The insights in this excellent Economist article are fascinating and highlight the dramatic and irreversible shift in direct to consumer retail. The Covid19 pandemic has simply accelerated a developing trend.

Real and sustainable online retail success is actually not really that simple, even for the most established brands. Major manufacturers and retailers have been involved in digital transformation projects for a number of years – the back-end technology required to hyper-scale an ecommerce offering is significant. And, whilst there are enormous advantages in harnessing and utilising data collected from your customer base to tailor and personalise your product offering, there are considerable data protection and privacy implications to factor in.

It takes time to transition from a wholesale or multi-brand department store retail distribution model to a focussed direct to consumer strategy. Even the marketing approach needs to change – traditional advertising and promotions are less relevant to a digital consumer who doesn’t watch terrestrial television and isn’t even aware printed media exists (and certainly wouldn’t purchase an actual magazine). Online purchasers also reflect a growing demographic increasingly concerned with important ESG issues, responsible business and sustainability so brands need to ensure they are always on (and seen to be on) the right responsible business “path”- particularly difficult in a social media age where users are quick to judge and reject.

But, notwithstanding the legal, political and technical issues to address during the journey, the ability to truly engage with and know your customer (in the way Mr Johnson, Nike’s 1960’s “Bookworm” was able to) enables brands to develop the holy grail of a personal connection, actually something of a rarity in this increasingly disconnected world. Maybe, and this is the view of an eternal optimist, brands driving a positive ESG agenda through their connections with their online customer base (whilst of course striving to be profitable) could have a positive societal impact, helping to drive social change for the better.