Going mainstream: Diffusion’s 2021 Direct-to-Consumer Purchase Intent Index


To say that 2020 has been tough for people and businesses is an understatement. Some have found, however, opportunity in the new social and economic dynamics of quarantine—and if we have learned anything over the past decade, it’s that retail always finds a way.

Since 2018, Diffusion has published an annual report on the state of consumer purchase intent as it relates to traditional retail and rising direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands. Trends in years past explored how the line between what makes a DTC brand and what makes a traditional retail brand have blurred to the point that they can become unrecognizable to the consumer.
In this year’s 2021 Direct-to-Consumer Purchase Intent Index, we explore similar models of purchase projection and traction made during COVID-19, the motivations (and barriers) for shopping DTC, grounds of market opportunity for traditional retailers and the importance of social activism.

Here are the quick hits:

Permeating mainstream consumer consciousness

Now, more than 2 in 5 Americans (43%) are familiar with DTC brands —being knowledgeable about at least one. Of those Americans with DTC familiarity, seven in 10 (69%) have made at least one purchase from a DTC brand in the past year.

DTC: the arbiters of cool

What’s the main factor driving DTC-familiar Americans to purchase from them over a traditional retail brand? Perception is driving purchasing – 44% believe DTC brands produce a higher quality product at a lower price point than traditional competitors—and nearly a quarter (23%) perceive DTC brands to be an authority of what’s cool and on trend.

But beware – 1 in 10 Americans with DTC familiarity are turned off from making a purchase if the company has been poorly covered in the media.

The importance of social activism

The Black Lives Matter movement has had an impact on American purchasing habits, but unfortunately has not pushed the needle enough. Americans still expect all brands, both traditional retail and DTC, to be responsible corporate citizens but they’re showing support on a variety of issues. Nearly a third (31%) of Americans reported intentionally purchasing more from brands demonstrating support for social and environmental issues (like the Black Lives Matter movement, sustainability, LGBTQ+ support and more) in the past year, with the highest rates among 18-34 year old adults at 48%.

Hooked yet? Get the full findings of our 2021 Direct-to-Consumer Purchase Intent Index HERE.