In eCommerce, Transparency is Still Radical

Retail transparency can be an asset in building credibility and loyalty as a brand, but it’s not as simple as just letting  consumers know where your products come from. It’s easy to say that your products are “100% natural,” but customers are smarter than that and expect more. To give customers a deeper look into their businesses, brands have followed two simple rules to create transparency:

  1. Have something original to say.
  2. Be honest about your sourcing.

This practice is nothing particularly new or revolutionary. Whether through a promise to stay organic or an assurance that products are hand-stitched, companies have been telling their own origin stories for decades. But in ecommerce, the idea of transparency has become a viable trend that helps businesses connect with consumers, especially when their customers are buying clothes without ever trying them on.

Everlane and DSTLD are two companies that have built their brands on the platform of transparency. Since its inception in 2010, Everlane has led the way by being upfront with who their manufacturers are and how they arrived at their pricing. DSTLD brought a similar mentality to the denim space by promising ethical sourcing, but also took things a step further and applied the idea of transparency to the business end by offering customers a chance to become investors.

The common thread between Everlane and DSTLD is that they tie their transparency to how it affects their partners and customers, and they create compelling narratives through effective storytelling. This has been instrumental in cultivating loyalty to their brands.

Everlane links their story to others

Everlane was the gamechanger when it came to retail transparency. One of the first ecommerce stores to place transparency at the core of their brand, Everlane built their brand storytelling around it. They even coined the term “Radical Transparency” to make it very clear what their mission is: to inform their customers about the details of the clothing they are purchasing, from which materials are used to where the clothes are created to how prices are determined.

As the company continues to scale, Everlane focuses on their partners’ stories almost as much as their own. The proof is in the fine print. Click on any item, and the factory it came from is listed along with the sizes and materials. Click on that link, and you are taken to in-depth profiles of Everlane’s local and international factory partners, as well the story of how their partnership came about, how the products are created, and, even the current local time and weather.

By weaving their partners’ stories into their brand storytelling, Everlane is transparent about where their clothes are created and why, preemptively answering any questions or concerns customers might have about where their clothes are coming from.

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Further, Everlane even provides exact numbers for the cost of each item, the Everlane sticker price, and a comparable industry retail price. For example, you can see that a weekender bag sells for $115 on the Everlane site, “traditionally” retails for $220, and costs $44 to make. While this is a gutsy move, it lets customers know exactly how much money Everlane is making from each transaction and demonstrates Everlane’s firm commitment to transparency, applying it down to the individual item level.

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DSTLD reports to you like an investor

DSTLD has echoed some of the elements of transparency that Everlane made famous. They are upfront about their direct-to-consumer model, promising high-quality clothing for a fairer price, and part of their mission includes prioritizing an ethical higher standard in their sourcing and labor practices. That means no sweatshops and the use of eco-friendly fabrics in their clothing.

However, in a move possibly more radical than Everlane’s, DSTLD is providing their customers a glimpse into their company performance, financials, and other business-related information.

The denim company is currently raising their next round of funding through equity crowdfunding, with a goal of $6 million. Equity crowdfunding is the process whereby people (i.e. the “crowd”) invest in an early-stage unlisted company (a company that is not listed on a stock market) in exchange for shares in that company (Syndicate Room), which forces the company to be completely open about their business operations.

DSTLD closeup

This is the root of DSTLD’s storytelling. By allowing consumers and potential investors alike access to their revenue, number of customers, and average order values, DSTLD brings customers into their company, building trust by being open about the details of the company’s financials.

What this means for marketers

Digital retail companies like DSTLD and Everlane have successfully embraced the platform of transparency and integrated it into their brand. One common factor is their commitment to a unique and transparent company narrative, a narrative that is more than just telling people where products come from but is executed in ways that feel more authentic and more meaningful. Companies are now encouraged to share even their partners’ stories or their founder’s hardships, all with the goal of telling a compelling narrative.

Honest and authentic storytelling is slowly becoming an industry standard. It’s important for all marketers to take these ideas and apply them to their own brands, not necessarily by building transparency into their businesses in the same ways, but by figuring out what aspects of your brand can be shared in compelling ways.

When marketing directly to the digital buyer, companies create better connections through effective and authentic storytelling. What aspects of your business are perfect for sharing with your customers?  What stories can you tell that will make customers love you even more?


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