Love, Bonito: Designing for your customers
Focusing on affordable female fashion and empowering its customers, Love, Bonito has rocketed from humble beginnings selling in Singapore on LiveJournal in 2010, to being the country’s largest home grown female fashion brand.
Love, Bonito focuses its products on the Asian fit – made purely for the specifications of its customers – and centres much of what it does based on what this demographic wants.
We sat down with Charmaine Chua, Love, Bonito’s head of product, in order to get a gauge on how the business has grown, and continues to deliver for its customers.
IR: Tell us about your brand, Love, Bonito?
Charmaine Chua: Love, Bonito really focuses on affordable female fashion. I think the company was really born out of this desire to empower women.
We wanted Love, Bonito to be not just fashion, but a go-to safe space where women can learn more about themselves, their fashion sense, their body types and shapes, and how to embrace themselves. Fashion is a vehicle for that conversation.
We have really grown up with our customer base, and still see a large number of our 2010 customers shopping with us today. So, I really think the brand has resonated and grown with that.
That’s really how we started, everything with that crux in mind, [we’re] not just about selling the clothing, we’re really about the community.
IR: You’ve spoken before about Love, Bonito being a ‘thoughtful brand’, and taking customer needs and wants into consideration when designing products. What are some of the ways that you have learned from your customers and how they want to shop, and then brought that into your business?
CC: One word – pockets.
For some weird reason, a lot of clothing in the market today are not designed with pockets, be it dresses or pants. When we spent time with real customers during design and fitting sessions, customers were telling us ‘pockets are important, you need somewhere to put your phone, or if you’re running after your kids you somewhere to put something.’
So, that’s what we started doing. We started putting pockets in everything, my jumpsuit right now has a pocket which normally for this style in other brands you wouldn’t find.
I think that’s what happens when you design for your customer in mind, sort of listen to what they have to say.
A lot of the changes that are coming on our new site are also born out of that. We spend a significant amount of time in focus groups chatting to customers and having used tools to gather feedback as well.
Our customers are very invested in us so as a result a lot of them send in feature recommendations. They tell us, “Why don’t you think about this? Or what about this?’, and all of these things go into a massive backlog that we look at and prioritise what we can bring that to life.
IR: So, your customers are actually taking an active role in pushing the brand forward?
CC: I think that’s part of the beauty of being omnichannel.
For a lot of brands, if you started out digital like [we did], it’s sometimes hard to imagine that physical presence, but once we were opening pop-ups, and our customers started coming to the pop-ups, meeting us and each other, that’s when they started opening up to us as well.
Now we actually have a Style Ambassador program in-store – This is our talented team who are all full of style, and want to share it. They want to help other women find their style and that’s their mission.
Their job is not to upsell you, they are not commission based, but their job is to help you find something that fits you, suits you, and makes you happy.
A lot of that communication and feedback comes back through that channel, because the Style Ambassador becomes your best friend.
She’s shopping with you, and then as you’re trying on and changing clothes you might say ‘Hey, I was on the website the other day and this thing doesn’t work, or I wish you guys had this’ and then the Style Ambassadors give that [feedback] back to the technical team.
IR: Do you think that breeds a bit of trust in the consumer?
CC: Yes, I think it does because it’s not about the sale. Rachel Lim, our co-founder, is really particular about that, and ensures that all the training [our team goes through] is about the customer experience, not a gimmick or upsell. We never want [customers] to buy something that does not suit [them] or make [them] happy.
Style Ambassadors actually train directly with Rachel herself, to ensure that we get that right. Because, if you’re a store associate that comes in from a different brand you might think that your job is to upsell and sell more, but this is a very different mindset.
IR: What lessons have you learned about what customers expect in modern retail?
CC: I think with digital transformation, a lot of what the industry is talking about now is not new, but I believe the table stakes are higher now.
Consumers have higher expectations, and rightly so. We want to be able to find exactly what we want, when we want it, have it paid for, shipped to, and in our hands immediately. We also want to be able to return it, where we want, and when we want. It’s that seamless experience.
For example, a customer comes in store, they don’t see your physical storefront and your digital storefront as two separate stores. So, if there is one return policy online, they want to see the same return policy in store, they want the credit immediately to use in the store.
Many retailers are still not able to do that, not because retailers want to put on those restrictions, but because the systems themselves don’t speak to each other. That’s the crux of what we’ve been working to solve in the last couple of months – breaking down those barriers to make the experience truly omnichannel.
IR: How does the Singaporean customer differ from the Australian customer in terms of expectations?
CC: This is an interesting one, I was chatting with the other panelists [at Magento Live], asking them a little bit about the Australian market. One thing that we all agreed on, that the Singaporean and Australian customers seem similar on is mall culture, or shopping culture – physical shopping culture.
[Compared to] the US where digital and online was adopted really quickly, I think digital and online has been slow to adopt in these two markets, which I think has been quite interesting.
Affordability matters, a brand that you can trust, and at least judging from the success of the other brands that were on the panel today, it also sounds like customers react well to social media and strong communication, so we’ve seen pretty strong growth in our Australian base as well online.
IR: What are some of the things you see other brands do wrong in terms of customer experience?
CC: I think I’d go back to the idea that every business should understand what their customers really want, versus jumping on a bandwagon of what tech looks like.
I have an anecdotal story: our retail team just did a research trip to New York and prior to that they were looking for coverage of all the sexiest new retail tech in the market for inspiration.
One of the technologies they were most excited about seeing in real life was the virtual try on mirror – where you scan the item tag and the dress appears on you in the mirror. But, when the team arrived in New York and went to the store their dreams were totally crushed because the mirror was turned off and a rack of clothing was stacked in front of it. So, that investment wasn’t much use.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that in another time and place this technology could work, but I guess for that particular customer base this technology wasn’t so important.
As we build our new site and also think about our new stores, that’s something we’ve been working together as a team to try to understand. How do we innovate wisely? How do we ensure that we introduce cool new technologies to our customers, but also make sure that these solutions are actually solving a problem?
IR: Love, Bonito ships to Australia and New Zealand. Have you thought about expanding physically here?
CC: Most definitely – we would love to be in Australia and New Zealand to be closer to our customer base here and plan to do so.
We are very deliberate when it comes to retail store expansion, especially in countries like Australia, as it’s a capital intensive project. The process of opening physical stores for us involves looking at the market size opportunity, fit and trend compatibility, operational ease, and reviewing the competitive landscape.
Even after finding the right market, to deliver the type of in-store experience we believe our customers deserve, each store then has to be carefully selected for its location, and designed to be true to our brand values as well.
But yes, just looking at what women in Sydney are wearing, I think there is definitely a market for us to play in.
IR: The clothes Love, Bonito makes are tailored to Asian frame, has that been an issue selling in the Australian market?
CC: We are seeing really encouraging organic growth in the Australian market, so [we’re] not seeing this as an issue.
I think just as how we have seen European and American brands succeed in Asia, we believe that there can be a wide appeal of an Asian brand to any customer. At the heart of it, we pay attention to the small things, such as designing with real hips and thighs in mind, dresses with hidden zippers for nursing, and specific types of fabrics to combat the summer heat.
That’s not to say we won’t continue to evolve our product fit. Since fit for every single customer regardless of race is different, this will always be something we are learning and refining with time. As we gain more customers in Australia, and get more feedback, we look forward to bringing even more products that delight.