Below is our recent interview with Bob Chua, CEO at BlinQ:
Q: It’s been 12 months since BlinQ was launched, what milestones have you achieved throughout 2019?
A: The year has gone by in a flash. The last time we spoke, we just raised a $2m seed round, and were about to assemble a team. Fast forward 12 months, and we have since launched our Luxury Fashion Marketplace platform www.blinq.fashion , our proprietary app’s BlinQ Fashion on iOS and android, and developed strong growth momentum on all major fronts.
Q: What insights and megatrends have you derived from your customer data thus far?
A: E-Commerce in the SE Asian region has grown over the years, and is at a very exciting tipping point. With only 5% or so of fashion retail conducted online (as opposed to 17% in Europe, and 23% in the US), we realise the vast potential and headroom for growth, and hence we need to prepare for such rapid adoption and localise our offerings accordingly. We track consumer trends in more sophisticated markets such as the US, Europe, Japan and Korea very closely, and notice a vast potential for certain offering’s we can bring to the SE Asian consumer, such as ‘pre-loved’ products, rental models, subscriptions, peer-to-peer etc.
Whilst these trends are currently more advanced in the West, we believe it is only a matter of time until they become mainstream in this part of the world, and hence why we are studying the operational models carefully, and rolling out services and segments methodically to ensure focus, and also strong execution. Our ‘pre-loved’ category for example has been extremely successful, whereby we consign pre-owned luxury handbags for example and subsequently sell them on to collectors. 61% of millennials in SE Asia are now accustomed to acquire ‘pre-owned’ luxury, so we believe this will continue to be a growing trend.
Apart from product segmentation, we also cater to brands and designers directly which utilise BlinQ for our Digital platform, payment gateways, and logistics fulfilment services. We currently handle most of the major luxury brands for the region, but additionally have created a sub-category called ASEAN HOUZ dedicated to the smaller curated regional brands and designers. We realise the vast talent in this region and can provide them a very rich digital solution to bring their products to buyers globally.
Q: How has the retail industry evolved in the past few years, and how is BlinQ adapting to such rapid change?
A: The retail industry is in a state of flux. From a retail standpoint, there is obviously the geopolitical and economical headwinds effecting consumer behaviour and sentiment for sure.
We are also seeing major retailers fall into administration due to high fixed costs, and lack of innovation in adapting to the rapid change in consumer behaviour when it comes to retail. Certain technologies such as AR, AI, D2C (direct to consumer brands), Social Media marketplaces, Social shopping and Fintech are also encroaching heavily into the retail industry, further alienating brands and retailers that fail to adapt fast enough.
In SE Asia, we are not immune to such issues, however the two areas that BlinQ are heavily focussed on are 1) O2O Offline to Online, and 2) AR for reducing product returns. For O2O, we are helping brands and retailers adopt a digital strategy in a methodical and cost effective manner, using technologies such as our QR Code Omni-channel solution, inventory management back-end, cross-border fulfilment etc. We are basically helping our clients leverage technology to provide them and their end customers with a multi-mode retail experience in line with today’s consumer expectations.
As for AR, we are using augmented reality for customers to virtually try-on and get fitted to any outfit they find on our platform. This way, enabling them to find the perfect look, feel and sizing from the convenience of their mobile devices. This should hopefully help reduce the return rates from 75% or so to something more manageable, a good thing all around for the bottom-line, but also the environment.
Q: What sort of challenges are you facing as a tech start-up today?
A: I always believe that with Tech, the main challenge we have is speed. For us (and other tech disrupters), it is about the ‘fast eating the slow, not the large eating the small’. We need to move as fast as possible without too many pieces falling off.
Q: What does the future hold? Where is the company headed?
A: It is still early days for BlinQ. We know we’re in the right place at the right time, so we have all to lose if we don’t execute well. We’re focussed on growth, execution at scale, and hopefully dominating the region in our particular segment. I’m hopeful we will achieve that.