The Rise and Challenges of Direct-to-Consumer Model

Published on 15 Dec, 2023

In recent years, the Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) model has captured the attention of consumers and businesses alike, promising a more personalized and convenient shopping experience. With the advent of COVID-19, D2C brands received an unexpected boost as traditional retail channels faced closures and disruptions. However, recent figures suggest that the once-thriving D2C sector may not be performing as well as initially anticipated. This is an overview of the evolution of D2C model, the pandemic's impact on its growth, and the challenges faced by D2C brands in the current market.

The pandemic created an unprecedented shift in consumer behavior, forcing people to embrace online shopping and seek out alternative purchasing channels. D2C brands, which were already in the market, were in a prime position to capitalize on this shift. They offered easy to use digital platforms and direct engagement with consumers. With lockdowns enforced across countries, customers went online for all their shopping requirements, leading to a surge in demand for D2C products.

Furthermore, D2C companies provided a personalized experience through targeted marketing, product customization, and direct communication, thereby developing connection and loyalty among customers.

The Post-Pandemic Era

While the pandemic provided a golden opportunity for D2C brands to establish a strong foothold in the market, recent data suggests that their success might not be as enduring as anticipated.  

The main challenges are:

Competition: D2C brands are facing intense competition in their space. With numerous startups and established brands launching D2C channels, the market has oversaturated, making differentiation a challenge. 

Cost: D2C brands often struggle with customer acquisition costs. The cost of customer acquisition through online advertising has surged, leading to reduced profitability and increased pressure on these brands to achieve scale. Moreover, customer acquisition costs continue to rise, making it difficult for D2C companies to achieve sustainable growth and profitability.

This has led to a series of difficulties for D2C brands:

  • D2C initial public offerings (IPOs) have experienced a significant failure in generating substantial shareholder value. Among the notable brands affected by this downward trend are Oisix, Hims and Hers.
  • The majority of D2C M&As and internal build initiatives undertaken by prominent brands have proven to be largely ineffective in generating substantial value. The are various reasons for these failures, including insufficient understanding of customers, underestimation of future customer acquisition cost (CAC), brand growth model not transferrable to offline, and low-quality products. The failures of build initiatives were mostly due to a lack of saleable USP, a lack of significant addressable market and unattractive unit economies.

Major Failures in D2C Industry

Brandless: Brandless is one of the biggest brand failures that used the D2C business model. Despite receiving funding of almost USD 240 million from Softbank vision fund, the company was unable to sustain itself. The brand was unable to establish a seamless and symbiotic business model that effectively integrated its marketing strategies with its operational endeavors. The company’s product quality was also criticized. 

Outdoor Voices: A Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) brand focused on athleisure-wear became a sensation when it was launched in 2014. Founded by Ty Haney, the company received funding of USD 60-70 million over the years. However, the company is facing new headwinds, and the brand is losing money over customer acquisition. 

Casper: Prominent mattress company Casper, which had a valuation of over USD 1 billion, incurred significant financial losses due to its large advertising budget. When the company launched its IPO, these losses were made public, leading to a decline in its overvalued status.

The Path to Reinvention

Despite the challenges, the D2C model is far from obsolete. To overcome the obstacles the D2C brands currently face, they must adapt and innovate. One potential strategy is to invest in a seamless operational process. Currently, brands are failing to manage their costs in an effective manner, and this could be due to a lack of clear strategies.

D2C brands should focus on product quality. Poor product quality that does not match customer expectations could also be a major reason for brand failure.


While COVID-19 provided a substantial boost to the D2C model, recent financial indicators suggest that the initial hype might have been premature. The D2C sector is grappling with challenges such as oversaturation, high customer acquisition costs, and a lack of differentiation. However, with adaptability and innovation, D2C brands have the potential to reinvent themselves and secure their place in the evolving retail landscape.