Emerging from Bras N Things as an independent business, Curvy began by specialising in hard-to-find bra sizes but quickly expanded. Find out how the online retailer stays ahead of the curve.
Curvy was founded as a pureplay e-commerce business to address a significant gap in the market. Since inception, the company’s product range has grown to include swimwear, lingerie, maternity wear, activewear and sleepwear in hard-to-find sizes.
As the company has grown, so has the product range. Ensuring a full range means that each item must be available in a huge range of sizes. And when a single bra can come in up to 96 sizes, that presents a significant challenge for inventory management.
Retailing intimate apparel requires a delicate touch when it comes to customer service. While the product range continues to grow, founder Wes Blundy remains dedicated to the customer-centric principles upon which he started the business.
What was your inspiration for getting into the space, and how has the business evolved?
I founded Curvy in January 2014 as an entrepreneurial and autonomous business unit within Bras N Things.
Curvy was born out of customer team member feedback about the frustration customers continuously experienced in trying to find bras they liked in their size. While some customers had 270 styles to choose from in their size in a Bras N Things store, others had only 20, four or even no sizes.
This was not a new problem. Retail is hard, and jeans and bras are the two most inventory-intense retail products, given the number of size variations. For example, one bra can come in up to 96 sizes!
The internet age made the timing right to solve this challenge. Just as Amazon did with harder-to-find book titles, Curvy aims to address the challenge by aggregating long-tail inventory demand for harder-to-find sizes via an online channel.
Can you talk about the opportunities and challenges of being a pureplay niche retailer?
Being a pureplay is a huge and often expensive challenge. People outside the industry often assume it is a low-overhead and high-profit game; however, the challenge with being a pureplay business is that no one knows you exist unless you spend a lot of effort and/or money on marketing to them. Without a store network that customers walk past every day, there is no automatic traffic to the website, and it therefore needs to be generated.
That said, being a pureplay allows the opportunity to really focus on marketing and growth, without needing to split time with the operations of running a retail chain.
Being a niche pureplay retailer allows ultimate flexibility in developing a brand that customers in the niche have an affinity with.
Given that you provide a product that is heavily dependent on fit, what tools do you use to ensure customers get the best fit possible?
Buying bras online can be a challenge and is sometimes daunting for customers who’ve not done so before. We try to make this as easy as possible by providing a lot of pre-sales advice over the phone and email to customers enquiring about fit. On our site we have fitting guides and videos and many customers follow these at home to determine their correct size. In addition, we’ve developed an easy returns policy that encourages the customer to keep trying until they get a perfect fit.
What sort of return rates do you see, and how do you negotiate the challenge of returns both from a customer trust/convenience point of view and from a logistics/profitability point of view?
Returns rates can be as high as 15 percent to 25 percent and are a real challenge for us. We offer free returns to customers purchasing through the site and this is a really significant cost we’re currently reviewing. Regarding logistics, over the past year we’ve been evaluating both Australia Post and ParcelPoint returns, each of which have their pros and cons.
Given the intimate nature of your product and the demographic you’re targeting, marketing must be a challenge. Can you tell us about your marketing challenges and what channels and strategies work well for you?
Marketing is a great challenge for us and we’ve had some encouraging results with Facebook, in particular, and also Pinterest. We have a great team that manages our digital marketing and they are constantly looking to improve results and try new strategies and tactics. We are looking at beginning a new trial of a Sydney social media agency to inject some of their experience and ideas into our social media campaigns.
As with marketing, customer service must be a delicate operation. How do you use customer service as a point of differentiation? What systems do you use to optimise customer service?
As the founder, I need to stay close to customers and I’m regularly helping out with customer service calls. A lot of customers certainly see having a male in the customer service team as a differentiator. Many of them are quite surprised at first but I’m really confident in my bra knowledge and customers appreciate that. I did have to politely draw the line when one of our 84-year-old customers cheekily asked if I could come round and check the fit!
Our whole team is really focused on service and we measure this using Net Promoter Score (NPS). Our goal is to improve our NPS each quarter.
We use a great customer service ticketing platform to help us measure response times and keep track of customer history. This has been a great investment for us.
Curvy is listed as a Google Trusted Store. What does that mean for you as a business and for your customers?
As a pureplay and with many customers visiting our site for the first time, it’s fantastic to have Google endorsing our site as having excellent customer service and fast shipping. The $1,000 guarantee and independent reviews from Google give customers a bit of extra confidence.
While Curvy focuses down on a single product, inventory must be extensive when you factor in different brands, colours, sizes, styles, etc. What challenges does this pose for your inventory management and fulfilment?
Our business is really inventory intense so we need to be vigilant with having an organised warehouse and perfect data integrity. We have key inventory planning metrics that are really important to manage closely to ensure we have the right stock at the right time for our customers. As we continue to grow, this will become an even bigger focus, which I manage personally.