Vice President of International
Kai Li is vice-president of international for both the Revolve.com online fashion and Fwrd.com luxury brand sites. Kai focuses on strategic planning, customer acquisition and retention, traffic generation, and strengthening operational capabilities to drive growth in global markets.
Give us an overview of your business and your background
Revolve was launched in Los Angeles (LA) in 2003 by Mike Karanikolas and Michael Mente. It has grown from a start-up based out of Mike’s home to a $600m business selling 800+ brands into over 100 countries. In addition to the US, we also now have customer service operations in France, Korea and China. My background is with Amazon, I’ve now been with Revolve for a year and a half.
How did you approach getting started with cross-border?
Revolve was definitely an early mover in cross-border ecommerce terms, starting to actively develop international markets in 2007. Calls from potential customers overseas who were attracted by the LA-inspired products offered on Revolve.com made it apparent that interest existed in other markets. At first fulfilling cross-border orders simply involved going down to the local post office to send each individual item, with typical shipping times of a few weeks. But the opportunity for a more focused approach to take advantage of the evident international interest in our brand was clear. Fast forward to today and we now offer free shipping around the world.
Which countries / regions do you currently ship to?
We ship to over 100 markets in total, but our largest markets are– the ‘big four’ of China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan), Australia, Canada and the UK. There are two main reasons that we do well in these countries. The first is that we have a strong range of brands (over 800) that epitomize the LA in style which resonates in those places. Second is that, quite simply, those markets are among the largest ecommerce economies and have been focused targets for growth.
In 2016 we also focused on improving customer experience in these four markets. We have a very customer-centric culture as a business, so this is a natural area for us to seek improvements and the results were clear. In Australia, for example, in August 2015 our standard shipping level was 7-10 days. We managed to shorten this to 3-5 days free express, which led to a 20% increase in conversion rates.
As a multi-brand retailer, we also approach cross-border using long-tail game theory. This means running centralised operations (warehouse, inventory etc), shipping everything cross-border rather than setting up local operations (local entity, local warehouse, local websites etc) for each market we ship to. We find that this model is the best match for our proposition.
Any plans for future cross-border expansion (new regions)?
We are currently looking at emerging markets, such as Mexico and other markets with great potential where eCommerce is still relatively immature and foreign retailers have yet to make a success of entering. Regions of interest are Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. There are two primary reasons for this. One is to gain first-mover advantage; for example with SEO, we can get a head-start on others by building up backlinks from other sites, as well as generating a comparatively high number of clicks onto our site to help push us up search engine rankings and hopefully stay there. Second is the product range we offer provides a good fit for those regions – the LA look is proving to be popular with young women there and, being LA-inspired, the style is often appropriate to warmer climates.
Any advice for people at early stages of cross-border?
It may sound obvious, but a common mistake is to get caught up in the size of the opportunity and lose focus. An important point at the start is to identify the countries that have the most relevance for you. Some just target the largest markets straightaway, but there is no logical reason to do this if without an indication of interest or likelihood of success in tough and developed markets. Look at analytics and other indicators, where is your current footprint? Note that your target customer may change in new markets, with behaviour and a psychological profile that can be very different from domestic customers.
Consider the reasons why someone in another market may be interested in buying from you. If they can get the same products from a local store, there is no requirement for them to buy from a retailer based in another country. It’s cheaper and quicker for them to do that locally. What many shoppers do respond to is something that feels new or different from what is locally available, or cheaper of course. Those are the likely reasons that you may find appeal there.
Also bear in mind that your core strengths in your domestic market may not apply when looking cross-border. For example, Revolve is well known for fast delivery in the US, but obviously this doesn’t translate to being an advantage when shipping to Korea; we can’t compete against local retailers on speed of delivery and so look for other ways to differentiate ourselves.
What will you be presenting on at eCommerce Worldwide Summit?
I’m actually taking part in a panel, which I find is how to get the best out of me at conferences. It enables me to go deeper into topics of interest and get theoretical while being able to illustrate my points with real-world examples.