Entrepreneur and owner of online business The Lingerie Boutique, Chanel Costabir, managed to seal deals with designer brands for a website that at that time didn’t even exist. We find out how this e-commerce trailblazer got her dream lingerie business off the ground.
Entrepreneur Chanel Costabir decided she wanted to run a lingerie business when she was just 19 years old. Now 27, that dream is a reality. Her online store, The Lingerie Boutique, launched in December 2010 and is highly regarded by both industry and consumers as a first-class online destination for luxury lingerie.
Costabir says she likes to be busy, so it’s not surprising that she worked five days a week, two of which were in a lingerie shop, while completing her double degree at university and attending fashion school in the evenings to learn about business. The retail experience proved invaluable – it gave her insight into what customers wanted, she was educated in fittings and got to know product ranges, and she took on responsibility for opening and closing procedures.
“I identified a gap in the Australian market whilst working in the area – well-fitted, luxury European lingerie,” she says. “At night school, I learnt about the requirements to start my own business. I quickly realised the costs involved in setting up a bricks-and-mortar premises and that wasn’t viable, so I focused on finishing my degree.”
Starting an online lingerie store
At the time, there were almost no other lingerie stores online. “Or at least none that were clean, elegant and pretty,” explains Costabir. “I couldn’t stop thinking about my idea, and I knew customers would only buy from a site they felt comfortable with, a site that replicated or was similar to the in-store boutique experience. So, prior starting my honours year [in psychology], I decided to just go for it. I flew to Paris to attend a trade show where I spoke to designers about the concept, built rapport and signed up my first suppliers.”
Costabir recalls nervously circling the booth of fashion icon Roberto Cavalli three times at the show, before she finally plucked up the courage to stop and chat. To say the conversation went well is an understatement – to this day, she remains the brand’s sole Australian stockist for its luxury lingerie line.
Getting an e-commerce business off the ground
One of the most interesting things about Costabir’s story is that she went to Paris with no established website – only a concept for her e-commerce business. Her industry knowledge was so deep and her vision so clear, that she was able to strike up agreements with suppliers before having anything concrete to show them.
On her return, she screened several developers, picked one, then set about building the site. She says three-quarters of the way through, the relationship soured and they parted ways. “Two months before it was meant to launch, I saw the first live version of the site and there were inconsistencies between what I had approved and what it looked like,” she says. “Three weeks before the launch event – a catwalk show I organised and secured FashionTV coverage for – the site still hadn’t been fixed. I found another developer through a friend and tried to get the job done, but I immediately lost money, as I’d paid two out of three instalments for the original website build.”
Not having her website up in time for the catwalk show was one mistake that Costabir made in the early phase of the business. The other error was subsequently launching the website after Christmas, which was not ideal for online retail. “We live and learn!” she remarks. Once Costabir was finally happy with the website, The Lingerie Boutique went live for customers.
“As anyone in e-commerce will tell you, nothing’s ever good enough – we’re always looking for ways to improve, and technology moves so fast, you’ve got to keep up.”
Chanel Costabir, The Lingerie Boutique
Providing a boutique experience, online
The site has continued to evolve since that day in December 2010, and content – in the form of articles and shopping guides – now plays a key role in converting visitors to customers. Costabir says men in particular appreciate the extra help.
“Men have the best intention when buying a gift, but sometimes they just need a little help to make the right choice,” she says. “A lot of it is underpinned by psychology – there’s a different kind of gift that you purchase for an anniversary, Valentine’s Day or a birthday. You need to consider the messages that style and colour send, and the emotions they evoke. For example, if it’s a birthday, women like lingerie that is embellished and pretty and not overly provocative, because a birthday is all about her. She wants to feel special.”
Costabir is continually working to improve the customer experience, whether it’s helping them to find the product they need or providing efficient delivery times and quick turnarounds on enquiries. The Lingerie Boutique even offers a three-hour “WantItNow” delivery service to Melbourne metropolitan areas, which is handy for last-minute gifts or customers who want to avoid shopping centres at busy times of the year, like Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
She’s also constantly tinkering with the usability of the site. “As anyone in e-commerce will tell you, nothing’s ever good enough – we’re always looking for ways to improve, and technology moves so fast, you’ve got to keep up.”
The Lingerie Boutique uses SecurePay, on the recommendation of web developers. “It came down to SecurePay or another company, but SecurePay was the better match for what we were doing and our volumes,” says Costabir.
SecurePay’s FraudGuard functionality has been particularly useful. “For some reason,” she says, “fraudulent people like to buy lingerie, and it wasn’t something I was prepared for. We got burnt a few times before we put measures in place.”
A bright future for The Lingerie Boutique
With the rising popularity of online shopping, and research company IBISWorld forecasting a 1.8 per cent growth in revenue for the lingerie sector, the future looks bright for The Lingerie Boutique. But that doesn’t mean Costabir is resting on her laurels. She continues to make twice yearly trips to Paris to meet suppliers and source new products, and says no-one knows lingerie like she does.
“The most useful advice I can give anyone thinking about going into business is to have a real understanding of your product,” she says. “Go and work in that area if you need to. Then, understand your customer and their needs. Know why they’d come to you and not others. And finally, just do it! Don’t think for too long and become stagnant. You learn the most when you’re involved in what you’re doing. Accept that mistakes will happen – that’s how you learn – and get on with it.”