The Rise of V-Commerce

By Tracey Dowdy

As if brick-and-mortar stores didn’t already face stiff competition from e-commerce, there’s a new kid in town, and he may be an even bigger threat.

V-commerce stands for virtual commerce, also known as “digitally-native vertical brands” or DNVBs. Instead of traditional retailing or an e-commerce approach, v-commerce brands focus primarily on social media and one-on-one attention to customers. This model allows them to offer prices that are often significantly lower than their competitors, boosting sales and maximizing profits. In 2015 alone, v-commerce companies raked in a total of $6.6 billion dollars in profits. Projections for 2020 indicate profits of close to $16 billion.

Instead of the traditional model of big department stores or online giants like Amazon, v-commerce turns shopping into an experience. These retailers have created a business model that connects with consumers on a personal level and solves problems through their products, again, often at a substantially lower price. It’s a new take on the old concept of niche marketing.

Hubble Contacts offers consumers daily contact lenses at a significant discount. At just $30 for a month’s supply, they’re a better deal than buying through traditional sellers. Dollar Shave Club sends razors and shaving products directly to you for as little as $9 a month. There’s no commitment and you can cancel any time. EyeBuy Direct does everything in-house, from design to manufacturing, without paying for often expensive retail space. As a result, consumers can buy quality eyeglasses at deep discounts. I bought two pair of prescription reading glasses for under $35 and prescription glasses with progressive lenses for $65.

New to the game is Brandless, a company offering brand-name quality products at generic prices. Everything on their site is $3. They have a wide selection of food and household products. Many are non-GMO, organic, fair trade, kosher, gluten free, and have no added sugar.

There are hundreds of these companies out there but, just like traditional retailers, some are better than others. The easiest way to find the companies that match your need is to simply Google “direct to consumer____” and fill in the blank with whatever product you’re looking for.

Once you find them, do your due diligence and check their reviews, but not on their own site. Google them and see what Consumer Reports, the Better Business Bureau or other shoppers have to say about their products, their level of customer service, and their shipping policies. And, as with every shopping experience, buyer beware. It’s up to you to read the fine print and protect yourself. Not all offer free shipping, contract-free options, or money back guarantees.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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