“On-trend, online, on-the-go”. That’s how Thai fast fashion company Pomelo Fashion defines itself. With weekly new arrivals, the company launched in 2013 by David Jou and Casey Liang bets on a “truly” omnichannel strategy to stand out from competitors like Asos and Zalora.
In addition to selling clothes online via a webshop and an app, offering free shipping to 53 countries and a 365-day return policy, all of Pomelo’s seven stores in Thailand (and a soon-to-be-opened location in Singapore) allow customers to either shop off the shelf or pick-up items ordered online. So far, nothing new, but the difference is that Pomelo’s customers can try their online orders on and only pay for the items they decide to take home.
Additionally, the brand operates pick-up locations with fitting rooms in high traffic areas such as train stations and office buildings, and teams up with 13 cafés and shops to expand the list of pick-up locations even more. By the end of the year, the company aims to expand its footprint to over 100 pick-up locations in Thailand and Singapore.
The strategy seems to be paying off. With over 2 million monthly visitors to its website and apps, Pomelo says it grew fourfold in the last four years. The company currently employs a team of 160 people across its headquarters in Bangkok and additional offices in Singapore, Jakarta and China. In March, Pomelo roped in former RedMart CEO Jim Boland for the role of Chief Financial Officer. He will be tasked with driving profitability and growth across Asia, while co-founder and former CEO Casey Liang will transition to a new role focusing on performance marketing and business intelligence.
FashionUnited spoke with Liang to learn more about Pomelo and its business strategy. He began his career at Barclays Capital, in New York, and Vector Capital, a San-Francisco based private equity fund focused on technology investments. Prior to co-founding Pomelo alongside David Jou, he served as managing director at e-commerce company Lazada Thailand.
How did the idea for a ‘truly omnichannel’ fashion brand come about?
Funnily enough, when we started Pomelo, we swore that we would never have a retail footprint. But I firmly believe in having strong opinions that are loosely held. We aimed to provide the best possible e-commerce offering for fashion, including having top quality images from different angles, close ups to show fabric, model stats for size comparisons, easy and flexible returns etc. We felt that shopping online for fashion has many advantages to shopping offline.
However, the fashion category presents additional online challenges that don’t exist in other product categories like home appliances or electronics. There is a fit, quality and style component that requires a physical product to be tried on. We tested out having delivery services wait for the customer to try on their purchases before making a decision, but the logistics of such an operation were not going to be scalable. That’s when we started to seriously consider having a physical store, but given our online experience and technology team we felt like we could provide a better solution, one that combines the benefits of shopping online with the physical aspect of retail.
How has this strategy been working so far? How many people use the partner locations and pick-up locations? Do most clients have a preferred way to shop or do they use all channels?
The omnichannel strategy is working very well for both offline and online. About 20 percent of our sales in Thailand use pick-up locations. We’ve found that customers who use pick-up tend to stick to that way of shopping.
Tell us about the intention to expand to Singapore.
Singapore was our second market online and will be our second market for omnichannel. We’re opening our first store there in June with all the omnichannel features available.
Any intention to expand to other countries?
Yes. Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Hong Kong are next!
What kind of challenges has the company faced so far?
Launching our first iOS app in 2016 was a big challenge but at the same time a moment we’re all very proud of. We had to reprogram much of our back-end business logic to work with mobile apps, as previously Pomelo only worked for the web. Now, the mobile apps make up 85 percent of our sales.
When we first started venturing out to find our first retail locations, landlords were unsure about whether the brand enjoy the same success offline as we did online, so they were slow to offer good locations. Now we have several proof points that we actually attract significantly more foot traffic because of our brand presence online.
Last but not least, it was a major challenge to scale from 130 people to over 350 in 2018. Last year was a huge year for us in terms of growth across the board, leading us to reconsider and change many processes just to keep everyone aligned and communicating efficiently while maintaining the agility of a startup.
Any other plans for the future you can already share with us?
We’re continuously adding new products and new categories to our assortment. We currently have 5,000 styles available but aim to double that by the end of the year. We’re also launching a few new categories, such as a cosmetics line. Stay tuned!
Photos: courtesy of Pomelo