In 2007, when Urban Daddy wrote a short piece about the new men’s pant brand Bonobos, it sent enough traffic to the site to crash it. Those that did reach the site found a “Why Bonobos?” section on the homepage.
“Bonobos are pants that solve problems,” the site read. “1. Most men’s pants do not fit well, 2. Those that do fit well are hard to find, 3. We’re tired of jeans. Bonobos are the answer.”
Even four years later, after Bonobos had raised more than $18M from Accel and Lightspeed and after it had opened its first Guideshop in New York in 2011, that message was still prominent on the homepage, albeit slightly different.
“Why Bonobos?” the site read then. “Better fitting, ninja service, free shipping all the time.”
Four years on, and Bonobos was still “launching” to new customers, introducing itself as a differentiated brand and differentiated product offering. It was perpetually in the business of introducing the brand to new customers.
Though it could be said that Bonobos is still in that business, the brand’s site also evolved to start serving its customer base.
By 2016, Bonobos allowed customers to set their “fit,” allowing them to filter the site’s merchandise to only show in-stock items that matched their preferred fit.
In other words, even in a world where acquisition was the main driver of their business, Bonobos started to make it easier for their customers to buy again.
We bring this up, because Bonobos is regarded as one of the OG DTC players. In fact, Andy Dunn (Bonobos’ co-founder and former CEO) coined the term Digitally Native Vertical Brand (or DNVB). And the story of Bonobos’ website is illustrative of a challenge—from a tactical perspective—of how emerging brands must balance the experience for new customers with the balance for returning customers.
While the majority of resources for an emerging brand go to acquisition, it is common for all of the resources for the website to go to acquisition. Any segmentation and personalization happens at the channel level—email, SMS—not the website level.
Part of that has to do with cost. Part of it has to do with resources. Part of it has to do with what the business needs.
If a business primarily needs to grow by growing its customer base, there’s an opportunity cost to investing too much elsewhere.
But the net of this is a disjointed experience: Why, as customers, are the emails we get from brands relevant to our past order history while our visits to those same brands’ websites not?
That’s why Bonobos is so instructive.
Bonobos didn’t buy expensive personalization software. They didn’t need to. They thought about the biggest problem they needed to solve so that a returning customer could buy again—what’s available in my size?—and solved that.
(They later advanced on this, building an app and a closet builder that matched new items with others in the catalogue, along with items from a customer’s past purchase history.)
It was, in other words, an incremental process.
As Bonobos shows, there are simple, straightforward things a brand can do to begin shifting the balance on the website so that it can remain acquisition focused, but also begin making it easier for that increasing number of returning customers to buy again.
We’re six years removed from Bonobos’ “fit” filter, but we’re also reaching a point where many CPG brands are hitting the scale that Bonobos was at when they began servicing the returning customer on-site—even if they were still really focused on launching to all those new customers.
Maybe it’s time to start tackling both.