Looks like retail sales are back on the street. With direct marketing hit by robocall abuse and the National Do Not Call Registry, direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands and other not-so-usual suspects are looking into and in some cases reinstating door-to-door sales.
And if the idea of an unsolicited doorbell chime (Ring customers take note) upsets you, you might find a convenient villain: the IRS. The agency announced this week it will be going door-to-door after the April 15 deadline to notify late-paying or non-paying citizens (most making north of $100K) that they need to pay up.
“The IRS is committed to fairness in the tax system, and we want to remind people across all income categories that they need to file their taxes,” said Paul Mamo, director of collection operations for the agency’s small business and self-employed division. “These visits focusing on high-income taxpayers will be taking place across the country. We want to ensure taxpayers know their options to get right with their taxes and avoid bigger issues later.”
While that won’t exactly crowd the neighborhood, there are more companies hitting the streets. AT&T was having such a tough time with customer acquisition last fall that it stepped up a small door-to-door sales unit.
An AT&T spokesman said the company made door-to-door sales part of its mix before the do-not-call list became effective. Last fall it tested the approach more aggressively. “If it’s something customers like, then we’ll look at its effectiveness,” he said. “We just started a month or two ago, and we’re now getting comments that will allow us to make an assessment.”
The Do Not Call Registry is not the only factor in play. Email is still ubiquitous but limited. An Adobe survey found that 42 percent of consumers feel “indifferent” when faced with their inbox. While email can still be effective, it could use an upgrade. Part of that may be solved through personal contact. And part of it be solved by integrating it with more modern tactics. For example, “social selling” or “direct selling” is preferred by a Washington, D.C. trade organization called the Direct Selling Association (DSA).
“I think companies are looking for new distribution channels for their products,” said the association’s Amy Robinson. “Direct selling has traditionally been undervalued by Wall Street, but many realize its strength. It’s a niche market, but $28.7 billion in sales last year make it nothing to scoff at.”
The DSA is putting its money on the line. It launched the first executive education course focused on direct selling last week in Winter Park, Florida. According to the association, it will promote the “successful integration of new and existing business executives within direct selling companies and delivers a thorough onboarding program to enhance retention, increase self-efficacy, promote company culture, facilitate role clarity, and expedite social integration.”
The iconic door-to-door brand is of course Avon. It was purchased at the beginning of the year by Brazil’s Natura &Co, which also owns retail brand The Body Shop. The firm said the combined company will integrate the Avon model into its other businesses. When seen together the Natura scale is impressive. It will have 200 million consumers globally and 3,000 stores. Between Avon and Natura it will have over 6.3 million consultants and representatives and revenues over $10 billion.
Door-to-door sales will not work for every company or product. But it is a compelling D2C tactic in a world where competing for customer attention is at a premium.
“When the circumstances are right, door-to-door sales can be a powerful means of acquiring customers and increasing revenues,” a Boston Consulting Group noted. “But door-to-door sales forces are often more difficult to manage than other sales channels, and they usually require a skill set that most companies lack today. If your customers contribute high value over their lifetime, however, and if your products or services benefit from some sort of one-on-one consultation or demonstration, door-to-door sales may be an opportunity you can’t afford to ignore.”