DTC brands have a huge blind spot: vaulting

Daniel Brain
5 min readSep 12, 2022

Since co-founding OneText earlier this year, I’ve been personally working with a metric ton of DTC and eCommerce brands.

It’s been fascinating getting to know these guys. It’s the actual wild west: everyone has a slightly dubious playbook, a ton of hustle, a handful of mentors, and a Shopify store fronting everything. They’re winging their way into millions of dollars of annual revenue, and it’s actually kind of awesome.

My background is in fintech, along with my co-founder Jonathan. We spent years working together at PayPal. So it really surprised us to see that there’s one massive thing DTC founders don’t care much about:

Vaulting.

Right off the bat, these guys do care a lot about:

  • Having a list of customer email addresses they can reach out to at any time.
  • Having a list of phone numbers who’ve consented to SMS-based promotions.
  • Marketing, sales, and everything else they should be doing to build a successful brand.

But they don’t care — or even think much — about vaulting. And that’s really surprising!

Vaulting credit cards

When you talk about vaulting, everyone just assumes “Shopify will do it”, or “PayPal will do it”. Sure — those guys will gladly own your customers’ vaults.

But look at any massive online retailer from Amazon to Walmart to eBay, and you’ll notice the one thing they will consistently try to do is get their own customers’ credit cards vaulted and on-file. It’s a huge part of their relationship with customers.

So why is vaulting so damned important?

Treat returning customers like kings

So — you want to build a brand. An actual brand that people grow to care about and trust. Not just “that one site with a Facebook ad that some people clicked, made a purchase, and then forgot all about”.

That means returning customers are far more valuable than first-time customers. They’re the people who are going to keep coming back for more; the people who are going to recommend the product to their friends, and who are still going to be there when your advertising dollars run out.

So: make it actually convenient for them to come back for more, when they’re ready! That is — literally as convenient and low-friction as humanly possible.

When we built OneText, we found that returning customers absolutely love to pay with a single text message, so long as you enable them to do it honestly and ethically. The trick is to make it straightforward by requiring only a single text to make a payment, but then always allowing a 24-hour cancelation window. It’s a perfect balance of low-friction and easy-cancelation.

This is much better than asking your customers to give you their credit card and basically saying “we have carte-blanche to charge you at any time with or without your prior consent”.

Here are some more details about how we do this:

Operate on the customer’s schedule

When we initially launched OneText, we noticed something interesting.

A lot of customers really wanted particular products, but they just weren’t ready to pay for them yet. Either they were getting paid next week, or they needed to pay off a credit card bill, or sometimes they just wanted more time to decide. All completely fair reasons!

Usually the best you can do here as a brand is either:

a) Send a cart recovery email in a week and hope they’re still interested

b) Integrate a hugely complex ‘pay later’ credit product, that lets the customer pay over time, but introduces a bunch of friction and terms and conditions for them to have to agree to.

At OneText we found a much simpler way. Let the buyer save their card, and then just schedule the payment as far in future as they like. And of course, give them an easy way to cancel with a 24-hour warning, so they don’t feel locked in.

It turns out, most people we offer this to are perfectly happy with a “buy later, pay later” model. Usually they just want to lock in their discount, and make sure they don’t forget to complete their order.

Enable friendly, honest auto-refills

Vaulting also enables you to turn on auto-refills for consumable products. That’s a concept we’ve been honing at OneText as a complete replacement for traditional subscriptions.

Subscriptions are a model which customers are trepidatious about at best. At worst, they run for the hills the moment they hear the word.

To do auto-refills you absolutely need to vault a card, but you can do so in an extremely friendly way that most people are happy to agree to, again with 24-hour reminders before every payment, and an easy way to skip or cancel any time. This one deserves a whole write-up, so read more about it here:

The upshot is, many many more people are happy to agree to do a refill, versus a traditional subscription. It’s an easy sell.

Avoid payment processor hell

So many fledgling brands find themselves cycling between different payment processors in the early days, to find a good fit.

This ends up going a bit like this: a brand launches, then —

  1. The brand starts accepting payments processed by Shop Pay. A ton of customers check out and vault their cards with Shop Pay.
  2. Shopify decides the brand is too high risk to process their payments.
  3. The brand onboards PayPal as a card processor. A ton of customers check out and vault their cards with PayPal.
  4. PayPal decides the brand is too high risk to process their payments

Notice a pattern here?

We see a ton of new brands going through this. Every time they lose a bunch of loyal customers who already saved their card, and now for no obvious reason they have to re-enter it every time they pay.

We solved this at OneText by keeping our vault completely decoupled from any one payment processor. Customers save their cards once, then the same vaulted card can be plugged into any payment processor in future as the brand finds a good fit.

Vaulting is a superpower for DTC brands.

In a nutshell:

  • Treat returning customers like kings, by giving them a super easy way to come back and buy again.
  • Operate on the customer’s schedule, by allowing future scheduled purchases.
  • Enable friendly, honest auto-refills, by allowing your customers an ethical, non-scammy version of subscriptions that they actually love.
  • Avoid payment processor hell, by keeping your customer credit-card vault decoupled from your payment processor.

As usual, feel free to steal any of these ideas.

Want to find out how to enable all of this in 15 minutes? Shoot me an email!

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