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Do you ever stop and think about outer space? The sheer number of stars, universes, planets, moons, galaxies, and comets boggles the mind. It seems infinite in number and in scope.

Ya know what’s a lot like the bottomless black hole of space? The internet. The endlessness of content providers, media hubs, social media platforms, shopping sites, and more feels like a never-ending expanse—much like outer space. (Plus, both kinda make us wanna hop in a spaceship and blast off from the earth. 🚀) 

In fact, there are 7.1 million ecommerce sellers globally, with 1.8 million of those in the United States. A trendy, fast-growing section of the ecommerce world is direct-to-consumer (D2C) sites. Shopify, one of the world’s largest ecommerce platforms, hosts 800,000 D2C sites alone. The number of merchants utilizing online channels grows daily.

That number isn’t poised to plateau anytime soon, either. Unlike their big box brethren, D2C brands bring a wealth of variety in styles, price points, and products. As younger generations continuously yearn for originality and letting their individuality shine through, D2C brands fit the bill with offerings that aren’t what you can grab off any retail shelf. 

Plus, the coronavirus pandemic pushed more shoppers and stores online, and there’s no going back. The perfect storm of online adoption and embracing individuality means D2C is the place to be—but what’s the catch?

The Dark Side of D2C: Competition

With such huge numbers, it’s no surprise that online merchants are faced with a ton of competition. D2C brands, of course, have to compete with each other in their category or vertical, plus they’re still up against the big retailers they’re bypassing. 

Online retailers like Amazon, Alibaba, and Walmart are mounting threats, as well as ecommerce platforms for traditional retailers such as Target, Nordstrom, Macy’s, and other classic department stores. Many D2C brands don’t have deep pockets like Amazon and Walmart do. They can’t compete with paid ads, Super Bowl ads, razor-thin margins, or steep discounts. And if they turn to selling through marketplaces, they risk getting ripped off and losing control of the branded customer experience.  

So, how can a D2C brand stand apart in this increasingly crowded space without forking over their identity to an online ecomm behemoth? They gotta rely on their ability to provide a superior shopping experience—one that can’t be delivered by clunky, cold, and impersonal marketplaces.

It’s been shown that consumers are willing to pay for those superior experiences. Eighty-seven percent of shoppers claim they’ll pay more for brands that provide the best experiences, which is precisely why more companies than ever are aiming to compete on experience alone in the impending year.

And if you’ve been shopping online the past couple years, you’ll know that the experience is one of the biggest differentiators on online platforms. A good experience is memorable, appreciative, and the cornerstone of long-term loyalty. Online stores skating by with poor customer experiences endure one-and-done shoppers who churn and never look back. 

Good customer experiences, on the flip side, will not only keep people coming back time and time again (and telling all their friends about you), but they’ll be exactly what sets you apart from the booming competition.

3 Strategies to Create a Head-turning Customer Experience

Brands must lean into creating a better experience for shoppers than their D2C and online retailer competitors. We aren’t saying stores have to drop a load of cash on the latest augmented reality tech. Many times, a better ecommerce experience is achieved through slight tweaks to the customer journey, whether it be UX, messaging, or light personalization.

Below are three strategies D2C brands can employ to create a best-in-class digital shopping experience and differentiate themselves from the (verrrry large) pack.

1. Don’t sleep on the post-purchase experience.

You wouldn’t treat your spouse poorly after you marry them. You wouldn’t slow down right before the finish line as you’re winning a race. And you wouldn’t take a delicious homemade Thanksgiving turkey out of the oven 30 minutes before it’s ready and serve up raw bird. 

So, why would you let the home stretch of your customers’ shopping experience be anything less than easy, memorable, thoughtful—exceptional? 

Brands shouldn’t stop short for their customers, especially after they’ve hit the “Buy” button. Treating a customer with care well past a completed purchase could make the difference between a second purchase at your store or heading to your competition. This, of course, means giving shoppers a thoughtful experience all the way through delivery and beyond. 

Focus on providing the best experiences not just when you’re attracting them to your site or convincing them to purchase, but extend your brand’s experience all the way until the item is literally in their hands. Use Route to help create a premium post-purchase experience. By offering real-time tracking and calm-inducing purchase protection, you’re showing your customers you care about them beyond checkout. 

2. Engage with shoppers beyond email.

The name of the game is engagement for D2C brands. When a store of any size engages with customers more, they up their odds of brand recall and open up more paths to repeat purchases. Your website is one big engagement frenzy, but keeping engaged with customers after checkout is the true sweet spot.

Send follow-up emails with product recommendations, alert shoppers to upcoming sales, and keep your customers in the know about their purchase’s whereabouts. Deliver push notifications each time their package hits another milestone on their way to delivery. Plus, every time one of your customers clicks open the Route app to see where their package is, that’s another touchpoint of engagement.

With a comprehensive post-purchase platform, brands can foster more engagement between them and their customers than email alone. This is doubly true for brands who send a single tracking email automatically after purchase completion. Companies that improve engagement throughout the journey can increase cross-sells by 22%, triple upsell revenue, and increase order size. 

Customers will engage more and trust your brand more than others who leave them out to dry as soon as they hit “purchase.”

3. Personalize touchpoints along the journey.

Personalization is a growing trend these days and it’s all because people want to be more than just a number. Recognize them as the individual they are, and not just a small pandering like addressing them by their first name in your emails—really get to know them. 

Ninety-one percent of consumers are more likely to return to brands that recognize them and offer personalized messaging, content, and coupons. If your brand sells workout clothes, what sports are your customers shopping for? If your brand sells food, what’s their favorite cuisine? If you’re a magazine, what topics are they clicking on most? Don’t send out broadcast messaging that isn’t relevant to your whole audience; 71% of consumers get frustrated when brands don’t show they know them.

Ecommerce marketing tools like Mailchimp and Klaviyo offer a variety of ways to automate personalization. (As oxymoronic as that sounds, don’t doubt how personal automation can be.) Deploy SMS messages, push notifications, ad sets, and personalized emails based on what your shoppers are browsing, buying, and more. Platforms like these help D2C stores add personalization throughout the entire customer experience, no matter how big they scale. 

Set Your Ecommerce Store Apart

While ecommerce competition isn’t going to be waving the white flag anytime soon, standing out in a crowd doesn’t have to be 1) time-consuming or 2) budget-busting. These engaging, memorable strategies can set D2C brands apart from the others fighting for consumer attention online (and even give a far better experience than in-store ever could).  

While online channels can seem as expansive and crowded as outer space, there are always some brighter stars in the sky. Set up a differentiating customer experience to add extra luster and stand out among the crowd.