When we think about fashion or eCommerce in Southeast Asia, the first things that pop into our mind are the major players like Zalora or Zilingo. Both of which are heavily funded and with significant market share in the region.
However, there`s a new player in town looking to capture market share by offering a tech solution to the main issues that surround online shopping in general. BlinQ, the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Bob Chua, is looking to integrate AI and AR into the eCommerce shopping experience for customers in Southeast Asia.
This mobile app and eCommerce platform is looking to disrupt the traditional eCommerce space and make your online shopping experience even better.
We spoke to Omnistream CEO, Wendy Chen about her company and journey
We spoke to Bob to find out more about BlinQ and his journey after his previous startup exits and IPO. Here’s what he had to share.
Congratulations on your latest venture. Could you let us know a little bit more about BlinQ and what it is?
BlinQ is effectively a luxury fashion eCommerce platform targeting the Southeast Asian consumer. On a more micro-level however, BlinQ is probably best summarised into 3 pillars;
The front-end Consumer interface is a mobile app which allows users to augment Luxury outfits onto themselves using augmented reality. We call this the Tech Pillar.
The next pillar is the marketplace where users are then provided with the option of purchasing the product they’ve tried on or renting it. Should they not know the latest trends, we also provide a curated package providing them with various options to choose from using a subscription model. We then also provide flash sale and pre-loved options on the Marketplace.
The final pillar linking it all up is our automated logistics and warehousing. The important back-end allows for our products and SKU’s to get to the right customers at the right time creating a superior user experience.
We call all of the above ‘new retail’.
You mentioned AR and algorithmic patterns as the technology behind the product? How does that work?
We basically use AR to store all the branded catalogues which enable users to virtually try-on any outfit whatsoever at the convenience and comfort of their mobile devices. This allows them to simulate what an outfit would look like on them.
As for the AI component, we provide a very sophisticated built-in method of virtual measurement and sizing. This is a huge issue (no pun intended) as almost every single brand has different sizing, hence we plan to allow for accurate sizing to match a body measurement at the highest level of accuracy. This is all the more crucial and relevant when making a luxury purchase online.
Both of these components effectively make the virtual changing room more realistic and accurate, leading to lower returns which is the ultimate goal. Returns are an extremely costly factor for brand owners and a frustrating factor to consumers.
What is your grand plan to take on the big eCommerce fashion players and make an impact in this crowded market? Zalora, ASOS and even Zilingo are dominating market share right, so how do you see BlinQ being able to make room in this market?
We’ve chosen a niche which we believe is relatively untouched at the moment. I have a lot of respect for the other eCommerce players, however, we’re focused purely on the luxury segment and Southeast Asia for now. Our offering of being rather Tech-heavy with the AR and back-end logistics makes us rather unique. At the end of the day, the region is still at its infancy when it comes to retail eCommerce, with a mere 3%-5% of retail now conducted online. The upside is staggering, hence I believe we’re only at the beginning of this huge curve. There is room for several players, however scale, regional coverage customer experience are key.
Do you think consumers are looking for new technologies and services in fashion? What has been the customer response so far?
I believe consumers are becoming very tech-savvy, and expecting the best user experience when it comes to shopping, be it in-store or by way of E-Commerce. We’re seeing a huge disruption in retail globally, based on the mega trends such as the tyranny of now, changing consumer behaviours, millennials preference for shared economy consumption, hunger for luxury, and adoption of innovation.
We’re investing heavily into R&D for AR and AI as we truly believe we’re only scratching the surface of how retail will evolve in the next few years. We upload most of our Sandbox modules, and so far the results have been encouraging. The sand has started to shift, however, we need to ensure we can adopt swiftly, but also execute well on our promises.
You’ve taken your business to IPO and successfully exited a couple of companies. How have these experiences prepared you for the new challenges you will face in the fashion eCommerce space?
I think I’ve matured a lot over the years. I’ve had many successes but also many failures. At 44, I’m effectively a year before the scientific sweet spot of 45, which apparently is the optimum age to be a successful entrepreneur.
Maybe I’ll even make it to the 50 under 50.
What do you think is next for the industry as a whole?
That’s a very difficult question to answer, as the industry is evolving so fast. I guess the best visibility for us at the moment is to take a glimpse into what has worked in Europe, the US and China, for instance, however, the buying behaviour and growth in SE Asia is very unique. I’m pretty excited about the prospects for the industry, and specifically the region. We’re at the right place and the right time in my view, and we understand the region. The only thing holding us back is the speed of scaling. We need to execute fast and at scale, else we’ll be left behind. Speed and timing is everything.
EngageRocket COO, Dorothy Yiu shares how her company is changing the HR industry
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to enter the startup scene in Southeast Asia?
Get started, and don’t look back.