The direct-to-consumer landscape in retail

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Note from the editor

Direct to consumer is more than just a retail buzzword. In recent years, a slew of digitally native brands cropped up in just about every sector in retail and disrupted traditional models.

Some of the more seasoned DTC brands are now expanding their category reach on the backs of continued venture capital investment, and building out stand-alone store fleets of their own. But traditional retailers have also increasingly gotten in on the DTC movement, whether as wholesale partners for popular brands of the day, or as more DTC-focused companies themselves. Adidas, for example, announced its intention to have 50% of its sales come from DTC channels by 2025.

There have been some high profile challenges too, not least of which is the impact the COVID-19 crisis had on consumer spending, shopping habits and economic realities. For many brands that operate mostly online, though, the increase in digital shopping was actually a boon. Flaws in the DTC model have begun to show, as companies grapple with not only profitability concerns, but also retaining authentic brand messaging and attempting to stand out in a world where everyone knows how to market on Instagram.

All of which is to say: There's a lot happening in the direct-to-consumer space right now, and it's not going away anytime soon. This report covers several different aspects of the trend, including:

  • Trends and brands to watch in the DTC space
  • What companies like Nordstrom and Target have to gain by bringing DTCs into stores
  • How brands like Nike are shifting more of their focus to DTC sales
  • What problems are challenging former DTC darlings
  • The relationship between brick and mortar and direct to consumer

These aren't the only things we're watching, but they are some of the main themes we've picked up on as retailers adapt to a new era. 

Cara Salpini Senior Editor

8 DTC trends to watch in 2021

While the broader industry outlook remains uncertain, one thing is clear: Digitally native brands will continue to adapt and evolve in the year ahead.

• Published Feb. 3, 2021

What big-box retailers have to gain from DTC brands

The benefits for a direct-to-consumer brand sitting on a Walmart or Target shelf seem obvious. But mass merchants have a lot to learn from those brands.

• Published Feb. 22, 2021

The rise of DTC holding companies

Why the founders of Pattern Brands, Very Great and Win Brands Group are betting on the power of building multiple brands under one umbrella.

• Published June 30, 2021

How Nike is using DTC and data to expand its empire

Since 2011, the sportswear giant has grown direct-to-consumer sales from 16% of its namesake brand revenues to 35%, all while continuing to take share.

• Published March 23, 2021

9 emerging DTCs to watch in 2021

A lot has changed since Warby Parker and Dollar Shave Club entered the scene. In an increasingly crowded space, brands need to find what sets them apart.

• Published March 30, 2021

'Relevance is key': Why Nordstrom has gone all-in on DTC brands

The 120-year-old department store has welcomed in some of the hottest digitally native brands, from Bonobos to Everlane, all in an attempt to grow with its consumer.

• Published March 10, 2021

Is the DTC brand aesthetic bad for business?

Sans serif font and bright colored backgrounds are hallmarks of digitally native brands, but it may not matter if they all look the same.

• Published Nov. 16, 2020

How DTC brands will approach physical retail in 2021

As cities empty and landlords look to ink deals, digitally native brands might have a chance to accelerate their brick-and-mortar strategies.

• Published Jan. 26, 2021

'It's a violation of an implicit psychological contract': Why DTC culture issues hit hard

Many DTCs have faced criticism for workplace issues. Part of the problem may be that they promised something better.

• Published Nov. 16, 2020

30 minutes with For Now's co-founders

As the limitations of selling exclusively online become apparent, the company's mission is to not only give emerging brands a physical presence but an opportunity to grow.

• Published April 27, 2021 • Updated April 29, 2021

Latest trends in direct to consumer

The direct to consumer space has seen major growth in recent years, with giants like Amazon and Target paving the way and DTC darlings like Casper and Dollar Shave Club proving the model. Now the pandemic has completely upended the DTC and e-commerce reality, posing several challenges for its players ahead.

included in this trendline
  • What the coronavirus means for DTC brands
  • E-commerce companies eye physical retail
  • What stumbles at Harry's and Brandless mean for e-commerce
Our Trendlines go deep on the biggest trends. These special reports, produced by our team of award-winning journalists, help business leaders understand how their industries are changing.
Davide Savenije Editor-in-Chief at Industry Dive.