From six-figure sales after six months, to six-figure sales monthly in an industry as saturated and competitive as women’s bags and accessories, what does it take to stand out from the crowd and build up an online brand from scratch? We sat down for a chat with Stev Tam, founder of the Singapore-based women’s leather bag and accessories brand, Petite Simone, to find out more about his brand growth tips on Amazon.com. This is Part 2 of an interview series with the Singapore-based brand.
For Singapore-based brands and companies, expanding a business across continents is no easy task, especially when consumer preferences and considerations differ vastly, like in Southeast Asia and North America. Most entrepreneurs would agree that building a global brand empire is the ultimate dream, but what exactly does it take get there?
Well, it’s important to have a clear brand vision and advertise your brand differently, depending on the wants and needs of consumers across continents. This is something that the women’s vegan leather bag and accessories label Petite Simone has mastered.
Though they’re still a relatively new brand, having only been set up and launched as a full-fledged e-commerce brand in Southeast Asia in 2019, on the cusp of the pandemic, riding the waves of the online shopping scene seemed to come quite naturally to founder Stev Tam and his team. Within their first year of operations, they were able to expand from focusing on Southeast Asia to the wider North American region by becoming an Amazon Global Seller in 2021. Since then, Petite Simone has been consistently growing on Amazon.com, as they continue to chart a high month-on-month growth in sales, reaching six-figure monthly sales within their first year as an Amazon Global Seller.
Perhaps it has to do with the timing in which they entered the industry, or maybe it’s because Stev and his team were able to come up with a rock solid advertising and brand building strategy in North America.
No matter the reason, it seems there’s a lot that we can learn from this young, bold, and wildly successful brand on how to expand a business across continents, and market it successfully to Gen Zs, whose attention spans are low, but high in demand. This is why we sat down with Stev once again, to gather more tips and tricks on how to build a successful brand online, in North America and on Amazon.com, in the competitive fast fashion category.
If you have yet to read Part 1 of the blog, be sure to catch up on our previous chat with him here where he talks about starting the brand and gaining popularity.
1. What is your philosophy when it comes to brand building?
Well, the women’s bag industry is very saturated, not just offline, but online as well. For us, we take inspiration from the likes of fast fashion apparel brands like Shein and Zara and approach things the other way round. We first try to understand our customers’ needs and wants, or the general trend that’s going around at the moment (e.g. colours, design trends). We then come up with designs to meet these trends or customer needs and wants, mass produce them, and push them out to our customers.
This is basically how fast fashion works, and is what allows us to shorten the design and production time significantly to meet the needs and wants of our customers more efficiently. I think we’re all pretty familiar with the term, but this model of production is mainly applied in apparel brands and not so much in accessories or bag brands. So by penetrating the market with this approach, we’re hoping to change the way in which fast fashion is applied in the bag industry. This concept also guides our brand and is what inspired our slogan, “crafted to your style”.
2. How do North American consumers compare to South East Asian consumers?
North American consumers have different tastes, they also have different seasons and different peak shopping periods, as we discussed in our last interview. Hence, our marketing team tries to look into all these elements for product insights and marketing mix.
In South East Asia and North America, we also see an increasing trend toward backpacks and travel bags. So we are looking at launching a functional bag that can be used as carry-on luggage, with compartments for laptops.
Top-selling Petite Simone bag in the US — (L to R) Sofii, Freya
Top-selling Petite Simone bags in Southeast Asia — (L to R) Pearl, Lucia, Cindy
3. As a relatively new brand on Amazon.com, can you tell us more about the thought process behind the allocation of your advertising and go-to market resources in your first year as an Amazon Global Seller?
When we first started out as an Amazon Global Seller, we allocated about 90-95% of our Amazon advertising budget on Sponsored Product ads, and the remaining 5-10% on Sponsored Brand and Sponsored Display ads. Back then, we were still testing the waters to see which of our products would sell better among our Amazon customers, so we planned our budget this way to accumulate as much customer data as we could. We analyzed everything, from ratings and reviews to user relationships, and in our early days on Amazon.com, we managed to boost our sales by 1.5 times, just by focusing on Sponsored Product ads.
As part of our analysis, we cross-checked keywords and Amazon Standard Identification Numbers (ASIN) against each of our products, and denied keywords and ASINs with low matching degrees to reduce our Advertising Cost of Sales. We also conducted regular checks on the coverage of our product titles and bullet points, and continually optimized images and A+ content according to search term reports.
Once we had a better understanding of our North American customers’ preferences, we tweaked our budget allocation slightly, with 80% on Sponsored Product ads, and 20% on Sponsored Brand and Sponsored Display ads, and it’s still how we allocate our Amazon advertising budget today. This helps us to maintain conversion rates while at the same time continuing to boost our brand awareness.
Looking forward, we hope to gradually focus more on Sponsored Display ads so as to reach new audiences and gain more new traffic for Petite Simone.
Screenshot of Petite Simone’s Amazon Ads console. Image courtesy of Petite Simone.
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4. Can you tell us more about the broad buckets of Sponsored Product keywords you use, or any keyword strategies that you employ when advertising on Amazon?
In general, our keyword strategies cover various product types, consumer insights, specifications, styles, brands, competitors, complementary products, and so on. These vary with each design that we list on Amazon.com, no matter how similar the designs are.
For example, our popular Sofii bag falls under the same broad bag category as our Kinsley bag, but they’re made with different materials, and have different design features, and hence are better suited for different groups of people.
Screenshots of Petite Simone’s Amazon Ad Campaigns settings, targeting different groups of keywords. Image courtesy of Petite Simone.
While both our Sofii and Kinsley are small bags, Sofii is more of a daily shoulder bag, while Kinsley is more of an evening bag. This makes Sofii more suitable for young ladies heading out for work, errands, or brunch with their friends, and Kinsley more suitable for ladies attending dinner parties or fancier events. As such, the keywords we use for our Sofii include terms like ‘shoulder bag’, ‘trendy’, and ‘everyday purse’, while keywords we use for Kinsley would include phrases like ‘evening bag’, and ‘women’s evening handbag’.
The Kinsley bag, (L) with its boxy shape and glittery exterior, makes for a great dinner party accessory, while the Sofii23 bag (R) fares better as a day bag. Both images courtesy of Petite Simone.
Based on our research using Amazon's Product Opportunity Explorer tool, and through our own advertising data analytics process, we found that our North American customers tend to search for bags by typing out scenarios or examples as a form of product description, like ’shoulder bag for school’ or ‘backpacks for school’, so we try to cater our keywords to their browsing habits.
Stev TamFounder of Petite Simone
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5. Apart from analyzing keywords, how else do you conduct research on the needs and wants of North American consumers?
In our previous chat, we mentioned that we once tweaked the design of our ever-popular Sofii bag based on our North American customers’ feedback that the original design was too small within the span of 40-50 days, and saw a 60% increase in sales following this. Because of the popularity of our Sofii bag, we’ve been thinking about how else we can continue to improve upon its design, so as to offer customers greater choices, and recently, we launched the new Sofii23, which we would describe as a more classic, everyday version of our regular Sofii.
The Sofii23 is made of thicker vegan leather, and features a simpler wide-handle strap as opposed to the chunkier ruched strap on the original Sofii, making it sturdier and more versatile for everyday use. Though these design changes weren’t based explicitly on customer reviews, our Sofii23 has been well-received by customers, and was even featured on Elle magazine’s ‘Top 20 Trendiest Bags on Amazon’ list in September 2022.
The original Sofii bag (L, black) features a fun ruched strap, while the Sofii23 bag (R, brown) features a more versatile, adjustable strap. Image courtesy of Petite Simone.
We definitely pay close attention to click-through rates, add to cart rates, and conversion rates of our customers. We also go through customer feedback and reviews on a regular basis, especially in our earlier days, so that we can continue to optimize our products and Amazon storefront to meet the needs of our customers, and boost our sales.
Stev TamFounder of Petite Simone
6. What are some A/B tests (split tests) you’ve experimented with for advertising on Amazon?
Two examples of Petite Simone's Sponsored Brand Video ads, each featuring their Sofii bag in a different color. Both images courtesy of Petite Simone.
For creative content, we’ve tried out Sponsored Brand Video ads. We try to feature just one bag in each video, and because each design we roll out comes in various colors, we use the same video content and script with bags of the same type, and just swap out the colors in each. This resulted in a 19% increase in click-through rate.
On the other hand, for A+ content, we’ve experimented using it in different ways with the same product to determine the most effective use. In our first experiment, we only highlighted the product’s details and features. But in our second experiment, we included product images and other lifestyle model shots along with the product’s details and features, which we found very effective as it resulted in a 7% increase in conversion rate for the latter.
Petite Simone experimented with two types of A+ content—one highlighting product details (L), and one featuring lifestyle shots of the product (R). Both images courtesy of Petite Simone.
7. Can you tell us more about how product videos have helped Petite Simone in terms of sales?
Product videos help customers to fully visualize the bags that we list, and provide a more realistic look at each bag as opposed to static images. Apart from the videos that we film on our end, we find influencer videos from the content creators that we collaborate with, or user videos that get posted online. Videos in the customer reviews section on Amazon.com are also helpful in this aspect.
Petite Simone’s livestreams focus on showcasing the design details of each of their bags, and highlighting their functionality so that customers can make more informed purchases. Screenshot taken from previous livestream content, courtesy of Petite Simone.
Generally, when the video is clear, and explains the unique selling points of each bag well, it can boost our conversion rate by as much as 60%.
Stev TamFounder of Petite Simone
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8. We understand that Petite Simone is a Singapore-based brand. That said, how do you go about sourcing for suitable influencers to work with in the US? And with the influencers that you’ve worked with, what, to you, is the best measurement of a successful partnership?
We work closely with a veteran e-commerce company, GadMobe Interactive, which supports us by providing us with advertising expertise, comprehensive strategies in media ad buys, insights on customer preferences, and a network of mature, well-connected, global influencers that we tap on for our influencer content and livestreams. On their end, they’re able to sieve out the most suitable US-based influencers for us to reach out to, and from there, we’ll negotiate a partnership with these influencers.
As for the best measurement of a successful partnership, it would have to be concrete sales. The number of new orders we receive as a result of each influencer partnership is by far the clearest indication of success, but we do also take brand exposure and user engagement into account, because every view, comment, like, and share goes a long way in spreading Petite Simone’s overall reach.
As part of their advertising strategy, Petite Simone works with a number of US-based influencers to create product videos for social media channels like TikTok and Instagram to boost their brand awareness and drive sales. Image courtesy of Petite Simone.
9. Throughout the year, Amazon organizes quite a number of online shopping events like Prime Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the like. With these events, discounts and other deals are huge factors in drawing both new and returning customers to purchase new products, but such discounts can also affect profit margins greatly. With Petite Simone, how do you strike a balance between volume and profit, and branding and sales?
It’s not so much about striking a balance as it is about looking at the bigger picture. Of course, we will plan ahead and strategically allocate discounts and deals for each of our listed products in order to avoid overlapping or stacked discounts. This would ensure that our customers get the best possible deals, but not at the expense of our profit margins.
That said, because online traffic and exposure during these big shopping events is a lot higher than usual, when coupled with the discounts offered, we do tend to get lower profit margins. We just treat this cut as a form of advertising expenditure—we’re trading profits to gain new customers, increase our brand awareness, and boost our sales, which would definitely benefit us in the long run. In fact, we've even seen our brand ranking jump from the top 100 to the top 30 after such shopping events, which helped us gain more organic shopfront visits.
10. It seems like a lot of planning is involved when participating in large shopping events. How long does it usually take you to prepare for such events?
We usually start preparing 80-90 days in advance, because it’s not just discounts and promotions that we have to consider. We also have to take inventory, transportation, and advertising into account. So the general workflow for this preparatory period goes something like this:
• Plan advertising budget • Set up Prime Exclusive Discounts • Submit deals that we would like to offer during the shopping event • Record Amazon livestreams • Coordinate external promotions
Screenshots of some of the deals ran and coupons offered by Petite Simone during Amazon’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping in 2022. Image courtesy of Petite Simone.
11. Apart from longer-term benefits, what are some of the immediate benefits of participating in such promotions or shopping events?
Firstly, there will most definitely be an increase in sales. We’ve seen a 72% increase in orders after participating in Amazon’s Lightning Deals, and with larger shopping events like Prime Day, we’ve seen a sales boost of up to five times our daily average.
Apart from that, ranking for our brand and specific products will improve as well. For instance, our new Freya bag jumped from the top 100 to the top 50 in the women’s hobo handbag category during Amazon.com's Black Friday sale in 2022.
Petite Simone's Freya bag ranked #35 in the women’s hobo handbag category on Amazon following their Black Friday sale in 2022. Screenshot courtesy of Petite Simone.
We see spikes in sales by participating in promotions and Amazon's shopping events. In fact, the highest sales volume we’ve hit is over 600 bags sold in just half a day.
Stev TamFounder of Petite Simone
12. Looking back on your growth as a brand, and your experience running Petite Simone over the past couple of years, what are some tips you can share when it comes to growing a brand or navigating the world of e-commerce?
When it comes to advertising, definitely ensure that you maintain a sufficient ad budget so that your ad campaigns don’t stop running prematurely. But when it comes to growing a brand as a whole, the most important thing is to listen to your customers. Keep your eyes and ears on the ground to pick up on even the smallest of details, so that you can meet the needs and wants of your customers efficiently.