4 DTC-Themed Predictions for a Post-Pandemic World

What will the rest of 2021 look like for digital-native brands? Let's dig in.

Following a wild and difficult year, we’re starting to see the very early glimmers of the post-pandemic life. Even as cities begin to reopen restaurants to full capacity and travel plans begin to materialize, the way that the consumers habits have changed will never go back to their pre-pandemic normal.

And what happens over the next few months will have enormous implications, especially for DTC brands, which have enjoyed unparalleled success over the past year. Here are 4 predictions for the coming months ahead.

1. Pent-Up Retail Therapy Will Be Very Real

Retail therapy has never been a myth. We all know the specific soothing joy that comes from setting some time and money aside to treat yourself. It's both a meme and a reality.

However, with the pandemic having interrupted in-person gatherings and social lives (even if it didn't dent consumption) the emergence of a new kind of retail therapy is to be expected. One way to characterize this might be called "retail rage," but the most popular term for it has become "revenge shopping." Here how's Rachel Tashjian at GQ summed it up:

The idea is this: after a year spent mostly indoors, with no parties to attend or hot restaurants to crowd into, people are ready to refresh their wardrobes, to avenge what they were denied, in particular life’s luxurious dignities. There is also a sense of optimism, whether delusional or merely precarious, that vaccination rates in the United States will soon make partying and formal gatherings a reality. New outfits are therefore in order, and consumers are eager to move beyond sweatpants and dress up, perhaps with a panache (panache!) that they hadn’t indulged before.

Some of this is based on anecdotal data, some of it is based on places like China, where re-openings have taken place, and some of it is just based on everyone's general mood. What this means for DTC brands is that, even as "value" has been a watchword of the pandemic, the hunt for luxury and quality seem destined to become a theme. Adjust your marketing boards accordingly.

2. eCommerce Sales Will Hold Firm

As we all know, eCommerce exploded over the past year. In theAmerican market alone, eCommerce saw 44% growth in 2020. More than just a phase, shopping online became a norm in more households than the supply chain was actually ready for.

While many of the kinks have been worked out, the general expectation is that, the movement toward reopening won't be a smooth or seamless one. Therefore, we should expect that while in-store sales will rise, the consumer embrace of eCommerce will continue to show results. Especially when it comes to big-ticket events and especially since customers have grown accustomed to the perks of shopping online.

Or as Common Thread Collective's Aaron Orendorff told Jake Cohen at Klaviyo last year, back when we thought the pandemic would be a few months at the most: “Perhaps most importantly, shoppers will be buying for upcoming holidays in the midst of this transition back to normalcy. Even if purchase habits shift back to in-store retail over time—likely normalizing (or finding a ‘new’ normal) in early 2021—2020’s seasonal events will be dominated by eCommerce.”

3. Privacy Will Become a Big Theme for DTC Brands

By now you've heard about Apple's new privacy rules, which went into effect this month and are part of a larger regimen of data changes that individual companies and government bodies are undertaking to safeguard consumers. For the DTC space, these changes have the potential to disrupt a system where leveraging third-party data has been a central part of targeting customers through ads.

But in a ad-driven world without cookies, this situation is going to change. And brands are going to have to develop a different dynamic with customers, specifically by asking them to hand over their data directly.

If that sounds like a lot of stress, there is an upside as Jeremy Hudgens noted at Forbes last year: "While first-party cookies might not seem like a great opportunity to advertisers and advertising platforms at first, they can actually prove quite useful when it comes to information gathering and personalization for the consumers whose data you do have."

4. Fast Delivery Is the Norm

The irony of being home all the time is that many consumers didn't need a lot of their online purchases right away (unless it was lunch). But they also grew conditioned to the luxury of fast-arriving goods, which helps explain why Amazon was such a huge winner in the pandemic.

Once an expectation is set, it's difficult for customers to go back. It's why Starbucks conquered gas station coffee offerings and Maxwell House and why third-wave coffee shops are cleaning up in urban areas. This have-it-now principle, especially a time where little else seems like it's under control, explains part of why buy-online pick-up in-store (BOPIS) and curbside delivery became such fixtures. Long online delivery times affect sales, with over a third of online shoppers citing long delivery times as one of the key reasons to shop in person.

For DTCs, especially those without a physical presence, being prepared to either spring for fast delivery or discount for longer delivery windows may become a central part of the strategy to counter the new consumer imperative for now.

If the past year has proven anything, it's that nothing is certain and the most confident predictions can look weak in a matter of hours. But with the tailwinds at eCommerce's back, the second half of 2021 looks to be a time when digital-first brands can continue to make their mark on a marketplace that has grown to love them.