How hard is it to sell lingerie online? It’s not as easy as you think

The world is coming online and with that, habits are changing, most notably how we purchase goods and services. In the past, you had to crowd with everyone else doing their last minute holiday shopping but now you can get practically everything you need with a few simple taps.

Malaysia’s no different and the meteoric rise of e-commerce is almost scary. But every revolution has its victims and with such a drastic shift in how people discover and purchase goods, some start to wonder what’s going to happen to all the local brick and mortar small-medium enterprises (SMEs).

Unlike conglomerates, SMEs don’t have access to vast resources and can’t build an online presence overnight. So, to survive in this new frontier, their choices seemed limited to either conforming to restrictive online marketplaces or be swept away by the wave of online purchasing.

However, the truth may actually be more complicated than that. And as XIXILI discovers, there is a third way out — a potential solution that’ll not only help SMEs survive, but also help them grow. That solution, lies with everyone’s favourite green telco.

Established in 2003 before going to market in 2004, lingerie company XIXILI does almost everything in-house. They design their products and, in the beginning, do all the manufacturing right here in their factory in Kuala Lumpur. This means that they’re about as home-grown as it gets.

Their founders understood that a lingerie was all about fit and, according to them, about 80% of all women don’t wear the right bra size. XIXILI, then, started out as a passion project, quickly developed into a business before becoming the brand that they are today. Now, they have 70 outlets scattered nationwide and have also expanded to foreign countries like Turkey, Vietnam and Singapore.

But, they are still an SME so the big shift towards e-commerce wasn’t a walk in the park for them. However, XIXILI chief marketing officer Tara Tan explains that e-commerce didn’t spell doom for their company, instead it helped them grow and a big reason why is that offline and online buyers are very different.

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When you think about people who buy online, they’ve almost been conditioned to be a kind of discount hunter. That’s why people who shop online (us included) love their coupons and discount codes. Offline shoppers, on the other hand, are looking for a certain experience that the online marketplace simply can’t offer. Armed with this knowledge, XIXILI knew that even if they pushed online sales really hard, there was no real threat of it cannibalising anything.

Although people say knowing is half the battle, XIXILI still had the other half of the battle to fight: Getting their goods online, and Tara tells us they’ve tried all sorts of solutions.

They started with a fully consignment model through an online retailer where all they needed to do was ship their products to the website’s warehouse and wait for the profits to come in.

Then, they experimented with a dropship model where the website handled sales and payments while XIXILI had to fulfill the orders made, i.e. pack and ship the products. In a way, they were using these platforms as a megaphone to broadcast their product.

But, while those marketplaces were excellent in getting traffic and eyeballs on XIXILI’s products, they weren’t the ideal solution going forward. Problems with engaging marketplaces include their inherent ‘instability’ where strategies change daily. This meant that XIXILI couldn’t control what was being featured on the home page and they also didn’t have access to the kind of detailed customer information that they needed to better serve their market.

So finally, they decided to start their own web store. However, XIXILI wasn’t a big company so doing that by themselves wasn’t an investment they could make. And this is where Maxis came in with their end-to-end solution, mShop.

In a nutshell, mShop is an all-in-one solution that was designed to help brick and mortar retail SMEs in the e-commerce world by building, developing and amplifying their online presence. They’ll help you set up your own web store that’s both web and mobile friendly, set up payment channels and negotiate logistics solutions, as well as optimise an SME’s online presence with analytics.

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mShop is designed to take the technical difficulty of coming online out of the equation and give SMEs a seamless multi-channel experience to complement their physical retail outlets. Ideal, then, for companies that can’t afford to invest in the technical side of coming online.

For XIXILI though, the biggest strength of working with Maxis went beyond just tapping into their resources and knowledge. It, perhaps unsurprisingly for the lingerie company, was all about fit.

You see, when XIXILI began discussions around starting their own web store, they were adamant on providing a product with a great user experience for their customers. They didn’t want just another consultant coming in, prescribing a template for them. They needed someone who was able to understand their brand and design around that.

And the team at mShop were able to give XIXILI that. They were willing to work closely with XIXILI to understand bras and all the complications that came with lingerie fit. Tara even jokes that half the mShop team actually works for XIXILI because of how closely they worked together and how well they understood XIXILI’s needs.

Even down to the smaller things like UI elements on the website that would make it easier for everyone to navigate it to bigger aspects like how mShop understood that e-commerce never stops — there could be no down time.

However, finding the right partner doesn’t mean that all your problems disappear. XIXILI’s still got some challenges that are rather unique to their product and the kind of merchandise they sell.

Fit, for example, is always a big problem when buying apparel online, even more so when that’s what your company prides themselves on. Since lingerie sizing doesn’t just work on a simple S/M/L scale, XIXILI and mShop had to develop a special system on their webstore to give their online customers the best size possible. XIXILI also offers online chatting via Facebook and a WhatsApp number that their customers could reach them at.

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But even that’s not a perfect solution. And, considering the hygiene issues surrounding lingerie, XIXILI can’t offer a comprehensive 30-day no-questions-asked return policy for their products like Zalora does.

That though, is where XIXILI’s presence in the physical space comes in handy. Tara says that some customers do use their boutiques as a kind of fitting room before ultimately buying online. She encourages people, whenever possible, to get a proper fit in their store so that you know what’s right for you before buying online if you want to.

It’s not a foolproof solution, of course, and Tara admits that they’re still working to get to a point where they can accept returns. But I guess that’s where having the right team around you is great. If both parties are on the same page, it’s much easier to develop proper solutions.

Although these problems are pretty unique to XIXILI, I think it’s fair to say that the benefits of going online as an SME that they’ve highlighted here are pretty universal. If you’re running a retail SME and have thought about going online, you could consider Maxis’ mShop solution.

Maxis head of business development Senthil Balan Danapalan, believes that to do well in the e-commerce space, you have to invest in the right building blocks. And you’ve got to start early, before mass adoption happens because going playing in this space has a learning curve. The quicker you figure out what works and what doesn’t, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

If you’re interested, you can call Maxis at 1700-818-881 to learn more about mShop.