Brands are under assault from retailers who are switching to private label and building their own eCommerce businesses, while also becoming more and more marginalized from telling their own story, according to the recently released Consumer & Retail Insider industry report from Brown Gibbons Lang & Company.
The report examines how brands remain relevant as own-brand eCommerce becomes a necessity, supported by findings from a roundtable discussion involving leading industry executives in the eCommerce space. In the changing retail environment, M&A has increasingly become a lever to enhance digital assets and accelerate growth.
“eCommerce—and increasingly ‘unified commerce’ delivered direct to consumers—is paramount for brands in order for them to decrease reliance on traditional retail models,” said Dave Barr, a co-founder of Lyons Consulting Group and roundtable contributor, in a news release. “We have to consider the customer journey across all channels, both physical and digital, and it needs to be unified.”
“The consumer is inundated with messaging. Brands must break through the clutter and engage their target audience. If they don’t, they are just another product on a website or store shelf,” added Brian Linneman, a former Cabela’s senior executive and report participant, in the release.
eCommerce has been a hotbed of M&A activity as private equity, brand owners and retailers look to acquire fast-growing direct-to-consumer (D2C) platforms to more rapidly expand digital talent and technology, product assortment, and demographic reach.
The merger of Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, for example, underscores the retail industry’s seismic shift. PetSmart will log the largest eCommerce acquisition so far on record with Chewy.com, a move to deepen its penetration in the growing online market for pet food and supplies. Wal-Mart is aggressively growing its eCommerce footprint on the heels of its transformative acquisition of Jet.com, picking up ModCloth, Moosejaw, and Shoebuy in less than six months to expand its assortment in upscale merchandise categories and broaden its reach to more affluent consumers.
Investors are partnering with marquee online brands to participate in the channel’s upside. KUIU, a technical hunting gear and apparel brand selling exclusively through its own website, secured a minority investment from Main Post Partners in April 2017 to accelerate global expansion and continue the company’s mission to reinvent retail in hunting. Through only word-of-mouth marketing, the enthusiast brand has cultivated a loyal following based on the pillars of quality, value, and transparency.
“One of the most powerful tools for a consumer direct brand is the ability to reengage the customer through education, marketing, and involvement in the design and development of new products,” said KUIU founder Jason Hairston, in the release. “Every aspect of our customer engagement has to be a remarkable experience.”
Other notable recent private equity investments include Blue Nile (Bain Capital Private Equity as majority investor) and Glansaol Beauty (Warburg Pincus), formed through the acquisitions of Julep, Clark’s Botanicals, and Laura Geller.