Direct sales market grows

Social media putting squeeze on retailers and wholesalers

Nike is growing its direct sales channel (pic: Nike)

Retailers and wholesalers are coming under increasing pressure as manufacturers turn to social media and websites to sell their products direct to consumers (DTC).

Technology has been a key driver in the adoption of DTC with nearly all manufacturers (96%) now selling directly through their own websites.

Social media is also of increasing importance to manufacturers with more than three-quarters (79%) currently using or planning to sell via Facebook and nearly three-quarters (72%) currently using or planning to sell via Instagram.

This comes as over half of manufacturers (58%) plan to digitalise their distribution processes in the next five years. 

Four out of five Scottish companies now sell direct to consumers (82%) and over the last five years, Scotland’s direct to consumer sales have soared by 62%.

DTC now accounts for 16% of all manufacturing sales in the UK.

The findings emerge in a new Barclays Corporate Banking Manufacturing report, Going direct: Is direct to consumer selling set to revolutionise the manufacturing sector?

Manufacturers who have invested in a DTC sales strategy said they had benefited from increased revenue (45%), growth in their customer base (38%) and increased speed to market (32%). Manufacturers across the UK are expected to see a £13bn boost from DTC and more than £1bn in Scotland.

Sportswear giant Nike became the latest big brand to launch its own direct sales channel last year, ‘Nike Direct’, raising concerns from retailers such as Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct, whereas start-ups such as Eve Mattresses and Harrys razors began as DTC brands and have now expanded into selling into shops.  

Nike confirmed it will stop selling its trainers and clothing on Amazon, ending a pilot programme it began in 2017. Its DTC business brings in about 30% of annual sales, or $11.8 billion.

The value of goods sold through DTC is forecast to continue to expand rapidly as both well-established global brands and start-ups invest in the potential around selling direct to customers.

Economic modelling commissioned by Barclays – which analysed current growth rates, customer demand and investment in DTC channels – estimates that value of the DTC market will boom to £13bn by 2025. Beyond the manufacturing sector, DTC activity could also provide a much needed boost to the wider UK economy by up to £32.5bn in the next five years.

Lee Collinson, head of manufacturing at Barclays, said: “The rise in businesses selling direct to customers is one of the biggest changes the manufacturing industry has seen in generations. 

“As companies go it alone, bypassing wholesalers and retailers, they are increasingly embracing social media and digital channels to advertise and sell their products direct from the factory, and then managing the sales, distribution and after-care themselves.

“It’s a massive shift and the rewards are potentially huge, with nearly half of companies selling DTC reporting an increase in revenues as a result, along with a bigger customer base and the ability to personalise products.  

“Wholesalers and retailers are aware of the challenge and will need to continue to find ways to adapt and flex their approach. DTC comes with its own challenges and requires investment in services, training and IT. The future is likely to involve a mix of DTC, wholesale and retail and there will still be a role for all three channels.”

Adopting a DTC strategy does not come without its challenges. One in five (21%) companies said they had not launched a DTC channel because they feared the impact it would have on their relationship with wholesalers, with a similar number (19%) concerned about the response from retailers. 

Businesses that also increase their responsibility for distributing products cite a number of new challenges with this approach, including building brand loyalty (41%), having increased responsibility for every touchpoint within the supply chain (32%) as well as managing customer interaction (31%).

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