Webinar Transcription

Kuntal Warwick: Welcome to CITC’s Conversations from the Field U.K. As business is now in full swing here in California and economies open up gradually around the world, we dive into opportunities of ecommerce entry into international markets. So now we’re going to talk with Jeanette Wong. So welcome Jeanette, please, tell us a little bit about yourself, and LetsBab.

Jeanette Wong: Hi, everyone, I’m Jeanette Wong, I’m the chief commercial and financial officer of LetsBab. Just to give you a bit of an intro, I qualified as a chartered accountant with Ernst & Young but have worked for the last 10 years in the luxury retail sector. So for Burberry, Jimmy Choo, and Charlotte Olympia to name a few before joining a tech startup called LetsBab which launched in March 2019.

LetsBab is a digital mall where you can shop for yourself and share recommendations with your friends and family. And if your friends and family buy from your recommendation, you’re essentially rewarded in cash from each of the individual brands, which you can keep or donate to one of our charity partners.

Everyone’s familiar with the concept of influencer marketing and when used well, it can really do wonders for your brand, but, you know, more recently it’s kind of lost its shine with things like the Fyre Festival or influencers promoting things like diet teas, which they’ve never actually tried in their life but they’re happy to sort of put on Instagram and say that they take this product in order to look the way that they do which has really kind of raised questions about authenticity.

And where LetsBab was born, was really around an idea of real people being rewarded for their recommendations. It’s really kind of taken those conversations that you might have in a bar where you’re with your friends and you’re like, your dress is really nice. Where did you get that? Or, you know, just having a conversation on WhatsApp and sending a screenshot of like this amazing meat thermometer that’s changed your life. It’s really taking those conversations and putting them in an app where you can send a recommendation through a link to your friend, to a relative and if they buy off that link, you are awarded.

On our mall, we’ve got over 170 brands now and you can shop directly from these brands. So some of the American brands that we have include Casper, Coach, Urban Outfitters to name a few, but you can also go into any of these brand websites and send a recommendation at the same time. And some of the charity partners that we work with that you might be familiar with include The Travel Project and the Lonely Whale Foundation. And so for every successful recommendation that you make, you earn 5%. So it’s that 5% that you earn that you can choose whether you keep for yourself or donate to charity.

So this is what the app looks like. When you go in, you can see that there’s various categories to choose from. There’s women’s, there’s men’s, there’s kids, there’s lifestyle. Women lifestyle you’ll find beauty and homeware as well. So you click on any of the categories and then it takes you to another page for that category and you’ll see that there’s thumbnails that represent all of the brands. And this is where the sort of digital more element comes in. If you imagine when you’re in Westfield, for example, you’re literally walking down the shopping center, seeing, you know, Topshop on your right and Zara on your left and what have you, it’s really to kind of replicate that browsing experience.

So you scroll through each of the brands. A bit like Netflix, in the sense of, you know, how you’d find a movie or a TV show to watch. And when you go into one of the brands, you are in their ecommerce website, you are in their universe. So we’re not like a Net-a-Porter for example, where, you know, we hold stock on behalf of brands and we have a curated selection that you can buy from us. We are really a gateway to other eCommerce websites, which from a user is quite a unique proposition, because, you know, often when you’re sitting at home and you’re shopping online, there might only be four brands that you’re quite faithful to that kind of spring to mind when you’re making that online purchase. Whereas through our app, it’s a really nice way for brands to be discovered or rediscovered if they’re not at the forefront of the consumer. It’s kind of replicating that window shopping vibe, so to speak.

So you can go into the brand shop for yourself, but if you want to make a recommendation, you then click on the icon which has a hand and a heart and this is where you set your payment settings. So if you look at the third frame screen, you can see there’s a little toggle where you can select anything between 0% to 100% and this is how much you’re donating to charity. It might be that, you know, you’re a student, you’re absolutely broke, you need the extra money, you might have it on 0%. Or it might be that you’re a student, you live at home and, you know, you don’t really need any extra disposable income, so to speak and you want to send all of it to charity because you’re very socially conscious. It’s really kind of up to you, the user to decide what you want to do. And you then select which of the charities you wish to support.

And then when you make that recommendation, so for instance here we have a trainer, you just hit that LetsBab bar, and that sends a recommendation through any of your share functions. It can be WhatsApp, it can be email, text message, whatever your preference is, and you can annotate that message to say, hey, these are the trainers we were talking about the other day. And if your friend buys off that link, then you will earn 5%. So this is a way for brands to really reward brand loyalty and say thank you for spreading the word about our products, our brand, etc. So it’s really good for brands, in terms of, you know, new customer acquisition and what have you.

And then the final phone screen is really your results. So you can see how much money you’ve earned, how much you’ve donated to charity. So it’s all in one place. So that’s kind of a brief intro into LetsBab, what we do, and how it works.

Kuntal Warwick: Okay. Thank you. Thank you so much for that overview of LetsBab. I’d love to ask you some questions now. How do people onboard to your platform? How do merchants onboard to your platform and what are the minimum requirements they should know about?

Jeanette Wong: The integration is very straightforward. Coming from a retail background, both myself and the founder, we wanted it to be very easy. We didn’t want it to be the kind of thing that you had to get your IT development teams to spend six months working on. Essentially in a nutshell, it’s a few lines of code that you copy and paste into your website. Whether it’s built on Shopify or Magento or Demandware, or even a custom PHP, there’s no platform that we can’t integrate with.

If you are on Shopify, it can be done. The world record is three minutes. If you’re custom PHP, it can take up to an hour, maybe two hours tops, but it’s very, very simple. In terms of the requirements, the main one is, is that the brand is an ecommerce brand, they have a website. But from our perspective, we do need to vet each brand just to make sure that they are professional. What we don’t want to do is bring on a brand which looks great, but actually, you make that order and three months later, you’ve not seen that product yet and you email customer service and you’re not getting a response. So it has nothing to do with size.

We’ve got, you know, massive brands on our platform like Farfetch, for example, and Asos but then, you know, we’ve also got some really great Instagram independent brands that are literally run by one person. So it’s nothing to do with size, it’s really just that professionalism because if you’re gonna be in a mall, we need to make sure that everyone has a great kind of customer experience from all the brands that we work with.

And the commission structure is 6%. And so brands have to be willing to give that for every recommendation that’s made through the app. Of that 6%, we actually give 5% to the user because you know, for every person that makes a recommendation, that’s what they earn. And we just keep 1%. So it’s the people who are doing the work and driving the sales that get the bulk of the commission, but, yeah, we obviously have to survive as a business as well.

Kuntal Warwick: It’s very interesting. What is the value proposition for people coming to your platform and how is it different from going to a major ecommerce marketplace, for instance.

Jeanette Wong: Do you mean like Amazon, for example?

Kuntal Warwick: Exactly. So like an Amazon or an eBay. Explain how you are different. I think we have a sense of it, but you know, why would somebody choose your platform over some of the more common marketplaces that are already out there?

Jeanette Wong: I think with eBay and Amazon in particular, people go on there because they’re looking for a product. It could be that you’re looking for a wooden spoon, or it could be that, I don’t know, you’re looking for a trampoline for your backyard. With LetsBab, it’s very much a brand experience. You go in not so much looking for a specific product, but for a branded experience.

So similar to when you go into a shopping mall and you’re surrounded by all these great shops, it’s the same experience when you go into LetsBab. And from a brand perspective, you have total control over the look and feel because essentially they’ll go in and see your ecommerce platform, your branded ecommerce website. They’re not just seeing a couple of products and a photo of that product being put on someone else’s webpage, we’re taking you to the ecommerce store.

So from a traffic perspective as well, it’s very enticing because, you know, you’re getting all this extra footfall just from people being on our platform browsing and saying, hey, this brand, that’s interesting. I’m going to go inside. And yeah, that’s extra traffic that, you know, essentially, you know, will result in sales and what have you. So I think it’s super attractive from that perspective.

And then because of the recommendation piece, it’s a real opportunity for new customer acquisition because, you know, people just trust their friends more than any sort of like, you know, advertising campaign or marketing that they see in their everyday lives. I mean, people are four times more likely to purchase something through word of mouth recommendation than, you know, just seeing an advert. So those two things combined create for quite a powerful tool in terms of driving more ecommerce sales.

Kuntal Warwick: Got it. What type of segments are more popular on your platform? I know you probably don’t want to put one over the other, but do you see more traffic in a particular area than in another area? And where could there be opportunities so that if there are California based businesses that are interested, you know, to raise their profile in the U.K.?

Jeanette Wong: When we started out and this was partly due to the brands that we had initially because myself and the founder do have a fashion background, fashion was definitely the leader in terms of, you know, people going on and shopping and browsing that category. But similar to what Andy was saying post-COVID, we’ve seen the clothing bit kind of drop to be honest, and athleisure, homeware and beauty have seen massive, massive spikes.

We also have a brand called HelloFresh, which is like the recipe food boxes. They saw a lot of traffic when all the supermarkets, a lot started closing down and you couldn’t really get any food deliveries. So yeah, we’ve definitely seen a shift. Post-COVID, it’ll be interesting to see whether that stays, how that irons out.

But we’ve also been bringing on bigger, diverse portfolio of brands as well. We really want it to feel like a shopping mall when you come into the app so, you know, it’s not just clothing. We’ve got some tech brands, we’ve got Sennheiser, for example. We’ve got homeware brands, we’ve got Soho Home joining us in a couple of weeks as another example. We’ve got Casper, which really touched on Parachute, which if you like bed linens and stuff like that. So, yeah, really is quite a broad spectrum.

And one of the brands or categories that we’re really trying to grow is our sustainable category, social enterprise, etc. We’ve got a wonderful brand called Elvis & Kresse as an example, and they make handbags and wallets out of abandoned fire hoses in the U.K. and it’s incredible. They’re really beautiful products.

So, yeah, I think that’s becoming more and more important in terms of, you know, shopper requirements, concerns. The environment as Andy touched on earlier has definitely kind of shifted the way people are shopping and demanding and expecting of the brands that they choose to purchase from.

Kuntal Warwick: How do people find you? How do you market yourself? How do you market yourself? How do you market LetsBab? And how are you reaching international audiences and recruiting non-U.K. based brands?

Jeanette Wong: We have a partnership with London Fashion Week, the British Fashion Council, which has been instrumental in terms of new brand acquisition, particularly in the luxury space. It gives us a great platform. We used our app to actually be that official scheduling partner for London Fashion Week.

So for example, if the Burberry show was running late, everyone would get a ping from our app saying, you know, Burberry’s running 30 minutes late. Why don’t you grab yourself a latte or something like that? So that was really good in terms of exposure. We also work with The Baby Show, which is the U.K.’s largest parenting show. When you’re a new parent, it’s a time in your life when you are just naturally making a lot of recommendations. So we brought on a lot of kids and baby brands throughout for our partnership there.

We are U.K. based, but we actually launched in the U.S. at the same time. So, we plan to replicate similar experiences in the U.S. One of the things that we really want to do is work with Coachella, for example, and we were in discussions with them before, you know, COVID kicked off, etc., and other parenting conferences in the U.S. as well.

We’ve also on the Startup Grind program. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with them, but they’re based on the West Coast. They are specifically for tech startups. So again, you know, that community kind of gives us exposure to U.S. brands.

Kuntal Warwick: You’ve done a lot so it sounds amazing.

Jeanette Wong: Yeah, but there’s definitely more. I mean our head office is based in the U.K., but the plan is absolutely to start having more representatives representing LetsBab in the U.S. and I’m bringing on more U.S. brands. But also, you know, doing this hopefully it would be great to see some California brands on our app and, you know, they’re very, very welcome.

Kuntal Warwick: So with that in mind, how important is localization and cultural strategy when considering onboarding to your platform? And does LetsBab give any tips, you know, or sort of pointers for non-U.K. brands?

Jeanette Wong: We are primarily based in the U.K. and U.S. at the moment. If you lived in Italy and you’d heard of LetsBab, you can certainly download LetsBab, but at the moment you wouldn’t see a list of Italian brands for example. But it’s quite dynamic. So if you’re in the U.S. and you download LetsBab, you’re actually seeing a different version of the app to what Andy is seeing if he were to download it today as an example. So we have that in place.

The reason for that is because we work with certain independent brands in the U.K. that don’t ship to the U.S. so it’s pointless for you to see that. Similarly in the U.S., we work with a few brands. One of them is a beautiful brand called Year & Day that don’t happen at the moment to ship to the U.K.

So we’re able to kind of offer that localization if brands need it, demand it, so to speak. So we always try and make it super relevant to the consumer that’s picking up the app. I think one thing to note is that we’ve got AI built into our app. So the more people who use the app, the more learnings we gain, so that eventually there will be millions of shopping malls in everyone’s individual pocket.

So when I open my version of LetsBab, it will be very different to what you see, for example. It’ll have, like, what’s recommended for you, what’s trending right now that you might be interested in. It becomes very, very bespoke. So, you know, I probably won’t end up seeing golfing you know, equipment, for example, or like a very cool, like street, self-aware type brand.

Kuntal Warwick: So you have an algorithm that’s very similar to maybe what a Netflix does?

Jeanette Wong: Yes, exactly.

Kuntal Warwick: It’s like, here’s what’s recommended for you based on maybe a couple of purchases that you’ve made or, you know, sites that you’ve visited already and, you know, that sort of thing. So along those lines.

Jeanette Wong: Exactly. And I think in terms of, you know, advice that we give brands, I think the key thing is forming an emotional connection with our audience. It’s a lot about storytelling now. I mean, the marketplace is quite saturated in general with things like, you know, you know, you can shop from Instagram, you know, eBay, Amazon, like all the brands that, you know, that are at your disposal. But if you can find a way to connect with the audience, whether it’s through your founder’s story, for example, or, you know, what you’re doing in terms of like social responsibility, you know, just finding a way to connect we find really resonates with our users.

Kuntal Warwick: Excellent. So my last question really for you was, you know, what bit of advice do you have for California based companies that would consider onboarding to your platform or just entering the U.K. market through ecommerce, but it sounds like you’ve just answered it, you know, to have a story, but if there’s anything else, any other words of wisdom? I think we could all appreciate it.

Jeanette Wong: Join the LetsBab platform. That’s the best way to launch in the U.K.

Kuntal Warwick: Thank you so very much. I really appreciate it.