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With pure play online brands around the world adopting offline channels, which retail strategy is really the way to go? Is an online-to-offline (O2O) approach feasible for your brand? David Jou, founder & CEO of Pomelo, one of Southeast Asia’s best performing ecommerce fashion brands, shares his views on today’s definition of a “retail experience” and what it means for his company.


A few months back, I had a very memorable meeting with a prominent Indian investor. He was the number one ranked student among all Institutes of Technology in India back in his days as a student, sold his first company for a hefty sum to Amazon and now heads up one the leading venture capital firms in India. His perspective is particularly interesting because India over the last decade has experienced one of the steepest adoption curves for ecommerce globally.

I was given a bit of time to pick his brain at his office.

“Ask him your hardest questions, because he’s an absolute genius.”

I sat down, launched into a quick introduction of myself and Pomelo and got him up to speed about my margins, growth, the brand, our competitive advantage, the team, our factory etc. etc. I looked over and asked,

“Does that all sound good?”

“Yes, that all makes sense.”

“So, you think this all makes sense?”

“Yes I think you’re absolutely spot on and you’ve figured something out.”

So there it was, we were on the same page and the discussion could continue.

With the groundwork in place, I decided to ask him a question Pomelo had been considering over the past few months.

“Should Pomelo spend its capital on creating an offline retail footprint or on marketing its mobile app?”

I had asked this particular question to many before and heard variations of “forget offline, you’re online! Why would you want to deal with a non-scalable, hassle-filled business model that’s crowded and competitive. You’re exactly where you want to be. Double down!”

Without hesitation and much gusto he answered,

“Go offline.”

Astonished, I asked, “why?”

“Even 5–10 years from now, best case scenario, only 10–15% of retail spending in your markets will be online. 85% of spending will still be offline.”

So there it is. For the coming years, offline will remain an important part of the 360 retail experience. Think of Warby Parker, Amazon, Bonobos in the US who have all opened offline stores. Now how can online players really take advantage of clicks to bricks?

1. Provide concrete incentives to visit your offline location

Spend time with your team to figure out the ‘why’ behind your offline project. Why would your target customer come to this particular location and what benefits do they get from coming to it? Opening a flagship store for the sake of it isn’t a good enough reason, answer these questions first:

  • Is it to showcase your physical product because it shows better in the real world?
  • Is it to alleviate a particular barrier to purchase that exists in your category?
  • Is it to provide a space where you can build a community?

If your “why” is to drive more sales or a generic “to increase awareness”, it will be hard to determine if you’re set up for success or failure. Imagine the location you’re contemplating is really a physical billboard to drive customer acquisition and that the metrics you track should be on that basis.

Amazon recently picked up a lot of attention following the launch of Amazon Go, an offline grocery store that boasts zero queues and no check-out. The major realization was that Amazon could reinvent the grocery store experience by getting rid of lines and cash and draw in more users online through a highly attractive offline experience.

“Grab & Go” at the Amazon Go store.

2. Scrap traditional retail conventions

The key to success is to provide a differentiated experience and scrap traditional retail conventions. Remember that you’re not in the business of building more efficient candles, you’re after the next light bulb. Figure out how to disrupt the traditional store format that reigns in your category.

One great example is New York based workwear website MM.LaFleur that has become famous through a product it calls the “Bento Box”, a mail-ordered shipment that comes with four to six ready-to-try wardrobe staples.

The company focuses on professional women’s wear for the office and have been extremely successful, with revenue growing 600% in 2015 and a projected $30 million in 2016.

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The “Bento Box”

The brand’s approach to its offline experience directly mirrors the Bento Box philosophy. Stylists curate a selection of products based on a survey customers fill-out when they book their appointment online. A lot of players in traditional retail would say the cost of having a personal stylist on hand for an unpredictable amount of customers is highly inefficient and consequently won’t scale.

MM.LaFleur’s success would suggest otherwise; they’re launching a showroom in Washington DC this March, in addition to a showroom in New York and pop-ups scattered the country.

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MM.LaFleur New York City location

3. Have a built-in digital marketing plan

One thing I would say is if you build it, they will not so simply flock. If your brand is considering an offline location, you have most likely built up a loyal following on social media, your email database and an efficient conversion funnel online. The trick here is to take the same approach with offline as you did online, and fully utilize it for your brick & mortar venture.

One of the best examples I’ve come across was by fashion label Marc Jacobs at the Marc Jacobs Daisy Pop-up Tweet Shop in 2014.  The three day pop-up store in lower Manhattan used tweets and Facebook posts as viable payment methods, where customers walked out with products after tweeting or posting a picture about the pop-up event.

The pop-up was a huge success and the brand received a ton of PR via social engagement to reinforce the fun playful character of the brand all at the same time. This concept was later replicated at a few additional Marc Jacobs locations, including London.

Marc Jacobs Pop-Up Tweet Shop window

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Signage showing how the tweet shop works

From eIQ:

What’s next for Pomelo?

Multiple mall staples in the US, such as BCBG and JC Penny are struggling to keep stores open. Long-standing department stores Macy’s had to shut down multiple stores, while scrambling to launch ecommerce strategies to stay afloat. Ironically, purely digital brands are beginning to adopt offline strategies, most notably eyewear startup Warby Parker and Rent The Runway. If the death of pure play retail is indeed true, then what is stopping Pomelo from pursuing an offline store strategy to become a global fast fashion powerhouse?

BY DAVID JOU, FOUNDER & CEO OF POMELO

Read more about David Jou in eIQ’s SPARK 40

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