Technology

Singapore's e-commerce retailer Reebonz aims to bring luxury to masses

Reebonz co-founders Daniel Lim (far left) and Benjamin Han. The company is building an eight-storey facility in Tampines which will contain a showroom and working space for Singapore designers.
Reebonz co-founders Daniel Lim (far left) and Benjamin Han. The company is building an eight-storey facility in Tampines which will contain a showroom and working space for Singapore designers.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

Home-grown e-commerce retailer Reebonz has come a long way since it set out to make luxury accessible to Asia's emerging middle class. The platform, which now has 4.5 million members and more than 100,000 unique products, has also moved into marketplaces, offering curated products from merchants around the world and allowing shoppers to buy from and sell to one another. Chia Yan Min speaks to co-founders Daniel Lim and Benjamin Han, both 32, about their plans.

Q How has the business grown and evolved since you started in 2009?

Mr Lim: We were clear early on that we wanted to expand the business and be the leader in luxury e-commerce in the Asia-Pacific region.

We're now in eight markets besides Singapore - we have offices in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and, most recently, China.

We grew the business geographically first, and now we're evolving the business model. We realised that with luxury, there's the aspiration to always upgrade. As people become more sophisticated and their earning power increases, they shift their luxury consumption pattern towards higher-end brands. We want to journey with them.

We started as a pure business-to- consumer retailer, but last year we launched a consumer-to-consumer selling platform that allows people to buy, sell and trade.

We also launched a merchants' marketplace last year, which gives consumers access to products from boutiques around the world.

PURSUING ALL CHANNELS

Physical stores were a natural extension of our omni-channel strategy, especially for higher-value items, because the barrier to purchase online might be too steep for some.

MR BENJAMIN HAN, co-founder of home-grown e-commerce retailer Reebonz.

OPPORTUNITY DURING CRISIS

In a crisis, there's always room for opportunity. We just have to hunt a bit harder and remain adaptable and entrepreneurial.

CO-FOUNDER DANIEL LIM

We would rather not reveal sales figures but revenue has been growing year on year, while the marketplaces are growing at double-digit rates quarter on quarter.

The company employs 380 people globally, including 200 in Singapore.

Mr Han: We set up our first physical retail store at Clifford Centre in 2010. That store closed last month.

We now have pop-up stores in Suntec City and Plaza Singapura, and are looking at a few other locations. Physical stores were a natural extension of our omni-channel strategy, especially for higher-value items, because the barrier to purchase online might be too steep for some.

We see very high conversion rates when people arrange for private viewings.

We also conduct events at our stores to bring shoppers in.

Separately, we are in the process of building our own eight-storey facility in Tampines, which will be ready in December. It'll contain offices and a showroom, and also house an incubator and working space for Singapore designers.

Q How is Reebonz doing things differently in different markets?

Mr Lim: In Australia, we have a flagship store in George Street in Sydney. We decided to open a retail store there because there were no multi-label shops in Australia previously, besides department stores.

This is unlike Hong Kong, where there are many multi-label stores. So we might not want to open a retail store there.

We've seen very good traction at our retail store in Australia.

Q Which markets have the strongest growth prospects?

Mr Lim: Markets we're already in like South Korea, Australia and Hong Kong have massive opportunities for growth. Developing markets like Malaysia and Indonesia will also be great for us over the next one to two years, as the middle class grows and more people become comfortable purchasing luxury items.

We entered the China market last year - it's a huge market but there are many competitors. We will need to carve out a niche.

The Middle East is also a growing market for us - we ship there but we don't have an office there yet.

Q There was previously some talk that the company might be going public. Is that still in the works?

Mr Lim: We don't rule out accessing capital markets, but we're not striving towards a specific date for an initial public offering. I wouldn't commit to a timeline. It's not a key focus for us right now.

We have enough runway to execute the business over the next few years, and if we're able to carry out our strategy, we can reach the next level of growth.

Q Are you worried about what the gloomy economic outlook means for luxury consumption?

Mr Lim: We would be lying if we say it doesn't affect us. Retailers are affected; we're affected. But we have strong fundamentals and a strong base for scaling up.

When we started the company in 2009, we were in the midst of a financial crisis. In a crisis, there's always room for opportunity. We just have to hunt a bit harder and remain adaptable and entrepreneurial.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2016, with the headline 'Bringing luxury to the masses'. Print Edition | Subscribe