'No one says they eat lunch offline': inside Pomelo's omnichannel experience mission

The three-year-old brand’s quick rise has convinced Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com to part with $19m.

Imagine this scenario - a consumer orders her items online and sends it to a store location of her choice. Once she heads to that location, all she needs to do is give her order number or scan her phone with the in-store staff, who will then direct her to a fitting room with all the items that she has requested.

Payment is only carried out once the consumer is satisfied with the product. This process means e-commerce retailers can avoid the usual complaints about shopping online, such as being unable to touch, feel, and try the products, ensuring consumers skip the hassle of returns if the clothes do not fit right.

While this omnichannel shopping experience is not new and is touted as the future of retail, it is the key reason why Thailand-based e-commerce brand Pomelo Fashion has exploded in popularity in the South East Asian region, David Jou, chief executive officer and founder at Pomelo Fashion tells The Drum at the company’s headquarters in Bangkok.

Jou, who co-founded and managed Lazada’s Thailand operations, left the Alibaba-owned company to start Pomelo, which focuses on women’s fashion, with co-founders Win Thanapisitikul, and Casey Liang in 2014.

The three-year-old brand’s quick rise has convinced Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com to part with $19m to invest in Jou’s company, in addition to the $31m in capital from investors that include Jungle Ventures and 500 Startups. It now has a presence in Australia, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, with Hong Kong in the works.

The money has gone into its omnichannel shopping experience push, according to Jou, because when building a brand and creating a product, a retailer needs to provide an experience, whether online or offline. It also needs to be above and beyond the normal experience, especially in a highly competitive industry like fashion.

“It is not like I wake up in the morning and I say, 'Oh let me check my email online and then I will take the train offline, right? And then I will eat lunch offline',” explains the Korean-American.

“People don't do that right? They think, okay I am going to check my phone, talk to my friends and go to work, it is very seamless. The truth is when you stop breaking down those hierarchies, I think that's when you can really find new, innovative ways to utilise multiple channels to improve the experience for the customer.”

Pomelo now has two retail stores and 12 pick-up locations (where the ominchannel experience is brought to life) in Bangkok. While it has previously opened pop-up stores in Singapore, it is aiming to open these store models in the Lion City in the near future, with prime shopping locations like ION Orchard in mind.

“This year, were going to have close to 50 offline touch points, and that's a combination of the standard stores, which is our traditional model and our omnichannel-only models with the partners we have,” says Jou.

“We just launched the partnership model, but any third-party retailer can become a Pomelo offline touch point. That means they can be a showroom, can be a try-on spot and can be a return point. It's almost like we are trying to be the Grab of fashion in that sense, so it is really exciting.”

Customer-focused approach

A key part Pomelo’s success in pulling off its omnichannel strategy is keeping its customers involved in the process at any expense, says Jou. “A lot of companies say they are customer-focused, but for me, if I can choose between making the customer happy and making a profit, I will always choose making the customer happier. Full stop,” he remarks.

That is why for every touch point, Pomelo has a customer experience feedback loop because it drives action within the organisation to change any process that can potentially harm the experience of shopping with the brand.

For example, when Pomelo opened its retail stores, it installed kiosks so that all the customers can provide their feedback after every transaction. It then tied that data back to the customers’ purchase history and their browsing history, and quickly reacted to any issues that have been flagged.

“There is an entire team dedicated to taking feedback, identifying the process person or system that needs to change, making that change, and then following up to make sure that we are not getting that same feedback,” explains Jou.

“I always think of things in terms of systems. You need to build a self-improving system. It's not about saying, "Hey, this is important," preaching it, or whatever it is. It is not about more budgets or less budgets. The important thing is, are you creating the system in a way where it continuously improves whatever metric is important to your business?”

Social media-driven revenue

According to Jou, as more than 80% of Pomelo’s revenue comes through direct and organic traffic from its social media accounts, the brand mainly uses its marketing budget to accelerate and increase the excitement about its activities on platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

The brand now has more than a million followers on Facebook and 300,000 followers on its Instagram page.

That took a lot of hard work, says Jou, because even as the brand got more established through word of mouth, to get to that point, it had to be quite disciplined and strategic.

“You have to work with the right influencers, you have to advertise with the right channels, you have to put your brand first and if you can do that, then you will get this virtual cycle of people wanting to talk about your brand and wanting support your brand,” he explains.

“I am not saying that we have it perfectly figured out, but from my experience, the important thing is, you have to be fresh. Your content has to be interesting. Your promotions have to be relevant. You have to always put your brand first. Work with the right influencers. If you push sales and if you are too focused on growth, then it's a different type of business, right? You're not ever going to get to that point of 80%-plus organic growth.”

This approach is witnessed first-hand by The Drum, as we were accompanied on the trip to Bangkok by Singapore-based female influencers, ranging from fashion stylists to YouTubers, a sign Pomelo is keen to continue to soften the ground for its retail entry into Singapore.

The influencers were given first-class treatment by the brand, from specially arranged photoshoots to premium seats in front of the runway for the launch of Pomelo's Fall collection.

Real solutions needed to help traditional retail

While a bleak future is facing traditional brick and mortar retailers as they continue to figure out new retail, Jou does not think there is resistance from these retailers to adopt omnichannel approaches like Pomelo’s.

Instead, he feels they should look for real solutions that impact their customers’ experiences, rather than blindly adopting ‘shiny marketing solutions’ like virtual and augmented reality to improve their business.

That is because what people want to see is brands, consumer-facing apps and companies provide an experience that has real value and solve pain points, instead of a digital screen where they can move things around.

“When you just say, "We're going to go digital and have some VR and some AR”, I would challenge whoever is coming up with that proposal, to explain the value in real terms, of what it provides to the customer,” says Jou.

“How much real value, are you solving a specific pain point? Is that just a flashier way to market? Then ultimately yes, you might get the eyeballs, but it is not going to significantly impact your retention and your new customer growth, right? It is just a shiny object that will come and pass, and people will move onto the next technology.”

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