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Direct to Consumer Ecommerce – an Introduction

Written on 14th May 2019

What is ‘Direct to Consumer’?

‘Direct to Consumer’ is a bit of a buzzphrase in Ecommerce, and has been for the last 3 or 4 years. Sometimes you’ll see it written as ‘D2C’. The basic concept is: Rather than creating products to be sold through Amazon, or Walmart, or Tesco, or any other retailer, some brands start up to sell directly to consumers themselves, cutting out distributors and third party retailers.

Is selling direct to consumers a new thing?

Actually no – it’s not new at all. The history of commerce is in ‘direct to consumer’ – craftspeople, farmers, fishermen, creating, growing, and catching produce to sell directly to those who would consume their goods.

As commerce industrialised, and mass marketing took hold, much of this remained, but an increasingly large share of the market became taken up by distributors, and resellers: Buying goods from the originators, passing them through ‘the channel’, to retailers who sold products from hundreds or thousands of similar originators.

Then how is this different?

The ‘D2C’ category is a very loose category, defined organically by people working in companies where they felt they were creating a new model, and by venture capitalists who wanted to group a particular type of company, and by writers and marketers who like to categorise things to make it easier to talk about common elements between them.

Whereas ‘B2B’ (business to business) is a very clearly defined category, or ‘automotive’ is quite a clearly defined category, ‘direct to consumer’ is a little looser, and companies one person would consider to be D2C may not be naturally thought of as such by someone else.

Generally when people speak about D2C brands, they tend to have a few commonalities:

  • Usually, these brands launch with a single product, or within a single narrow category containing just a few products.
  • Usually, they start up selling directly via the web.
  • Usually, their intent from the start is to sell direct to consumers & primarily stick with that sales channel. For example: Dell is not a D2C brand, as their aim is selling directly to businesses rather than consumers. For example: Levi’s is generally not spoken about as being a D2C brand because they sell vast amounts through third party retailers, as well as direct. (even though, of course, their long history begins with Levi Strauss & Jacob Davis selling riveted jeans direct to consumers).
  • Usually, they have a heavy brand focus. For example, a company selling generic craft supplies would usuall not be spoken about as a D2C company; a startup launching a narrow range of heavily brand-led pens sold direct via Instagram ads pointing to a Shopify store on the other hand likely could find themselves written about as a hot D2C startup.

‘Direct to Consumer’ is interesting for manufacturers, as it offers them the opportunity to bypass retailers and sell their brands directly. As retailers buy at a much lower price from manufacturers than they sell to consumers, this offers much higher profit per unit sold.

(for example, if a manufacturer makes a razor for 10c, and sells it to a retailer for $1, and the retailer sells it to the end consumer for $5, the manufacturer makes 90c per razor. If the manufacturer makes the razor for 10c, and sells it direct to the consumer at $5, they make $4.90 per razor. This ignores the complexities of selling direct, but illustrates some of the appeal).

Example D2C Brands

The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) put together a list of 250 D2C companies they consider to be D2C brands. As this is essentially a category defined by its constituents, we thought we’d include that list here as a useful resource to be able to click through and understand some of the common elements between them, as well as some of the facets that make them different.

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Alcohol Direct to Consumer Brands

Bright Cellars
Flaviar
Winc

Apparel/Fashion DTC Brands

Adore Me
Allbirds
Allison Mitchell
Allume
American Giant
Ashley Stewart
AYR
BaubleBar
Bespoke Post
Betabrand
Bombas
Bombfell
Bonobos
Buck Mason
BucketFeet
CARBON38
Chubbies
Clique Media Group
Combat Gent
Cotopaxi
Cuyana
Dagne Dover
Dia&Co
Doen Apparel
Dolls Kill
DSTLD
Ellie
ELOQUII Design
Ernest Alexander
Everlane
Fame & Partners
Fabletics Apparel
FarFetch
Five Four Group
Foot Cardigan
For Love & Lemons
Frank & Oak
GRANA
Greats Brand
Gwynnie Bee
Harper Wilde
Huckberry
Hudson Sutler
Indochino
J. Hilburn
Jack Erwin
JackThreads
Julianna Rae
Knot Standard
KOIO Collective
KUIU
Le Tote
Ledbury
Linjer
Lively
Lolly Wolly Doodle
M. Gemi
M.M. LaFleur
Mack Weldon
Mejuri
MeUndies
Ministry of Supply
Mizzen+Main
Monica & Andy
Mott & Bow
MVMT
Nasty Gal
OluKai
Outdoor Voices
PACT Apparel
Paul Evans
Plae
Primary Kids
Proper Cloth
Ratio Clothing
Reformation
REVOLVE
Rockets of Awesome
Rocksbox
Rothy’s
Shoes of Prey
Sole Society
Stance
Stitch Fix
swimsuitsforall
Tamara Mellon
Tea Living
The Black Tux
Thesis Couture
ThirdLove
Tomboy Exchange
Tommy John
Tracksmith
True&Co
TrueFacet
UNTUCKit
Vivobarefoot
Wantable
Warby Parker
Whipping Post
Yellowberry

Automotive DTC Brands

Faraday Future
Lucid Motors
Tesla
Zoox

Baby Care/Parenting DTC Brands

4Moms
Bluum
Happiest Baby
Owlet Baby Care
The Honest Company

Business and consumer DTC Brands

ArtLifting
Boon + Gable
GlamSquad
Snap+Style
Ziel

Consumer Electronics DTC Brands

Eargo
Kolibree
Moment
ORA

Food and beverage DTC Brands

ALOHA
Bean Box
Blue Apron
bocandy.com
Bulletproof 360
Bulu Box
Califia Farms
Candy Club
Care/of
CORE Hydration
Daily Harvest
Desert Farms
Dirty Lemon Beverages
Elysium Health
Food52
Freshly
Gobble
Graze
Halo Top Creamery
Health-Ade Kombucha
HelloFresh
Hint
Home Chef
Hungry Harvest
HungryRoot
HVMN
Kettlebell Kitchen
LoveWithFood
NatureBox
Noom
Plated
PRE Brands
Prepd
Ripple Foods
Soylent
Sudden Coffee
Sun Basket
truBrain

Home & Appliances DTC Brands

Boll & Branch
Brooklinen
Burrow
Casper
Dormify
Everything But The House
Floyd
Grove Collaborative
Helix Sleep
Interior Define
Keetsa Mattress Store
Leesa Sleep
Parachute Home
Saatva
Simply Framed
Snowe
Spoonflower
Swoon Editions
Tuft & Needle
Tylko
Ugallery
YogaHome

Personal care

BeautyCounter
Birchbox
Boxycharm
Curology
eSalon
FabFitFun
Facetory
FATCO
Function of Beauty
Glossier
GlossyBox
GOBY
Harry’s Razor Company
Hubble Contacts
Hush
Julep Beauty
Kopari
Lola
Madison Reed
Memebox
Oars + Alps
Pinrose
quip
REN Skincare
Revitin Natural Toothpaste
Rodan + Fields
Skincential Sciences
Teadora
THINX
Walker & Company Brands

Pet care DTC Brands

BarkBox
Ollie
The Farmer’s Dog

GeneralRetail DTC Brands

Boxed
breo box
CafePress
Craftsy
Fanchest
GlobeIn World
Infinite Buyer
Jet.com
Loot Crate
Minted
Orchard Mile
Poshmark
Superbalist
The Bouqs Company
thredUP
Thrive Market
TouchOfModern

Sporting Goods

ROKA Sports

Toys & Games

Bitsbox
GoldieBlox
Green Kid Crafts
Pley
Toymail Co

Travel & Hospitality

Away
Bluesmart
Cabeau
Raden
Paravel Travel
Tortuga

Wellness and fitness

Brilliant Bicycle Co.
Cairn
ORA
Peloton
Ritual
Sole Bicycles

It’s worth noting that there are a few strange ones in the list there. For example ‘FarFetch’ is listed, when really FarFetch is a marketplace/reseller. Most of the ‘retail’ section above is similar: Perhaps that helps indicate how loosely people use the phrase ‘direct to consumer’ – two large respected bodies (the IAB, and Dun & Bradstreet) put together a list of the top 250 ‘direct’ brands, and even they have included some who don’t neatly fit the category.


Karen Bridale
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Karen Bridale
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