In a broad but accurate sense, the Zilingo story chronicles the triumph of human of ingenuity, business savvy and good old fashioned organisational know-how. While vacationing in Thailand, 26-year-old entrepreneur Ankiti Bose noticed that as lovely and appealing as the clothes by local indie retailers were, they were chronically underrepresented in the online marketplace. That was her eureka moment. Now, as the co-founder and CEO of Zilingo, she sits at the helm of a portal with half a million active users in Southeast Asia alone, and one which offers the shopper a spectrum-defying pick of fashion, beauty and lifestyle products from Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. We find out more about her rapidly scaling business model and its place in the supersaturated arena that is online shopping below.
What made you want to set up Zilingo?
While travelling through Bangkok a few years back, I fell in love with the myriad of products crafted by small designers and the depth of the infinitely large markets in this region. It was unfortunate to see how these small sellers were situated in large markets, but had little to no access to digital platforms. Together with my co-founder and CTO, Dhruv Kapoor, and three other friends (now colleagues), we immersed ourselves in local markets in Indonesia and Thailand week after week, learning the stories of sellers, and building a product suitable for them.
Zilingo has come far in just two years. What makes it work and what sets it apart from other online retailers?
We are very realistic about the things that can keep a company growing without forgetting what keeps the lights on. Founded with the aim of making indie fashion from Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and other local Asian markets accessible to consumers across the globe, Zilingo addresses a market traditionally dominated by huge fashion businesses.
Most fashion-commerce companies partner with big brands, and small SMEs get lost in the race to digitize. Zilingo works with small sellers – that makes both the business model unique and less risky because our supply is unique. Through the provision of a reputable and reliable platform that does everything from inventory management at the seller’s point of sale to giving them access to working capital loans, Zilingo ensures an increased awareness of vendors’ brands among a much larger online consumer pool, compared to physical walk-in traffic and lets the smaller sellers have a (seriously good) shot at the online world.
On the consumer side, we realised from very early on that the cohort of users Zilingo was really working for is the millennials, who are trend-savvy and very clued-in. So we decided not to focus on older consumers no matter what people said. However, that means delivering a fresh and unique shopping experience every single day. We use short videos and gifs to sell most products, provide transparent seller ratings and very easy returns.
“We want what’s ours, we want what’s real. It doesn’t matter whether a handful of so-called fashionistas decide whether our representation of our true style is good enough or not! That’s exactly what Zilingo stands for.”
A lot of consumers still prefer the traditional means of purchasing clothes – going to the physical store and trying the apparel on firsthand. How does Zilingo to respond to this, and what do you think the future of e-shopping holds?
Brick-and-mortar stores have struggled ever since the rise of e-commerce, especially in Singapore – where everyone has convenient and high-speed access to the Internet. Even Singapore’s most prominent retail belt, Orchard Road, is facing struggles, with many calling for ways to revitalise it.
Traditional retail needs to embrace modern technology to succeed. For example, big data and tracking consumer habits will help shops to be aware of how and when customers shop. As most consumers start to use both online and offline avenues, traditional retailers have to do the same too!
The convenience of online shopping in today’s hectic world ensures that it’ll be around for a long time to come. Traditional retail must adapt to these methods and be able to complement the online experience with its more personal shopping experience. This will help it to create a niche for itself, but it will no longer survive on having only physical stores.
Seeing as how you have a multitude of brands that target various markets, what is your curation process for the retailers you feature on your site?
All the brands go through a stringent process before they are listed on the platform. Once the designer or merchant has been approved, their products would also have to go through an approval process to ensure quality and authenticity. Every region has a team that does Seller Acquisition and Seller Management. There are stringent ratings and penalties for all merchants who sell on Zilingo. Once we find that a seller or a brand is underperforming, it will automatically be flagged and the team will work towards rectifying the problem.
What are some of your personal favourites (products and brands) on Zilingo, and why?
As a shopper, what I love about Zilingo products and brands is that there are literally millions of things on offer. Fashion is that one type of shopping experience where you would want to buy something one day and a completely different style another day. For instance, when I want to shop for work or formal events I’d go to KeiraShop in Thailand but when I want to feel younger, I might shop from Topazzette in Singapore.
What does fashion mean to you?
To me, fashion is whatever you want yourself to be. It is your voice, it is your representation of who you are. Unfortunately, over the last many decades, the voice of fashion has been elitist, snooty and quite frankly, I think young people find that boring and archaic now. We want what’s ours, we want what’s real. It doesn’t matter whether a handful of so-called fashionistas decide whether our representation of our true style is good enough or not! That’s exactly what Zilingo stands for. You can be truly fashionable, if you decide from a plethora of options and styles, what makes you, you! We want to democratise fashion.
What are your plans for the future of Zilingo?
We want to be the household name and the go-to place for our customers when they think about a fashion and lifestyle marketplace. In order to enhance our customer’s shopping experience, we are striving towards next day delivery. On top of that, we want to focus more on cross-border purchases. It allows us to put these smaller sellers on an international platform and allow our customers more accessibility to even more indie brands. We find that, at least $300 billion worth of merchandise are shipped out of Asia across the world and this is definitely something we can use to our advantage. A large market, an underserved class of small-but-talented designers and merchants and a user base ready to dig into these products from all over!