Tushy, Blue Apron, Peloton: How DTC brands adapt to at-home shopping

At the same time that many retail stores have closed their brick-and-mortar locations, many people are spending more time at home and online. The result is a deluge in online shopping and digital consumption. Retail Dive reports that from March 23 to March 30, e-commerce marketplaces saw a 14% increase in volume, and we saw a 350% increase in click-throughs from February to March with retail brands on our email platform.

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands are uniquely poised to take advantage of this increase, and traditional consumer brands are quickly following suit—blurring the lines between these two categories in this time of stay-at-home advisories.

Check out some of the brands succeeding in spite of a global pandemic and the tactics they’re using for success.

More on DTC brands: Direct to growth: What all brands can gain from the new DTC world

Tushy sales soar amidst TP shortage

Smart brands are currently prioritizing the categories consumers need at home. And with that in mind, Tushy, the DTC maker of bidets, is perhaps the brand most perfectly poised to grow their business right now. While Americans haven’t always been fans of the bidet, that seems to be changing in the midst of the coronavirus-induced toilet paper shortages. Tushy has not been shy on calling out the consumer’s concerns with messaging like “OH SH*T! The world is running out of toilet paper!”

With most of the US under shelter-in-place orders, Tushy, a DTC bidet company, capitalized on the toilet paper shortage.

This messaging aligns with Epsilon’s recommendation not to ignore the elephant in the room. It’s important to acknowledge the pandemic with messaging that’s appealing to the audience. Tushy’s messaging clearly worked because the world is also out of them at the moment—this DTC brand saw such a surge in demand that they are now sold out of many of their different color offerings, but the standard styles are still available.

Meal kits have a moment

While there may be novelty in trying out a meal kit like HelloFresh, Blue Apron or Purple Carrot, consumers haven’t historically been interested in retaining ongoing subscriptions. Retention rates have been fairly low:

  • Blue Apron: 15%
  • HelloFresh: 11%
  • Gobble: 22%
  • Sun Basket: 20%

But with the prospect of grocery shopping getting a bit scary, these meal kits are seeing a rush of new subscribers. Sun Basket ads emphasize the importance of “a healthy meal at home” and have been encouraging consumers to “skip the grocery store.” Freshly offers similar messaging, telling consumers to “skip the groceries, cooking, & cleaning.”

Many of these meal kits are also starting or continuing with a more content-centric approach, sharing recipes and ideas for the home that cater to a “new normal.” For example, Blue Apron’s blog offers “A Guide to Baking with Frozen Berries,” and Purple Carrot recently published “7 Tips for Spring Cleaning Your Kitchen.”

Purple Carrot, a vegan meal kit service, upped their content game during the COVID-19 quarantine period with helpful how-tos on more than recipes.

This pandemic may be boosting the popularity of meal-kits in the short term, but if they want to retain customers post-COVID, the brands will need to address ongoing issues with the long-term value of their offerings. eMarketer explains that meal-in-a-box brands ought to be looking to highly personalize their messaging and offerings through technology like AI, while also making sure their marketing is in lock-step with supply chains to avoid operational hiccups.

Peloton pivots messaging

It may seem obvious that brands selling essentials like groceries and bidets are doing well. But brands selling seemingly more expendable, or "splurge," items are finding ways to succeed. 

For example, after a rocky end to 2019, Peloton is positioning their brand much more effectively in 2020. With most gyms and studios shuttered and people missing their running partners, Peloton’s homepage offers “classes that will keep you connected” and extended the free trial for its fitness app to 90 days for those who signed up by the end of April (the offer ended in May). This limited-time app offer created a bit of FOMO to encourage users to sign up immediately—or miss out.

Peloton offered a 90-day trial period as shelter-in-place orders affected most of the US.

With their digital offering already in place, Peloton was positioned to quickly adapt messaging and offers to attract new customers who may just want to stick around after the free trial. Consumers—and Peloton stock—are responding. 

Beau Ties fills the need for masks

DTC agility goes beyond the ability to swap out messaging and retarget on the fly. Many of these brands are smaller and more nimble than traditional B2C and retail competitors.

DTC menswear brand Beau Ties of Vermont, for example, has pivoted from producing bowties and neckties to making face masks—in the same attractive patterns and high-quality materials the brand is known for. This agility during trying times allows Beau Ties to keep its business afloat while also providing a critical new product to consumers.

Beau Ties of Vermont shifted their production lines to accommodate mask production during COVID-19.

Beau Ties is also encouraging customers to buy with positive, bright spring colors and messaging, such as “Tie on some spring (before your next online chat).” This is a common approach we’re seeing in response to the COVID pandemic, as most people could use a little warmth and positivity.

As Beau Ties of Vermont typically sells bow and neck ties, they shifted their messaging to make their base product applicable to the quarantine situation.


Hear more from Greg Shugar, CEO and creative director of Beau Ties of Vermont: IAB Digital Brand Summit: How DTC brands remain relevant when the shine wears off


CPG brands blur the DTC lines

While DTC brands have quickly adjusted to—and some are even benefitting from—the stay-at-home advisories, traditional consumer brands are switching gears to mimic their models. One of these brands is L’Oréal. While hair care isn’t officially considered “essential,” many people would beg to differ. L’Oréal recently sent an email with subject line “Skipped a haircut? 💇‍♀️” that offers products that will help to seal split ends. This content is highly relevant to current consumer needs, and of course, consumers can buy the products directly from L’Oréal online.

Interested in learning more about DTC brand innovation? Download our report, in partnership with The CMO Club: Direct to growth: What all brands can gain from the new DTC world