How can manufacturers benefit from a direct-to-consumer strategy after the pandemic? By Martin Lloyd
Since the start of the pandemic, the unique opportunity for manufacturers to engage with customers directly through a direct-to-consumer (D2C) strategy has become more compelling. With the need for physical retail space eradicated during the lockdowns, customers were forced to move online, and there is the potential that some consumer shopping preferences may be changed for the long term. This gives B2B brands the chance to cut out retail middlemen and sell directly to their audience. Now, B2B brands are bringing a new edge to the customer-manufacturer dynamic with self-service, multi-channel options for customers.
As we move out of lockdown, there are other hazards to weather, such as inflation and ongoing supply chain disruptions. Moving forward, manufacturers which have managed to capture customer spend through D2C will find they have greater control over costs, delivery and their ability to adapt to changing customer needs in the midst of much economic uncertainty.
What should be top of mind for manufacturers entering the space is choosing a modern commerce technology solution that is up to the job.
Take ownership of customer relationships
A direct-to-consumer approach gives manufacturers greater control over the sales model than they would traditionally have. By engaging end-customers directly via their digital interface, they can take ownership of those relationships and build loyalty. To do this, quality customer data needs to be properly collected, analyzed and used to make informed decisions for personalized interactions and experiences which improve the shopping experience. Only modern commerce infrastructures like a ‘headless’ platform, which decouples back-end and front-end data, are capable of integrating data collection natively.
Putting these insights to good use also means achieving a consistent service across all touchpoints. Customers often switch between front-end interfaces such as websites, apps and channels like voice assistants. Headless enables brands to connect as many front-ends to the same back-end as they want, so shoppers can enjoy a simplified, more convenient and more satisfying experience via the channel of their choosing.
Practice and experiment
Engaging end-users and adapting to changing customer expectations will require experimentation to begin with. To drive loyalty, brands need to be able to test and rollout new features quickly and easily. Traditional monolithic commerce systems rely on time-consuming coding to fix bugs at the back-end when even simple changes are made at the front. Comparatively, an agile, flexible e-commerce API-first solution allows developers to avoid downtime and reduce laborious work, making improvements to front-ends using a modern commerce infrastructure far more straightforward.
Be fast and agile
Disrupting the market requires speed and agility. Teams need to work in parallel to complete deployments at speed, so an agile approach that leverages headless infrastructure, which allows them to do exactly that will provide the best solution.
Headless commerce systems allow brands to implement new user interfaces much more quickly than full-stack or all-in-one software alternatives. Using a headless solution that is less costly and laborious to install and maintain, brands can also be more efficient and release their products to market sooner.
Brands need a robust commerce system if they intend to grow their business. Large and complex B2B manufacturers have to be prepared to handle higher volumes of traffic than they are typically used to so they can handle seasonal peaks as well as steady growth.
AI can also help manufacturers grow with a D2C strategy. By implementing machine learning capabilities natively into ecommerce systems, real-time data flows between front- and back-ends prevents websites from crashing. That way, brands can create a fast-loading experience, maximize up-time and capture more revenue.
Expand engagement opportunities
Adding more touchpoints for customer interaction can boost brand engagement, but can also lead to a ‘software zoo’ that’s difficult to manage. To avoid a situation where new channels actually become a burden and disrupt overall functionality, manufacturers should equip themselves with an adequate platform.
Multiple frontends can be managed using a single set of APIs in an underlying headless system, which creates the ideal environment to add channels. With more efficient software maintenance, brands operating across a variety of channels and devices can cut deployment time and take advantage of each as a unique source of revenue.
To benefit from a growing online consumer audience, traditional B2B brands need to consider how they can transform sales routes. Reaching end-users will be different for every brand, so strategies will vary. What will not vary is the need for flexibility and reliability in digital commerce systems so that they can capture a direct market, regardless of the demographic.
As physical retail suffers more hardships and the markets become more volatile, D2C strategies empower manufacturers to seize control of their own sales channels. For this to be a sustainable option moving forward, investment in technology that makes it easy for manufacturers to continuously improve the retail experience will be crucial.
Martin Lloyd is Marketing Manager UK & Northern Europe at commercetools, the world’s leading platform for next-generation B2C and B2B commerce. To break the market out of being restrained by legacy suites, commercetools invented a headless, API-first, multi-tenant SaaS commerce platform that is cloud-native and uses flexible microservices. Using modern development building blocks in a true cloud platform provided by commercetools, customers can deliver the best commerce experiences across every touchpoint on a large scale.