The world isn’t exactly hurting for shoe brands. We’ve got plenty. More than we need, really. So starting a new brand of shoes—and using the eCommerce direct-to-consumer model where people can’t even hold or try on the shoes before they buy them—well, that seems maybe not the best idea…
But Allbirds was crazy enough to try it—and make it work.
Allbirds was founded in 2015 and, in just a few years, has become a $1.4 billion eCommerce giant and a Silicon Valley darling.
How could a DTC eCommerce newcomer crack into an oversaturated, brick-and-mortar-driven industry and grab a noticeable slice of the pie so quickly? Allbirds managed to beat the odds by figuring out what made them different than any other shoe company, where they could find competitive advantages, what measures they’d need to take to compete—and then making sure every bit of their messaging, marketing, and shopping experience conveyed and reinforced that information to customers.
In this tear down of Allbirds’ purchase experience, we’ll take a look at those strategic moves the company took and follow the buying path from ad to checkout to see firsthand how they’ve managed to go from longshot to success story.
Allbirds uses advertising to highlight the key differentiable features of their product. One, Allbirds’ shoes are made of wool, which is unique and also makes them extraordinarily comfortable. Two, they’re made of natural, sustainable materials, which has a strong appeal to a growing segment of customers. Three, the shoes are high quality, a consistent standard the company can maintain thanks to the DTC approach. And four, they’re stylish in a modern and minimalistic way, which comes through thanks to quality product photography.
But Allbirds also needs to convey one other crucial piece of info in their ad: Even though you can’t try these on at a shoe store, you’re not going to get stuck with a mediocre pair of shoes—or have to spend a fortune shipping them back and forth with the company to find the right fit.
Take a look at this Facebook ad:
The body copy references comfort with taglines like “Comfort That Comes Naturally” and “Try Our Wool Runners—Soft & Cozy.” But both of those sentences give a subtle nod to other features of the product as well. In just a few words, Allbirds helps customers understand that the company’s shoes are comfortable, naturally made (of wool), soft, and cozy.
The next line takes it a step further, bringing in Allbirds’ 30-day, no-hassle trial period.
“Give our shoes a shot for 30 days, and if you’re not walking on cloud nine, we’ll take them back—no questions asked.”
The 30-day trial is a key part of the online shoe buying process (it’s also one of the techniques that Zappos, the granddaddy of online shoe sales, strategically and successfully used to become a giant eCommerce brand). Leveraging this generous return policy on top of free shipping is what really helps Allbirds build trust with their audience. It essentially removes the barrier of buying shoes online, sight unseen.
If the ad is enough to entice a customer to click through, they’re taken to a product page that expands on these simple ideas by adding more context.
Allbirds’ product page will look familiar to anyone who’s bought a product from DTC brands in the past—it’s clean, straightforward, and value-driven. This is where they can get into the nitty-gritty details and show off a bit more of the diversity of the product. For Allbirds, that means color and materials, which are featured prominently on the page.
Allbirds also recognizes the trend of shoe brands releasing limited editions. And while people can’t line up outside of a store to get Allbirds’ short run offerings, they still get in on that market with products like their Limited Edition and Earth Day options.
This is a great tactic for differentiating their product and taps into the idea of scarcity marketing, which makes a product feel more valuable due to its lack of availability.
The Allbirds product page immediately draws the eye to a central image, the shoe (obviously) by making it bigger than everything else on the page. Potential customers can easily scan through different angles of the product to get a sense of how it looks, and they can watch a quick video that shows how the shoe moves on actual feet.
Visitors also have the option to change the color and pick sizes, all fairly standard for an eCommerce apparel website. That makes it easy for customers to figure out exactly which pair of Allbirds they want to purchase.
But if they’re not quite ready to buy, the rest of the product page goes deeper into what makes Allbirds so different from their competitors, starting with some social proof:
Each Birds in the Wild post expands to show the model or influencer, without leaving the Allbirds site. This helps to boost the brand by showing real people, or influencers, wearing Allbirds in their daily lives. It shows people being comfortable in their Allbirds shoes and hints at a community of customers already loving the product.
That’s followed by more content on why Allbirds created the shoes using wool:
The component parts of each pair:
And a straightforward explanation of the benefits:
Each section of the product page is designed to communicate a different value to the customer. Much like Baron Fig, Allbirds systematically breaks down the elements of their product as a customer scrolls through the page, highlighting each individual part to reassure customers about a product they still haven’t actually touched or held.
But what happens if the customer still isn’t ready to make the purchase?
When someone signs up to the Allbirds mailing list or creates an account on the website, Allbirds uses email campaigns to nurture the relationship, recover abandoned carts, and follow up after a purchase. All of those are communication tactics that are working together to foster a stronger connection with every customer.
These connections are what drive the popularity of Allbirds’ shoes, eventually turning interested people into happy customers and potentially even outspoken brand advocates.
The first email they receive has the subject line “Welcome To The Flock.” It’s the customer’s first introduction to Allbirds’ email campaigns, and it acts as an elevator pitch for their brand.
These two sections provide the new subscriber with a quick overview of the brand and reinforce Allbirds’ mission as a company that makes comfortable, stylish, and sustainable footwear. They move on to highlight the materials that are used in their shoes, linking out to more information on how their shoes are made.
But what’s most noticeable is what Allbirds hasn’t done yet: Try to sell anything.
They only do that after the new subscriber is reminded of Allbirds’ value proposition and shown how Allbirds’ materials differ from the typical shoe. Then the company presents the option to start shopping:
By waiting to push the sale until further down the email, Allbirds gives their potential customers time to buy into that value of the product, which has a positive effect on their overall willingness to pay.
The final two sections of this email work to win over anyone who needs more convincing by showcasing Allbirds’ social media profiles as well as their 30-day trial period.
We know that Allbirds needs this 30-day guarantee to overcome the difficulty of selling a product that is typically hands(or feet)-on. Allowing customers to send back, without any hassle, a pair of shoes they’ve purchased also informs the overall customer experience.
Abandoned cart email
This end-to-end control of the experience extends to their abandoned cart and post-purchase emails as well. Allbirds uses abandoned cart best practices to entice potential customers to return to complete their purchases.
Sent approximately one hour after a cart is abandoned, this email gives Allbirds a way to potentially win back the sale. Notice how the copy again uses the concept of scarcity to encourage potential buyers to act quickly (“Our latest colors go faster than a plate of cookies in the office”).
Thank you email
The idea of deepening connections with their customers is represented in the company’s thank you email as well. Allbirds uses GIFs to delight the customer and show off the Allbirds personality.
The dancing lamb is a fun way to let a customer know that their purchase was completed, while reminding them again about the materials used in the creation of Allbirds’ product.
Email gives Allbirds a way to own the customer relationship end-to-end. This is vitally important for a direct-to-consumer eCommerce brand competing in an established market. Their email strategy not only provides customers with information about their brand, but also reinforces the customer relationship and maintains an open channel for communication.
Allbirds guides customers through a tightly-controlled buying experience to ensure their brand continually builds on the ideas presented in each ad—and continually reinforces what makes it special and unique. This creates a feeling of connection with the brand and builds the credibility needed to overcome the initial purchase decision.
► Control the customer experience
As a DTC company, Allbirds is in complete control of the entire customer experience. That’s rare in the footwear market, where resellers are popular and control is a large part of the market. Your ability to enhance this experience at each point along the buyer’s journey is what helps you be successful.
► Showcase value wherever possible
Allbirds understands that customers need to trust their brand to buy shoes online. You need to show off why your product is valuable every chance you get, from ads to product pages to email. If you don’t, you’ll never build the kind of credibility that’s needed to overcome the initial buying decision.
► Reinforce your value at every step
Allbirds recognizes what the brand has going for it—and what makes them different than other shoes on the market. Those differentiators are reinforced at every step: Ads, website, and emails. Allbirds never lets a customer or potential customer forget what drew them to the brand in the first place.
► Make buying easy
Allbirds’ product pages help customers find the pair of shoes they want. You need to make it easy for potential customers to find a product that fits their needs, and the only chance you have to do that is on the product page. Buying has to be as straightforward as possible.