Business / Companies

Purecomm startup looks to transform China's Ecommerce

By Cecily Liu ( Updated: 2015-09-18 21:11

Charlie Bodycote says he's on a journey to transform the ecommerce retail industry in China with his Hong Kong-based startup Purecomm, which is just two years old but already has a portfolio of globally established clients like Burt's Bees and Pedder Red.

His business model is simple enough. At the core of Purecomm is a piece of technology that links the online ecommerce store of a large retailer with the big collection of physical shops it has, so as the online sale runs out of stock the technology will quickly find a physical store that has it, and gets the item shipped to the customer from store.

To achieve this, individual stores would input their item descriptions and sizes into a system which is compatible with the ecommerce website, so they are able to serve online customers as well as those who walk through the shop door.

"But what we offer is not just a piece of technology, we offer our knowledge of how to help the physical store team and the ecommerce team to work together, and that is hard for many companies because it is not a mindset they are used to," says Bodycote.

Bodycote was speaking in London at a startup pitch event organized by TrueStart, a London based retail and consumer-focused accelerator, which runs a comprehensive six-month program of training startup firms, which includesPurecomm.

Having built a solid client base Purecomm is seeking more funding in order to recruit more clients. Although many large retailers are interested in the idea, to convert them to this new model takes tremendous time and budgets, Bodycote says.

Bodycote, 42, originally born in London, has already made a name for himself in the ecommerce industry in China. He is the man behind the massive ecommerce development of the Lane Crawford, the Hong Kong-based luxury department store famous for its large collection of up-marketdesigner furniture and lifestyle accessories.

When Bodycote joined Lane Crawford in 2009, he was the only person managing the company's ecommerce, and by the time he has left in 2013, he had built up a team of 140 employees to manage the company's ecommerce trade, covering functions from IT to marketing.

"It was hard at first to convince Lane Crawford to adopt an ecommerce strategy but having achieved it we are now seeing incredible results," Bodycote says.

"Initially Lane Crawford was not sure if it was a good strategy because they believed the high-end specialist products really need to be bought in store. And because at the time their geographical coverage is mainly in Hong Kong, they believed that Hong Kong is small and accessible enough for customers,"Bodycote says.

What Lane Crawford has discovered is that those who are multichannel shoppers, meaning they visit both the website and physical stores, would buy five times as often as single channel shoppers who only visit the stores. Statistics has proved that Bodycote is right.

Another factor behind this change in mentality is Lane Crawford's strategy to expand into mainland China, as in recent years it has openedtwo stores in Beijing, one in Shanghai, and one in Chengdu.

"Because mainland China is a lot larger, they recognized that they would not be able to have all customers come into store, so we adopted an ecommerce strategy, allowing the physical stores to be an advert for the products, and those who cannot buy certain products in store can buy online," he says.

Before joining Lane Crawford, Bodycote built up extensive experience in the retail industry in the UK, having worked for five years for the fashion retailer, as a part of a team that expanded the company's ecommerce presence.

Although ecommerce has already been in existence for decades with the likes of Amazon, Ebay and Alibaba, what Bodycote noticed was a gradual change in dynamics between retailers' ecommerce and physical stores.

"Traditionally you would have one retailer with a few stores in place, and then there will be an ecommerce store which is treated essentially as just another store, they are all seen as competing with each other."

"But the mentality in mature markets is changing, and the ecommerce store is now seen as an advertising channel for the physical stores, so rather than being in competition, they would work with each other to increase the influence further," he says.

Realizing this is a big trend in mature markets but not so much in emerging markets, Bodycote decided in 2007 to leave and move to Hong Kong to gain an early advantage in the Chinese market.

"When I moved to Hong Kong, I just wanted to find a big retailer that would allow me to use my ideas to grow their ecommerce presence. It was difficult at first, so I did consultancy for two years, during which I did work for Lane Crawford and later joined their team," he says.

Bodycote, who says he has always had an entrepreneurial spirit at heart, left Lane Crawford after having built a stable team, to embark on his new challenge, Purecomm.

His team has now grown to 14 people, some based in the Hong Kong headquarters and an additional team in charge of software development is working in the firm's Chengdu office.

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