Every product sector, from automotive, through to FMCG and travel, has been impacted by the rise of direct-to-consumer (DTC) commerce. Spurred into action by shifting consumer behaviors and the emergence of smaller start-up ventures as rivals, established brands have invested in DTC strategies that, underpinned by sophisticated data, have the potential to grow their sales to new levels.
Jenni Baker, The Drum’s assistant editor, moderated the discussion, which features Nick Walsh, chief executive officer of VMLY&R COMMERCE in Dubai, and Karima Berkani, group head of brand at Jumia Group, home to Africa’s leading e-commerce platform.
VMLY&R COMMERCE’s Walsh opened the session by describing how delivering a seamless approach across channels to consumers has become so important, and how brands in some categories were already focused on this in pre-pandemic days: “If you look at categories like tourism and flights, for example, we already saw consumers looking for a much easier way to interact, engage and purchase these brands, and brands catering for that with much more seamless approaches. But it’s not been quite as seamless if you look at things like luxury where it’s much harder to deliver on a DTC promise.”
Jumia’s Berkani describes how the company had worked during the pandemic with organizations such as the UN in helping local merchants in Africa establish their online DTC channels to sell to audiences that were used to buying products in-person. She adds: “You are seeing a lot of brands trying to sort out a DTC strategy, particularly online. At Jumia we have what we call official stores, which are basically ‘shops in shops’ that are online, dedicated to brands. And even this year, we’ve seen a considerable uptick in the number of brands who are interested in them.”
Data’s role in boosting DTC commerce emerged as a discussion point with Walsh outlining how larger numbers of brands are now asking for help in pulling insights from data to build their campaigns. Berkani emphasizes the importance of enhancing shopping and purchase data with consumer insights through focus groups and other interactions with customers: “I think the expectation is going to be for personalized, creative commerce experiences. And in order to be able to deliver on those you’re going to have to really understand your consumers and have the data there.”
But is it possible to have too much data, can it serve to confuse a DTC commerce marketing strategy? Berkani says: “All of our data points and our focus points come together, there’s a really healthy tension that lands you on better and stronger creative and, ultimately, better-performing campaigns. Being able to use data to steer a campaign as you go, and see what is working and what isn’t working, to be able to pivot, is also something that’s really hugely important in today’s world.”
With that in mind, what do the panelists see as the evolving trends? Walsh suggests that we drop the “e” from e-commerce and become more selective about where DTC commerce can play a powerful role: “Actually what we need to do is look at commerce in totality. I think that’s really a big move for 2022. Brands that start to think like this are the ones that are going to win… DTC falls within a commerce strategy, and can be used at the right human moment, when the data informs that it’s needed.”
Berkani concludes the discussion with a point about the growing importance of values and purpose in commerce: “People are shopping at a number of different places, whether it be online or offline, and I think that we’re going to see, in addition to that consumer experience and customer service piece, people shopping more with brands or in businesses that they feel have a purpose that’s aligned with their core values.”