NEW YORK—The direct-to-consumer (D2C) model—which counts Warby Parker as one of its pioneering brands—was a hot topic in 2020 and became more attractive as brands and retailers faced disrupted supply chains, delayed orders and store closures. As a result, D2C e-commerce sales—including both digitally native and established brands—increased 45.5 percent in 2020. And this sales growth generated about $111.5 billion, according to a recent analysis by eMarketer.

Overall, D2C sales made up 14 percent of total retail e-commerce sales, according to eMarketer’s estimates. “We expect relatively steady growth each year through 2023, with D2C ecommerce sales reaching $174.98 billion at that time,” the research firm noted in its report.

The success of the D2C model is attributable, in part, to two key factors: data and feedback.

“The D2C model gives brands the opportunity to collect first-party data on their customers," Cindy Liu, eMarketer’s director of forecasting at Insider Intelligence, explained. "And with this data, the possibilities are endless—brands can customize products and create new products, all with the customer in mind.”

Data and analytics are crucial for all brands to not only better personalize shopping experiences, but also get a fuller picture of who their customers are. As brands vet their collected data, they can also make more informed decisions, especially in regard to next steps in expanding or improving operations.

Many D2C companies have already found this approach to be beneficial. For example, grooming supplies brand Harry's, which is digitally native, has created products by crowdsourcing information from its current shoppers. Meanwhile, more-established brand L'Oréal has leveraged D2C to personalize products through its Technology Incubator—an effort dedicated to developing innovative beauty tech and experiences, according to eMarketer.

It’s important to note that data and analytics are just one component of D2C’s success; brand identity is another.

“Brands leveraging a D2C model are able to control their own messaging and the way their products are presented,” Liu said. “This in turn lets them own the entire customer relationship and increases the likelihood of customer retention.”

Finally, brands leveraging a D2C model are working to improve margins. They’re doing this by eliminating intermediaries, reducing distribution costs, and gaining greater control over their bottom line.