native apps. Build what will get used. Investigate. Get customer input.
5. Underestimating mobile
Just as many businesses dragged their feet into online, many are now dragging them into mobile. Research happens on smartphones and tablets. Email is opened on small screens. Links need to point to optimized pages. Your brand suffers when you neglect small screens.
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The challenge for brands is their content-rich sites are typically difficult (and expensive) to translate into multi-device experiences. It’s tempting to keep pushing back investment in new touchpoints, but we're no longer waiting for the "year of mobile" to hit - the age of mobile is already well underway. A brand venturing into ecommerce for the first time should consider how platform and design decisions tie into mobile strategy, rather than treat it as a separate project down the road.