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Jan 5, 2023 | 7 minute read

Commerce for Weirdos: What to Do When Your D2C Commerce Needs Don’t Fit the Monolith

written by Bryan House

Many companies do not fit the mold of your typical out-of-the-box commerce monolith. I was recently chatting with a D2C prospect with a unique purchase flow. We talked through the ways to activate all of their different commerce channels, while remaining true to their brand. She joked at the time that what made Elastic Path unique is that it is flexible enough to do “commerce for weirdos.” Ironically, given her very unique commerce requirements, that’s just what she needed.

The truth is that most commerce platforms have self-imposed constraints that were not designed to meet the needs of companies with unique product sets, checkout processes, channels and more. Brands that have bent to these platform constraints suffer from clunky, disjointed customer experiences, or worse yet, boring cookie-cutter, undifferentiated commerce experiences (is there even a brand here?).

As a result, we’ve seen D2C companies try all sorts of strategies to reach customers where they are. Most of them worked around commerce platform constraints by relying heavily on third-party social media and ad platforms to drive revenue. So much so that Fortune recently declared the death of the D2C business model.

In reality, D2C isn’t dead at all. It simply requires owning your own platform, choosing the right distribution channels, and embracing your unique brand of weirdness. 

D2C Social Commerce: What went wrong

Many startup D2Cs in the last decade have relied heavily on social channels for customer acquisition. However, changes in Apple’s iOS privacy settings have driven up customer acquisition costs (CAC). A marketing agency founder quoted in the Fortune article above estimates social media CAC are up 20-30%—which is not sustainable for many brands in a difficult and uncertain economy. Other ad industry changes, such as Google’s crackdown on third party cookies, are making customer acquisition even more difficult.

All of these changes underscore the lack of control D2C commerce brands have had over their own destiny. 

In some ways, the honeypot of low CAC seemed too sweet. In other ways, the exodus to social commerce was forced by legacy commerce platforms that just didn’t adapt fast enough with the times. We’ve seen this story before, with news sites falling victim to fast-growing traffic numbers from Facebook, only to have the rug swept out from under them with the 2018 newsfeed algorithm change.

What if — instead of being forced to accept this fate — D2C’s business constraints (e.g. from Meta, Google, etc.) and platform constraints (e.g. from Salesforce, Adobe, Shopify, etc.) went away? A solid foundational commerce technology stack that the company owns, paired with a flexible, future-proof distribution strategy could be the secret to survival. 

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D2C commerce will remain weird for a few different reasons. First, customers have lots of options. As a result, D2C brands have to create a uniquely engaging value proposition to stand out among increased competition. It’s hard to distinguish one Shopify site from another, which makes it even harder for customers to differentiate your brand. The bottom line is that customers can buy from anywhere, so it’s increasingly important to create experiences that build a lasting impression. 

For example, the headless approach to commerce allows our customer Maavee to deliver differentiated commerce experiences for its customers — employers who want to give wellness funds as a benefit to employees. Knowing that each employee's wellness journey is highly personal, the brand can now create unique, hyper-curated marketplaces and bundle products in a way that wasn’t previously possible. The brand’s focus is on wellness products and services from brands doing good in the world, content to inform and inspire, and community for connection and support. 

Second, consumer buying habits are weird. They’ll shop your brand on marketplaces because they’re already fulfilling other items on their lists. They’ll impulse buy your product on social channels because you caught them at the right time. Or they’ll find you organically through search and shop directly via a landing page. If the list of possible buying permutations seems endless, weird commerce is for you.

We believe embracing this weird world starts with the catalog, and merchandising all the moments. Through Elastic Path Product Experience Manager, a brand can create its own product experiences, without custom development work. Merchandisers can take the wheel and adjust their product catalogs as they see fit, without having to adhere to a platform’s technological constraints. The catalog is an API endpoint, which can be placed anywhere — from shoppable landing pages, to marketing campaigns, to ads, and more. Products and bundles can also be pushed externally to marketplaces, as well.

A new commerce playbook might look like using a composable commerce platform like Elastic Path as a foundational hub to power any combination of these distribution strategies: 

  • Marketplaces:Marketplaces aren’t going away anytime soon, whether you like them or not. How you’re pricing and fulfilling your products for channels like Amazon, Walmart and Google marketplaces can make a big difference. While it might require data engineering to format catalog data to each marketplace for consumption, you still own the relationship with the customer to close the loop.
  • Channel Partners: Many consumer products are sold through channels. Pricing and packaging for partners doesn’t have to be difficult with unlimited pricebooks and hot-swappable catalogs to support channel business relationships that require catalog flexibility to cater to their unique demands.
  • First-party Data Targeting: Without third-party cookies, more brands are leveraging their own data to more effectively target and engage potential customers. By owning your own commerce technology stack, you can take greater control of your data, accomplished via an integration to a customer data platform (CDP). In addition, some ambitious D2C brands are starting their own communities, whether that’s through ambassador or membership-based programs. 
  • Social Commerce: Social commerce is not over; it’s just getting more challenging. Grand View Research’s latest report stated the global social commerce market reached $584.91 billion in 2021 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 30.8% between 2022 and 2030. Embrace the experimental nature; ultimately these platforms keep trying to innovate. It’s up to consumers on what will stick, whether it’s TikTok’s new ad formats, live streaming commerce, or something else on the horizon.

Let’s Get Weird

With a composable commerce tech stack and a flexible catalog powered by Product Experience Manager, D2C brands can adapt to whatever is next. There are all kinds of weird customer flows — from a partner-driven distribution model to a D2C digital health brand that requires insurance approvals. You shouldn’t have to adapt your needs to your commerce application constraints. Your commerce technology stack should power the full expression of your unique brand experience, and any number of distribution strategies that make most sense for your audience.

If your business has unique needs get a solution tailored specifically for you and chat with an Elastic Path expert today.

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