Back in 2013, direct-to-consumer ( DTC) clothing brands were few and far between. When I started ThirdLove, the concept of selling bras and underwear to women over the internet was not only foreign to the industry but went against conventional wisdom. Up until that point, the industry status quo was that women needed to go into a store, get measured, and actually try on a bra before they felt comfortable purchasing it.

Fast-forward to 2020, the  pandemic, and an entire society one-click purchasing everything from groceries to workout equipment to, yes, even bras and underwear, and the belief that you "have to go to a physical store" is a thing of the past.

Over the past year, we have experienced a decade of accelerated innovation and behavior adoption--and it has happened across every industry. The big question everyone is faced with now, however, is how much of it will stay going forward? Obviously, things like remote work and distributed teams are here to stay in some capacity. But what about industry-specific changes? 

These are the four trends that will continue to change the DTC landscape for the next three to five years:

1. Small businesses and big brands will both be forced to adopt e-commerce

If you didn't have an e-commerce strategy before 2020, you either were crushed by the pandemic or rushed to build one.

For the past decade, e-commerce and DTC have been looked at as "one way" of building a business--but this was by no means a requirement. COVID-19 changed that, and made this a requirement, to the point now where if you don't have a digital sales and distribution strategy directly with consumers, you are probably not going to make it out of the pandemic. 

That said, with increased e-commerce adoption comes increased competition. It's not enough to just say, "We now sell products online." DTC is a whole different ball game, and it's forcing big and small companies to invest significant resources in learning how to be successful in that domain.

2. Consumers will continue to double down on convenience

What is "remote work fashion" going to look like?

How does an increased number of people working from home impact not only the way we shop but the types of clothing we shop for?

In 2020, the two reasons most people have to get dressed up went away: going to work or going out (whether it be for work or for pleasure). So, how will this play out over the next few years? Will we all rush back to the mall to buy the latest clothing as soon as we can? 

In the larger DTC space, this raises the question of how our buying preferences will be different post-pandemic. Clearly, consumers are prioritizing convenience over everything--delivered groceries, sweatpants to "work," etc. 

The sectors that will likely be hit the hardest will be the ones where there isn't a suitable "convenience" substitute.

3. Supply chains will be diversified--to make sure something like this doesn't happen again

For a long time, outsourcing and only having one supply chain was considered perfectly normal.

It wasn't until the pandemic hit and China essentially got shut down that businesses started to realize how dangerous it was to be one-track minded. 

One of the biggest trends we will see over the next five to 10 years is the diversification of supply chains. Almost every CEO I've talked to over the past 12 months is doing it because they were caught so off guard this past year. For example, we ran into some hiccups this past year when one of our manufacturers, our cup factory, got shut down. That was a piece of our supply chain that wasn't diversified--and we couldn't make a bra without a cup.

4. Text and mobile touch points with customers will increase

The past decade has been all about businesses adopting digital technologies like CRM systems to increase customer engagement.

But now we are seeing a new trend emerge where businesses are working hard to communicate as directly as possible with their customers--email still being the primary channel, but text and mobile interactions becoming more and more common. SMS marketing is on the rise, especially among folks in their 20s. 

Why?

Because "the average open rate for text message marketing campaigns is 98 percent, compared with a 20 percent open rate for email marketing campaigns," according to a study by VoiceSage.

All in all, I am very excited about the future of DTC. Many of the processes businesses are adopting now we have been evangelizing for years. And seeing the rest of the world agree that the future of commerce is direct to consumer gives us high hopes about the future.