Digerati50: A hotline to BlinQ

  • Bob Chua, believes entrepreneurs must always be lean and hungry
  • AR feature, initially a gimmick is key differentiator, especially in Covid era

Digerati50: A hotline to BlinQ

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its series that profiles 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2020-2021 (Vol 4), a special biennial print publication released in July 2020. The digital copy can be downloaded from the sidebar link.

The following article is an expanded version from the print edition.

For serial entrepreneur Bob Chua, data is everything. This is, of course, to be expected of the man who founded market intelligence company Pulse Group PLC, which he exited in 2015. “That was my life,” he says. “I have always lived and breathed data.”

Taking a step away from the data world, Bob asked: what’s next? He knew he wanted to do something with mobile – everything seems to be revolving around mobile at that time, after all. He also wanted something to do with the Southeast Asian region. It has to be e-commerce, too – a sector that’s still at its infancy in the region today.

This all culminated into BlinQ, best described as a luxury fashion digital marketplace focused in Southeast Asia. Bob is essentially tapping into the growing personal luxury market, which is currently estimated to be US$300 billion (RM1.26 billion) en-route to growing into US$500 billion (RM2.1 billion) by end 2020. McKinsey’s Global Fashion Report finds that close to 44% of this will be derived from Asia.

It’s not that big of a leap for Bob. After Pulse, he was a director at Dematic, a supplier of integrated automated supply chain technology, software and services. It gave him an in-depth look at how e-commerce is done at a large scale.

Personal luxury marketplaces aren’t new. There are success stories – platforms like Farfetch and Net-a-Porter are valued at US$8 billion and US$533 million respectively. Yet no one is doing it at their scale in Southeast Asia. “This is a big gap,” Bob notes. One that he aims to fill, while bringing his past startup experiences to the table to ensure the highest chance of success.

His key management belief is now premised on four approaches:

  • Move even faster, be decisive, and don’t linger.
  • Measure what matters, and be as data-driven as possible.
  • Remain lean and agile.
  • Stay Private for as Long as possible.

But what stays constant and must underpin any repeat entrepreneurial effort is the “Always be lean and hungry,” mantra he stresses.

 

Gateway store for luxury brands

BlinQ is as much a platform like Zalora and Lazada, except that it’s serving as a gateway store for luxury brands. Merchants put up their items for sale on a consignment basis, and they rely on BlinQ as their payment gateway as well as other services that range from logistics to marketing. “We’re almost like an ecosystem,” Bob notes.

Besides the fact that it serves the SEA region, BlinQ stands out in other ways. For one, it uses a unique augmented reality (AR) system that allows users to basically try out a product on their mobile devices before they make a purchase.

Bob admits that the feature was initially done as a gimmick, but the inclusion of AR ultimately solves a problem when it comes to fashion e-commerce: product returns. For the most part, product returns in fashion are really high – as high as 30% on “a good time”, while peak sales seasons like Singles Day and Chinese New Year can see a 75% return rate.

The AR system is for BlinQ to reduce the return rates – the feature does the sizing and helps users figure out if the apparel looks well and fits well, which are two of the primary reasons clothing items are returned. Considering that BlinQ deals only in luxury items, this feature comes off as invaluable, even more so in the Covid era with many stores closing down their fitting rooms. “Our virtual fitting room has become a hit,” he says.

BlinQ is also doing two additional things that add value to the marketplace. They’ve launched Asean Houz, a collection of high-end fashion brands from SEA. Bob says that this helps regional brands get their products out to a global market. Since the introduction in 2019, Asean Houz has signed up over 500 brands across the region, with 140 coming from Vietnam alone.

Besides that, BlinQ is also part of the growing pre-loved luxury brand market, where they host P2P reselling of luxury products. BlinQ would take the product on consignment, perform the necessary process of taking photos, authenticating the product, marketing, price comparison and descriptions, and then sell it to their regional clientele.

All of this ultimately leads back to Chua’s underlying passion: data. BlinQ is able to collect important data about their primary customers, which is giving them tremendous insight into the market. For one, Chua says that the top 3% of their users generate more than 50% of their revenue.

“We know our real super users, and we know what they prefer. All of these things makes it very interesting.”

This might lead to more interesting models within the luxury goods sector that BlinQ can adopt, including luxury clothing rental and models like that of Stitch Fix, which uses algorithm and AI to personalise clothing items for users. 

“The market space in this region, despite being quite big, has not seen any of these aforementioned models. We’re building the infrastructure towards it,” he says.

For Bob, the system isn’t complex. “It’s not rocket science. I want to keep it simple, but it’s also sophisticated in a sense,” he says.

What he’s doing is being a person of data, and making good decisions with it.


Digerati50 2020/2021 is proudly sponsored by Maxis - Powering Malaysia's 5G era.

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