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Bonobos isn't just any menswear retailer; it's a fast-growing direct-to-consumer brand that's now on Walmart's radar for a potential $300m acquisition thanks to its savvy digital commerce tactics.
Many upstart ecommerce brands have great products and great ideas. But winning market share is no walk in the park. To win in the world of ecommerce, digital execution has to be flawless, and there has to be something distinctive that keeps customers coming back to buy.
The site’s user interface is probably the top make-or-break factor, but there are other keys to success as well.
One young brand that has impressed me since its debut a few years ago is Bonobos, a men’s apparel brand that has grown from zero to $100m of revenue in just one decade. Since it started back in 2007, Bonobos has been doing a lot of things right and pioneering strategies that have proven to be effective.
1. Design product pages strategically
Each product page on Bonobos' website has a clean, elegant design – on both desktop and mobile versions. With 45% of ecommerce traffic now taking place through mobile, it’s non-negotiable to design product pages to be mobile-friendly.
Each pair of pants is professionally photographed, and, even on a small screen, Bonobos has made it easy to navigate and toggle between different colors. The product info is prominently displayed, with links to a fit guide and FAQs nearby.
When the customer is ready to buy, the website allows the customer to enter shipping and billing information all on the same page, meaning they can complete a purchase in just a couple clicks.
This is important, because many ecommerce websites require that same information to be entered over the course of multiple different page loads, making it more likely that the customer will abandon the cart and the company will lose the sale.
2. Play to your strengths and do one thing really well
Bonobos got its start because one of the founders, Brian Spaley, had a knack for tailoring men’s pants and creating a comfortable waistline. The concept was unique, and it ended up being the company’s main value proposition.
The takeaway for aspiring ecommerce brands is that it pays to start by doing one thing really well.
Today, Bonobos sells all sorts of men’s apparel, including shirts, shoes, ties, jackets, and more. But if it had started producing all of that back in 2007, the company might never have taken off like it did. Bonobos did one thing really well and built a brand around it. That simplicity informs the whole brand, and it even helps simplify customer service too.
Besides, whenever you are ready to scale your product offering, it’s a lot easier to convince people to buy your shirt when they’re already loyal customers of your pants. Invest early in creating a handful of flagship products that will attract and retain a cult-like following. You can always build out from there.
3. Leverage customer service as an opportunity for customer experience
Bonobos has also excelled in the area of customer experience, specifically customer service. It’s rooted in an entirely different philosophy about what customer service can achieve for the company.
Whenever a customer has an issue with a Bonobos order, there’s no 1-800 number that sends customer calls to a contracted offshore call center where agents might not even be familiar with the product.
Rather, customers interact through phone, email, or even chat with highly knowledgeable in-country staff — Bonobos calls them “Ninjas” — who expertly and meticulously handle each customer. The idea is that customer service isn’t an operational expense, but rather a business investment.
So instead of being a nuisance, customer service issues are a second opportunity to engage customers in a highly positive experience with the the brand.
4. Use stores as touchpoints for product discovery and customer experience
Unlike traditional companies, whose business model focused on attracting as many customers as possible into a physical store and later shifted to include online buying options, Bonobos and other upstart brands are native to the online environment.
But Bonobos recognized early on that the convenience of online shopping wasn’t enough to win business. Many customers still want to feel, see, and try on products as well as receive individualized attention from a Bonobos staff member.
So in 2012, Bonobos opened the first Guideshop, where customers can experience products in-person instead of just through a screen. The Guideshops function as an uncrowded service hub where customers make appointments, return any past purchases, try on new items, and complete purchases, which then get shipped directly to their homes.
In the ecommerce era, we can expect to see more brands take this “reversed” approach, which mitigates a lot of fixed costs (particularly the cost of renting and maintaining a storefront) early on, when companies are more focused on hiring staff, developing initial supply chains and operations management, and overseeing product manufacturers.
A retailer for the new age of retail
In the world of retail, few things have had as democratizing an effect as ecommerce. The old status quo has been turned on its head, and a new age of discovering and buying new products is finally upon us.
For aspiring ecommerce entrepreneurs, building a company is a long, hard journey, but now is still a good time to get into the space. Look to companies like Bonobos that are pioneering new business strategies and making waves by designing environments — both digital and physical — that make shopping a delight.
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