ShopTalk: ‘Digitally Native Vertical Brands’ Anchor


Bonobos CEO Andy Dunn (On Right)

The next generation of retail brands will win if they pursue a “digitally native vertical brand” (DNVB) path. So says Bonobos CEO Andy Dunn.

“Vertical brands were a huge part of the last era of retail (Zara, Ikea, Gap), aka the offline one, and now they become the driving story in the future of digital retail,” said Dunn in a Medium post.

Speaking May 18 at ShopTalk in Las Vegas, Dunn says there are 65 digitally vertical brands. Besides Bonobos, a high-end men’s fashion brand, others include Warby Parker, Dollar Shave Club, BirchBox and Jack Threads. We’re just in the “first inning,” he says.

Dunn’s definition of a DNVB is a brand that is customer-centric and highly personalized, while most ecommerce-only companies provide anonymized service with superficial, broad personalization. Nordstrom, which owns 5 percent of Bonobos, is an obvious cohort. But so is Tesla in automotive.

The digitally native approach differs from pure-play ecommerce, “where we have seen a lot of failures,” says Dunn. It is also far removed from legacy retailers and offline brands. Aside from leaders such as Nike and UnderArmour, most are unprepared to disrupt themselves and they also tend to lack their founder’s conviction.

Like Warby Parker, BirchBox (and Amazon), Bonobos is now taking its approach from online to offline. Stores are “amazingly profitable. Productivity is so great on that box,” he says, noting that the average Bonobos location is 800 square feet.

They also allow Bonobos to “sell with the highest possible customer service,” while “pulling back on marketing and technology.” Bonobos currently has 21 stores, and will open 11 more this year. But these aren’t “software companies,” says Dunn. “This is retail. It takes a long time to build. And ultimately, profits and cash-flow matter.”

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