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Men hate to shop. That’s no obstacle to a new breed of Singapore startups

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Guys around the world let out a cathartic sigh when Miserable Men went viral on Instagram. The account depicts bored guys waiting at shopping malls for their wives and girlfriends, highlighting the inescapable stereotype that women love to shop, and for a long time.

Enter ecommerce, which frees men from the waiting while still giving women the retail therapy they crave. Fashion ecommerce in particular hugely accommodates women, which is not surprising. In the US, women’s apparel sales grew to US$116 billion, compared to US$60.8 billion for men.

But males are becoming increasingly important in fashion retail, and a new crop of startups want to capitalize on that. In Singapore, online store Edit Suits Co caters to men who want custom tailored shirts. The twist is that it sends outfitters to the customer’s physical location to take his measurements.

“Men are lazy shoppers, but they’re loyal. Great service counts, and if you convince them you’re brilliant, they will stick to your brand until something drastic happens. The women’s market, on the other hand, is temperamental,” says co-founder Reto Peter, who was formerly a managing director at Zalora, a prominent online fashion retail store by Rocket Internet.

Edit Suits has gained a following among young, hotshot finance and banking professionals in Singapore. Corporate sales form a huge part of its strategy, and it has sent outfitters down to banks and financial institutions where many of its customers work. It received angel funding from the co-founders of RedMart, an online groceries startup in Singapore.

Peter can’t reveal specific numbers, but he says that the average shopping cart contains about three to four shirts.

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Lucrative niche

E-commerce has largely been about giving customers a buffet of choices and hoping they will bite on one of the items. Recommendation engines then suggest even more products to the user, and the cart could fill up in no time. This flow adheres to women’s shopping behavior in physical retail stores.

In recent years though, new ecommerce models have emerged to appease men, starting with the luxury wear segment, a group that’s more predisposed to shopping online.

In San Francisco, Trumaker, which Edit Suits models itself after, has blazed a trail by raising US$8.4 million from investors. Chicago startup Trunk Club, a personalized clothing service for men, has received US$12.4 million in funding. In Vancouver, Canada, Indochino has also brought tailored suits online, completing a US$13 million round in the process.

“For [men], the shopping experience is less about exploration and more about being informed about what they should be buying,” says Ashma Kunde, a global apparel research analyst for market research firm Euromonitor International, in a New York Times article.

Frederico Marchetti, CEO of luxury online fashion retail company Yoox Group, echoes the sentiment. “Men don’t shop; they buy. Men spend 30 percent less time browsing online than women, viewing fewer pages before purchasing, which shows why online shopping is the perfect solution for them.”packnada

This wave of men’s ecommerce has spread to Singapore. Tate & Tonic, founded by Matteo Sutto, another Rocket Internet alumnus, offers a Trunk Club-inspired service where men pick their style preferences and receive a box of fashion products customized for them. The customer then picks the items he likes and returns the rest. Users pay for the products they pick, but not shipping and return.

Outside the fashion sphere lies Packnada, an online service for business travelers that stores and cleans their clothes. As a start, the startup caters to professionals who visit Singapore on a regular basis.

For US$99 a trip, customers can store their items – toiletries too – with the company, lightening their baggage load considerably. It also lessens check-in times at the airport, since the traveler need only bring carry-on luggage. Co-founder Jonathan Lee says most of its users are men, though they did not set out to target them at first.

“Men are less picky about their outfits. The number one thing they value is convenience,” he says.

A different breed

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The founders of Edit Suits.

For decades, online retail suffered from one major problem: it’s crazy expensive. Amazon, despite its massive revenue, has razor-thin margins. The same goes for German ecommerce behemoth Rocket Internet, whose Southeast Asia businesses are losing millions that they hope to recoup later, due to investments in expensive infrastructure.

Sutto as well as Edit Suits co-founders Peter and Nqabeni Msimanga witnessed Rocket Internet’s massive spending spree when it first expanded into Southeast Asia. They’re hoping to avoid doing the same thing, and the situation’s the same with Packnada.

Compared to traditional ecommerce, these businesses use logistics more intensely. Edit Suits sends an actual outfitter to a customer’s location, while Tate & Tonic not only delivers, but collects products that customers don’t want, free-of-charge. Packnada, meanwhile, sends an empty bag to a user’s hotel room which he will fill up with his items. The service then collects it once he leaves the country.

The antidote to the high cost is predictability. These startups work on the premise that men willingly shell out more for something that’s convenient, offers great service, and just works.

Edit Suits prides itself on getting a customer’s first shirt just right, betting that once they like the first one, they’ll come back for more. Unlike the world of fast fashion, men tend to stick to the same designs once they’ve found a style that fits them.

Despite its already high basket size, the company wants to raise the bar by introducing chinos and suits eventually. Being in Singapore has advantages, as the startup can get closer to manufacturers and save costs. It’s planning an expansion to the UK, where tailored suits can go beyond US$240. This presents price arbitrage opportunities that further improve profit margins.

These business models minimize investments in inventory management, offsetting the higher costs of shipping goods and people around. Edit Suits partners up with manufacturers who hold most of the stock, checking the quality of the shirts before sending it to customers.

Tate & Tonic, which has US$300,000 in seed funding, collects data about what the customer wants, right down to exact measurements. As such, it forecasts more exactly how many items to stock up, removing the need to sell excess stock at a huge discount, which is a headache for retailers.

However, after showering attention on men, these startups may have to expand later to cater to women. Generalizations only go so far – who’s to say there isn’t a sizable group of female shoppers who value convenience and predictability as much as men?

Packnada, for instance, received requests from women to increase the number of clothing items, now set at 20, that customers can pack. Tate & Tonic observed on social media that women are asking if the service is available to them.

Gotta love logistics

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Logistics can ensnare many unsuspecting entrepreneurs. Fortunately, the ecommerce landscape in Singapore has gotten a lot more sophisticated, which means more startups contain the necessary expertise to make sure deliveries stay the course.

Rocket Internet’s entry into Southeast Asia is a huge contributor. It poured hundreds of millions into its regional businesses Lazada and Zalora. It’s not just building infrastructure, but creating what amounts to an intense, hands-on ecommerce MBA school for people like Sutto, who worked at Zalora for less than a year as its marketing director.

Rocket Internet has been a revolving door for ambitious ecommerce entrepreneurs, many of whom left to start their own businesses after brief stints at the online retail giant.

“I joined wanting to learn as much as possible. By the end of 2012 I was thinking of ideas for my new business,” says Sutto, who had his first taste of startup life at an online marketplace in Italy.

The region’s ecommerce infrastructure is maturing, making it easier for folks like Sutto and Peter to start from scratch. Companies like Anchanto and aCommerce have grown on the premise of providing specialized delivery, fulfillment and warehousing services to retailers who want to venture online. Even SingPost, Singapore’s national postage company, has jumped into the fray.

Both Edit Suits and Tate & Tonic rely on aCommerce to get their deliveries done. They’re sharing the same office with Style Tribute, another startup catering to the luxury fashion segment, this time targeting women. Having three ecommerce startups under one roof brings perks, such as the sharing of facilities like a photo studio, says Msimanga.

“We all contribute different expertise. I have a design background. Matteo [Sutto]’s good at online marketing. We’re sharing a lot of knowledge with each other,” he adds.

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This article was originally published in our bi-weekly premium emagazine. Find out more info about Tech in Asia Insights here.

Editing by Steven Millward, photos by Terence Lee

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