Drawn from PSFK's DTC Playbook 2020, these seven digital-first strategies will help build strong businesses now, in the near-term, and for the longer haul

2020, the year everyone was looking forward to—and no one could have prepared for. Just six months in, the world has already witnessed disruptive and revolutionary moments on scales large and small. Over in retail, the effects have been nothing short of transformative.

While PSFK's future-oriented debriefs usually debut end of the year to forecast the next, 2020 has already been so earth-shattering that our researchers have released a future-proofing report called the DTC Playbook 2020 at this juncture to act as a guide when businesses need it most. Aiming to help brands and retailers rebuild and reorient now, in the near-term, and for the longer haul, this research synthesizes themes in direct communication and sales, intelligent retail operations and value-add services that encourage strong customer relationships and loyalty.

In this article, PSFK has drawn out seven top digital-first strategies of the 18 featured in the report to outline how retailers, brands and businesses can meet consumers' needs for safety and reassurance today, build connection and audiences that last, and create service-oriented offerings in line with the ongoing shift we've been tracking in retail as we move into an era of hyper-personalized, hyper-local curation.

Pre-Visit Planning — To stay ahead of customers' fears, retailers and brands are relaying safe in-store policies and procedures to shoppers' before they even step foot in the store. Putting preparation on the forefront, brands are checking in with consumers via virtual communication such as phone, video and email to formulate a shopping plan and ease their anxieties around the redesigned shopping experience. Home retailer West Elm is reassuring shoppers by offering in-store and virtual appointments, easily accessible and bookable on their website. Consumers can select to shop directly in-store or opt for a virtual consultation with the design and registry teams.

Audience Amplification — Consumer creativity is at an all-time high, and consumer-creators are looking for ways to engage with brands through their creators. Brands who lend their social media real estate to showcasing consumer sketches, photography, and product remixes hype their product line while celebrating audience voices. Take inspiration from Alexander McQueen: In an effort to engage followers stuck at home during social distancing times, the luxury fashion brand asked social media fans to reimagine its iconic Rose dress—and ended up with 13,600 submissions in just a month.

Remote Support — Customers face high engagement drop-off after they make a purchase and bring their products home. Brands that offer on-demand support to customers as they become acquainted with newly purchased products and services are more likely to foster relationships that encourage customers to set long-term goals and routines. Home improvement retailer Lowe's launched an augmented video platform called JobSIGHT, a remote service tool for Pro customers to conduct virtual visits during a time when people are wary of opening their homes, and to reduce the chance of requiring multiple service visits.

On-Demand Assistance — Investing more resources in customer service, brands are answering consumers' in-the-moment problems and concerns. Focusing on the flexibility of video, phone and chat platforms, businesses are homing in on remote convenience and accessibility for consumers while in-store support is restricted. Skincare startup Versed is doing so with its SMS texting service, dubbed the Skincare Hotline, where consumers can take their questions to the team behind the brand for education and advice on how to make the most of their purchase.

Lifestyle Support — Rather than limiting interaction to the product purchased, brands are connecting with customers around broader lifestyle goals and aspirations and building inclusive and supportive virtual communities that connect shoppers around like-minded needs and interests. Take baby brand WaterWipes, which amped up its value-adds to support soon-to-be and new parents during the coronavirus crisis with a virtual group called the Early Days Club, encouraging members to meet, share and tackle the challenges of raising kids during a pandemic.

Responsive Operations — Brands must be responsive not just in their messaging and advertising, but also in their core operations—everything from product catalog to delivery methods and payment and promotional models. Coffee brand Alfred has evolved by shifting from brick-and-mortar distribution to a subscription model. Now as a DTC brand, it delivers coffee straight to consumers and accompanies each parcel with guidance for brewing at home.

Service Memberships — Brands are extending the retail relationship by offering customers discounted services and repairs, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, and VIP access in exchange for long-term brand commitment via minimal membership fees. Home goods retailer Wayfair, for instance, designed a paid membership program, providing subscribers with free shipping on all ecommerce sites associated with the brand, including Joss & Main, AllModern and Birch Lane, as well as access to limited sales.

And this was just a selection of the trends in PSFK's DTC Playbook 2020—find out more about the full report here.