The direct-to-consumer e-commerce model offers myriad advantages, but before making the shift, it's important to know that DTC customers generally move through the buyer's journey quickly and autonomously--a departure from third-party and B2B sales operations. E-commerce business owners whose goal right now is to increase direct customer communication by transitioning to the DTC model should look to the following elements to help shorten the learning curve and achieve success faster. 

1. Master the DTC shipping game.

Unlike retail sales, DTC e-commerce shipments require the use of small parcel providers as opposed to freight service, requiring business owners to select the right carriers, meet their requirements, and control costs. Using enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or partnering with an experienced fulfillment provider with the tools and technology needed to accomplish these things will help business owners properly manage the challenges associated with transitioning to DTC .

With the current fluctuations in supply chains and channel traffic, maintaining exceptional customer experiences is certainly a challenge. But as uncertain as everything is, and while customers may be frustrated with order delays, they should never be confused about the status of their orders.

To that end, it's important to set shipping expectations early on in the shopping journey and at various stages throughout the e-commerce funnel. Get out ahead of lengthier shipping times by communicating what customer should expect up front to ensure transparency and earn trust.

2. Be clear about how events and decisions will impact the business.

In this new channel, it's time to be proactive about communicating major announcements or changes that will impact your customers. Broadcasting company news directly to your customers might feel unnatural if you've only ever sold through third-party merchants, since you've probably had little to no say over how your brand is presented. 

One of the beautiful things about operating a DTC business is that you have control over your company's narrative. Likewise, consumers love the distinct personalities, memorable interactions, and transparency they get from brands that use this model.

The frequency and specificity of communication will vary by business, but spare consumers any information that isn't relevant to them. If you're not sure how to gauge that, ask yourself if the information at hand will raise more questions than it answers. If it does, it's probably oversharing. Abide by these three Cs: clear, concise, and compassionate.

3. Foster a sense of community.

One of the inherent benefits of the DTC model, which business owners typically do not get when selling through retail partners, is having immediate, first-hand access to customer data. Smart business owners utilize that data to create content and deliver an experience that lets your customers know you "get" them. These efforts drive loyalty by creating a feeling of inclusiveness.

In the event your business is facing hardship, it can be challenging to figure out how much information you want to volunteer. It is perfectly acceptable to lean on the community you've built. Tell your customers how they can support you during this time, for example, by purchasing gift cards, leaving positive reviews, or making referrals. Come up with creative, mutually beneficial offers to reward support, such as discounts on select inventory or credits for future purchases. Customize support and incentive options to suit your business and your constituents. Bringing them into the fold nurtures a feeling of belonging.

4. Explain any changes to the face of the brand.

Perhaps your company was involved in a merger or a change in direction to accommodate turbulence or another form of evolution--for example, a messaging shift in response to the impacts of Covid-19. These changes can be marked by a new name or logo, different sales channels, updated policies and more. Use these changes as opportunities to communicate information in a productive way. 

As much as you can, explain what changes are occurring and why. Is it in response to a shift in the industry? Or were trends identified through behavioral analytics from your customer data? The more you can connect the outcome to fulfilling the needs of your customers, the better.

Create a communication strategy by using the behavioral data you now have at your disposal to identify whether your customers are more responsive to email communication, mobile push notifications, social media campaigns or other channels.

5. Disclose how you are supporting all brand constituents.

Share any steps being taken to address customers' needs. A great example is the way supermarkets reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic by offering dedicated shopping hours for senior citizens, and in some instances, first responders and health care workers. In the same vein, providing your customers with insight into how their purchases are helping to support the people who are creating your products or services gives them a good reason to keep coming back.

E-commerce businesses of all sizes are facing operational challenges across the board, but this is not a death sentence. Managed properly, crises present an opportunity to prove your value. As you transition into DTC mode, remember that you are in the driver's seat for the entire ride, and that gives you the power to create engaging, uplifting, memorable brand experiences that solidify lasting customer relationships.