How Everlane is Navigating the Next Phase of Hyper-Competitive Commerce

Everlane produces modern apparel essentials with a focus on transparent and sustainable supply chain practices. As one of the original DTC merchants that launched as part of the first wave of digitally native brands, Everlane has a unique lens on the evolution of digital commerce. 

We sat down with Michael Preysman, Everlane’s Founder & Executive Chair, to dive deep on:

  • Tactical advice for ensuring Everlane’s brand partnerships drive long-term ROI
  • Why he compares present-day growth channels to a form of “guerilla warfare”
  • How tooling like Disco helps merchants leverage data and audience insights
“When DTC is dominated by huge players like Amazon, the only way SMBs can win is by effectively coming together — particularly through platforms like Disco. That long-term, collective growth is far more enriching than any short-term wins.”

A Decade of DTC Competition

Everlane launched in 2011, a period where, as Michael recalls, breaking into the industry was more operationally difficult because foundational infrastructure like Stripe was just in infancy. 

Back then, Everlane built with Braintree on top of a custom stack built by their in-house engineering team. As he puts it, it was a widely accepted norm that founders would not be able to get their eCom brand off the ground without sufficient technical talent or engineering leadership.

In addition, securing a founding team that was sophisticated in the tech stack of the time thus marked you as a desirable investment to VCs. Down the line, the industry began placing less of an emphasis on bespoke tooling once two catalytic growth platforms became the new normal. 

Catalyst I: Instagram

Before the rise of Instagram and adjacent social channels like Snapchat and TikTok, user discovery was practically a nonexistent opportunity for merchants outside of Facebook.

Yet, within just a few years, these apps had become the new American shopping mall, shifting the fundamental use case of how shoppers found products to purchase via online channels.

Catalyst II: Shopify

The emergence of Shopify’s commerce platform, and its broader app ecosystem, almost entirely did away with the industry’s reliance on a custom tech stack for every new brand that launched.

The popularity of Shopify enabled anyone to launch a storefront without a technical team or co-founder. While brands still needed to work with dev agencies or freelancers, the core team itself didn’t need to be technical. As a result, more brands began entering the DTC ecosystem.

In Michael’s words, this era resembled a metaphorical “wild west” in the timeline of digital commerce, where anyone who mastered the right tools could choose to play the game. 

The Emergence of Guerilla Warfare

Michael compares the DTC growth landscape today to a form of guerilla warfare between rival merchants. He points to three specific trends that have accelerated this heated competition.

  • There are more potential shoppers than ever to compete for, due to dozens of varied channels like Google Search, TikTok, or even new distribution platforms like Substack
  • More and more long-tail merchants enter the market across new categories every day 
  • Leaders like Meta and Apple can rewrite the paid acquisition and retention rules across growth channels at any given moment, thus leading to ongoing arbitrage opportunities

As a result, hyper-competition and a dire sense of self-preservation have become the norm.

“Honestly, my friends who run eCom businesses say it feels like a knife fight every day. You have to come in with your arsenal of tools fully loaded, but you don’t know what tools you’ll have to use that day. The game changes so fast.” 

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The Disco Value Proposition

As for why he chose to support the Disco platform as an advisor, Michael considers the tool’s partnership model one of the best strategies for combating soaring CACs in the long run. 

Rather than having thousands of SMBs duke it out online for whatever arbitrage opportunities are left, brands can come together to leverage their most critical asset – customer data. 

By allowing partner brands to access your audience insights and vice versa — in a way that’s functional, rather than competitive — you gain a far richer context about your user persona. 

In Michael’s words, Disco is a necessity for every high-growth brand for three reasons:

  • To understand the other brands and products your customers choose to browse and purchase, both within and outside of your specific eCommerce vertical
  • To apply this diversity of data — i.e. of how Everlane users function and respond outside of the Everlane bubble — to enhance your R&D, marketing, and growth functions
  • To establish this process as a compounding feedback loop of foundational data insights, which will enable ongoing acquisition and retention campaign refinement
“Costs to acquire and retain customers continue to rise. In tandem, data clarity is so hard to gain. At Everlane, we invest in what works and what’s best for the brand. For us, that means leveraging owned channels and tools like Disco.”

How Everlane Designed its Partnership Model

For companies striving to navigate the competitive, unpredictable waters of digital commerce, Michael recommends turning toward partnerships — but only when executed to perfection.

In his words, Everlane continues to prioritize two key principles regarding partnerships. 

Long-Term Relationships

The partnership growth channel in eCommerce is typically associated with shorter-term opportunities, such as co-branded giveaways, email swaps, or content collaborations. 

Instead, Michael advises prioritizing the types of partnerships that will last forever while generating the greatest long-term ROI. To build these long-term relationships, he recommends spending time to ensure that their audiences and customer personas overlap.

While a hastily constructed co-branded giveaway on Instagram may yield a small bump in new user acquisition, it doesn’t ensure the protection of brand equity and sustainable growth curves.

Upfront Due Diligence

According to Michael, the more due diligence you perform upfront, the longer your partnership will stick — whether that’s with a brand, a technology vendor, or a creative acquisition channel.

As new brands and enablement tools continue to inundate the DTC space, Michael reiterates that deep diligence efforts are critical to avoid wasted and costly partnership efforts. 

For example, as it relates to technology partnerships at Everlane, Michael frequently touches base with his CTO, whose role includes constantly scoping out new tooling partners.

As Everlane continues to experiment with new brand and technology partnerships, Michael and his team plan to leverage Disco’s networked tool to expand their customer base and target high-intent shoppers within new audience segments, all while lowering their CAC and CPA.

“Partnerships usually carry that connotation of short-term ploys. But I think the best ones are usually long-term: the kind of relationship that enables you to provide an upgraded experience for your users at a better price for you.” 
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