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Why Vendors Should Sell Direct

Consumer technology is a brand category that inspires loyalty among shoppers.

But in a market that is constantly evolving with breakthrough innovations that quickly become the next must-have products, how do tech manufacturers go about building faithful champions for their brand? At Digital River, we have more than twenty years’ experience helping manufacturers build lasting relationships with customers in highly competitive industries. Here’s what we’ve learned about how to turn electronics shoppers into loyalists.

1. Own the relationship. Mostly, branded CE manufacturers sell their products through retail channel partners. And mostly, everyone wins in the end. But, the growing shift to online sales of CE products continues picking up steam. Our experience shows that CE manufacturers can win far more often by reaching consumers directly online. A distinctive, compelling and focused public-facing brand experience, complete with direct-to-consumer online sales, lets manufacturers control and cultivate relationships with customers that transcend retail channels.

 To appreciate the immense benefits of direct online sales for building long-term loyalty, consider how shoppers experience your brand on a retail partner’s website. There, your product is deliberately presented in a way that minimizes the distinctiveness of your brand: tidy lists of specs and product images encourage shoppers to compare competing products. If a consumer chooses your product over a competitor’s on a retailer’s website, you might have won a sale — but you’ve lost the opportunity to build a relationship.

Retail channels are vital for CE manufacturers, of course. But will you trust the future of your brand to channel partners, or will you take control of your customer relationships on your own terms?

 Fortunately, we’ve found that manufacturers can establish strong consumer-focused brand experiences without sacrificing existing channel partnerships. And the stronger your brand, the better your products will sell for your retailers, too.  

2. Think like a retailer. To build lasting relationships with customers, you’ll need to learn how to present your experience with customers in mind — to think, in other words, like a retailer.

 Retailers know, first of all, how to build and maintain the experience for consumer sales: the mechanics of getting products from factory to home, processing of payments, collecting taxes and so forth. Fortunately, manufacturers who want to launch direct-to-consumer sales will find that there’s plenty of help available to put that infrastructure in place, quickly and efficiently. 

Beyond the mechanics of consumer sales, however, CE manufacturers need to cultivate a retail attitude, a constant focus on the actual needs of consumers. That attitude can lead to small but powerful changes in how you interact with your customers — changes that turn one-time purchasers into loyal brand advocates.

 Consider how one prominent mobile-device manufacturer put the retail mindset into action. This manufacturer recognized a persistent flaw in users’ experience of consumer technology purchases — that mobile phones are often fragile, and let’s face it, people are often clumsy. Recognizing these not-so-graceful episodes as a fact of life, the manufacturer used its own brand channels to promote an industry-first offer for its flagship product: if a customer breaks the phone, the company will replace it once, for free, no questions asked. And if a customer doesn’t take advantage of the replacement offer within a year of purchase, the company will offer $100 toward the purchase of a new flagship device. 

This is retail thinking at its most powerful. A CE manufacturer thought carefully about consumers’ real-life interactions with its products, recognized a common frustration, and turned that frustration into an opportunity to earn trust and loyalty.

3. Put feelings first. Dissatisfaction with brands is influenced by emotions — the feelings customers have about their relationships with the brands that want their business. That’s why CE manufacturers that want to earn their customers’ loyalty need to cultivate the right emotional experiences. Here are three feelings our clients have found particularly effective in building lasting relationships:

 *Exclusivity. Your loyalists are, in fact, a special group — and smart manufacturers make sure their best customers feel like part of an exclusive society. Consider providing identified loyalists early access to new products, exclusive promotional pricing, limited-edition “members-only” products in especially desirable colors or configurations, or one-of-a-kind product bundles;

*Urgency. Flash sales might be old news, but their emotional pull is evergreen. Time-limited promotions attract price-conscious customers, but if those deal-seekers encounter a vivid and compelling brand experience while they’re on the hunt for a quick bargain, they might turn into loyalists down the line. The flash sale can build brand awareness and excitement, but it can also lure otherwise resistant customers into a deeper engagement with your brand that transcends price; and

*Respect. In today’s environment, millennials’ high standards are raising the bar for all retail interactions — which is why an engaging mobile-first website, fast and personalized customer service, and well-engineered user experience go without saying. For CE manufacturers, respect earns loyalty by providing what consumers want in ways they didn’t expect. A printer manufacturer, for example, might recognize that buying new ink is a hassle, and offer to send replacement cartridges, at a nice discount, at just the right intervals. The manufacturer enjoys recurring high-margin revenue, of course, but more importantly, the customer never has to rush out to the store to buy printer ink. Solving a consumer’s problem before it happens is a powerful way today’s CE brands can earn lasting loyalty. 

Alex Becker is branded manufacturers global VP for Digital River, a leading provider of commerce-as-a-service (CaaS) solutions.