I bought a wrench.
I’ve been cycling for a long time and do all the maintenance on my bikes, so I own a number of specialized tools. I friend recommended a specific wrench for a job that I do regularly. A brand whose products I own and like (so let’s call them BrandX) makes this wrench. Previously I’ve bought from their retail partners, but I discovered that they now sell direct to consumer, so I opted to place my order at their site.
We all have nightmare retail experiences to recount; I won’t bore you with the details of mine. To finally get my wrench I had to navigate among BrandX, their outsourced (not white labeled, separately branded) ecommerce vendor, and several parties in their fulfillment network across three states. Fortunately for BrandX, one of those parties had a serious commitment to resolving the situation, even though I was not (as far as I would have known) his customer.
Going direct? Be prepared
Most brands like the idea of selling direct to consumers, especially mining that rich ore of real first party data. Oh yeah, and trading razor-thin wholesale margins for fat, juicy retail ones. But, just like the 49ers who had to stock up on picks, shovels, pans, Levi Strauss jeans, and other items to prepare to strike it rich, brands eyeing blinding nuggets of first party data likewise need to have the right tools in place. Gartner’s research shows that half of marketers rely on multiple solutions to leverage integrated customer data (Gartner clients can read the note containing these data here):
But cutting out the retailer means taking on their responsibilities, which go beyond the basics of maintaining stock and exchanging products for cash: good retailers actually build a relationship with and service the customer. If you’re selling direct to the consumer, that becomes your responsibility and your brand is at greater risk than it is when selling through retailers. BrandX makes really good products — prior to this, had they sent me a Net Promoter survey, they would have been very happy with the results. In fact, I have in the past been an actual promoter of their products.
What might have been
My wrench could have been the start of a beautiful friendship between me and BrandX. They could have gotten to know a skilled home bicycle mechanic who continues to need new tools. They could have acquainted me with all kinds of products from their catalog, in categories where I actively seek out their competitors. I might still buy their products — they made a sincere effort to set things right (at a cost to them significantly greater than the cost of the wrench) — but I’ll use a retailer. Probably my local bike shop, whose owner and employees have the data and tools: they greet me by name when I roll in.