NEW YORK — Shoppers didn't need an invite to New York Fashion Week to feel like they had special access to the Coach brand.
Instead, they could tune into the luxury leather goods label's February fashion show on Instagram and Facebook, then head to Coach's website to get first dibs on the Dreamer — a purse that, at the time, was available for a limited window.
"It was the channel we utilized most to drive awareness of the Dreamer's limited-time launch and availability,'' Andrea Shaw Resnick, a spokeswoman for Coach's parent company, Tapestry, said of social media platforms. "Social was able to drive a significant portion of that style's revenue on Coach.com.'' (Since then, Coach has brought the Dreamer bag back in preparation for a bigger launch later this year).
At a time when traditional retailers are struggling to woo customers, Coach is one of several brands that are increasingly skipping department stores to sell their purses, sneakers and clothing straight to shoppers.
That direct connection — through websites, social media and sometimes their own branded stores — is helping companies build customer loyalty, gain more control over their images and boost profits by cutting out the middleman. And as more department stores and boutiques go out of business or close locations, direct links to customers can also help fashion and home good brands hold the line on sales.
Sneaker giant Adidas has two apps that let fans reserve limited-release shoes available exclusively at its own stores.
Shoppers who check out Nike Instagram feeds such as "Nike Women" or "Nike Soccer" can then link to Nike.com to make purchases. Michael Kors has shrunk the number of purses and accessories it ships to stores. And watchmaker Fossil is enlisting celebrities such as Yara Shahidi, star of Grown-ish and ABC's Black-ish to help steer Millennials and teens who make up Generation Z to its website and stores, not just traditional retailers.
Mia Booker is one of many shoppers who prefers buying right from the source.
A makeup artist in New York, Booker, 36, says she often learns about new products by clicking through photos posted on Instagram. That's how she found out about Fenty, pop star Rihanna's makeup line.
Booker went to several Sephora stores but could not find the Fenty lipstick she wanted. She then turned to Fentybeauty.com to make a purchase. The next time she wanted to buy, the experience was even more seamless. She accessed the Fenty site by simply clicking on its Instagram feed.
"There's a 'shop now' button, and it leads you to the Fenty page where that lipstick is for sale,'' says Booker, who with a tap of her phone bought the brand's Mattemoiselle Plush Matte lipstick in its deep burgundy "Griselda'' shade.
"It's more convenient to buy from your device,'' she says. "It helps you cut down on time going to the physical store, and then when you get there you're disappointed because they don't have it.''
The ability for a brand to connect directly to shoppers such as Booker marks a sharp departure from the days when department stores and boutiques were largely the only ways a company could showcase and sell its wares.
Now, backed by their own independent sales channels, brands can be more choosy in deciding what stores can sell their products. "The expectation is 'if I'm going to sell my brand in your store, I expect convenient locations, extraordinary customer service, and well-maintained stores,' " said Steve Barr, consumer markets leader at consultancy PwC.