E-tailer Zappos is striking up new partnerships with DTC brands in response to customer feedback. The new strategy is kicking off with a campaign with women’s workwear brand M.M.LaFleur that launched on Tuesday.
The campaign, which calls attention to the number of women who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, includes a microsite that’s separate from the main Zappos online store and features a curated collection of M.M.LaFleur pieces. Content is directed at women who are either just starting their careers or getting back into the workplace after taking time off, due to raising children or for any other reason. They can find advice for job interviews and dressing for work, as well as tips on what to expect on the first day at the office. Additionally, Zappos made a $25,000 donation to Dress for Success Worldwide, a charity that provides job training to women.
The initiative is being promoted on both companies’ social channels, as well as on Zappos’ homepage and is an extension of M.M.LaFleur’s existing relationship with Zappos which began in December. Zappos is based on a wholesale model and buys inventory directly from brands.
“Our customers over the last year have really been asking for more DTC brands,” said Crysti Howser, director of operations and brand partnerships at Zappos. “We’ve been strategically reaching out to brands over the last nine months, especially ones that match our customer base.”
Currently, Zappos has a handful of primarily DTC brands on its site like Thousand Fell and Margaux, with more expected to sign on over the year. Zappos isn’t the only large retailer turning to DTC brands. Both Nordstrom and Target have made similar moves, looking to gain the attention of the brands’ engaged audiences.
Sarah LaFleur, founder of M.M.LaFleur, said that, to date, she’s been skeptical about working with third-party retailers. The brand’s products on Amazon, where it has sold for more than a year, have not brought in much revenue. But Zappos, where it’s been selling since December 2020, has been a surprisingly strong revenue driver. LaFleur declined to elaborate on sales numbers.
“We’re in the learning stages of selling through other partners,” LaFleur said. “But we’ve found that a good partner can do so much for you — not just in sales, but also in awareness. We think of working with Zappos as just as much of a marketing play as a revenue play, because our customers really do overlap. Every retailer will tell you they can reach your desired customer, but you won’t really know until you try.”
LaFleur said one of the benefits of having a successful partnership with a retailer is that products that don’t sell on the direct site have a second chance. For example, M.M.LaFleur stopped producing new plus-size products (although extended sizes of core products remain in production), because there just weren’t enough sales in the category to justify investing in new designs. The curated microsite on Zappos contains several pieces from the plus-size collection. LaFleur is hoping the added reach via Zappos will help the category find enough of an audience for the brand to invest in more new designs.
The move to recruit DTC brands comes at an interesting time for Zappos. Though best known for footwear, sales of some footwear categories like heels have been down. (The company does not disclose exact financial numbers.) CEO Kedar Deshpande, who took over for long-time CEO Tony Hsieh in August, has been leading the company through the pandemic by further pushing into apparel by scooping up emerging brands like Aday and Universal Standard.
Selling through wholesale has traditionally offered a brand wider reach but less control. But retailer offerings like microsites can give DTC brands the opportunity to stand out and effectively communicate their story.
Plus, LaFleur said, the point of sale is just one of many customer touchpoints.
“We consider ourselves involved for the entire lifecycle of the product,” LaFleur said. “Every piece has a little tag on it that says, ‘If you have any questions or want advice on how to style this or take care of it, contact an M.M. LaFleur stylist here.’ So you do miss out on the point of sale, and that is the biggest thing, but it’s by no means the only way to build a relationship with the customer.”