How Bonobos Became A Serious eCommerce Contender

Hydar Saharudin
Hydar Saharudin
May 17, 2017
2 min read
How Bonobos Became A Serious eCommerce Contender

In this article

Pants, the final frontier.

While modern menswear has occasionally suffered some horrific duds and impractical trends, one particular problem continues to plague how we dress.

Despite the expert consensus on the virtues of well-fitting comfortable clothes, most men tend to trod the opposite path, especially when it comes to pants. And it’s not hard to see why. For the past two decades, men’s trousers have increasingly shrunk to razor-tight cuts, much to the detriment of our gonads and bodily self-image.

At the same time, a concoction of unfortunate factors—poor diets, body shaming, rising fashion costs, dishonest clothing measurements—have led us to cling to generically large and loose pants.

Against this backdrop, Brian Spaly and Andy Dunn detected a demand for better-fitting men’s pants. In 2007, the two MBA-holders launched Bonobos to sell pants that flattered the male booty and eliminated the dreaded “diaper butt”. Neither “too tight nor too boxy”, Bonobos’ trousers steadily gained a cult following.

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Spaly (left) and Dunn (right). Image: Chicagosplash

A major ingredient behind such success is Bonobos’ seemingly unorthodox (and award-winning) marketing strategies. Here, we take a look at four of them.

1. The Importance of “Getting One Thing Right”

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Bonobos’ Andy Dunn. Image: Racked

In his viral Medium article, Dunn explained the core marketing philosophy for Bonobos.

“Consumers don’t need many things from your company —they just need one thing from your company. You may want them to need everything from your company but guess what: consumers don’t care what you want. Your job is to care about what they want, not what you want them to want… Make one thing great. Get one thing right.”

The outcome of this “narrow and deep” approach were colorful pants furnished with a curved waistband. "As you wear your belt, it starts to curve so why didn’t we make pants like that? Having the curved waistband actually made it more anatomically correct in the market. And our pants were not too tight, but not too loose on the thigh,” Dunn explained.

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Image: Bonobos

Once a business gets one thing right, Dunn spells out the next step:

“[This] earns you the right to go from product one to product two. Take as much time as you need to get product one right, and to prove it—because if you don’t, no one is going to be waiting on pins and needles for product two.”

2. Word-Of-Mouth + Internet + Ecommerce

Upon launching, Bonobos boldly embraced the Internet and e-commerce, an incredibly risky move for clothing ventures back then.

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Bonobos' initial website. Source: Medium

A pioneer in online shopping, Bonobos was strictly an online enterprise for the first four years of business. This decision, while partly due to economic constraints, struck a chord with male shoppers, who have generally eschewed the unrewarding rigors of traditional physical shopping.

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Bonobos’ website today. Source: Bonobos

Sustaining Bonobos’ online presence was its then eclectic mix of in-person selling, word-of-mouth referrals, and online advertising on a fresh-faced Facebook. “Once we launched the site [...] we sold more, not less, to feed our new automated selling engine with demand. Trunk shows expanded, to Chicago, Philadelphia, D.C., and Boston,” Dunn described.

3. Ninjas for Exceptional Customer Service

Two common hazards of online shopping are the unpredictability in actual product quality and the dearth of generous return policies.

Bonobos manage these dilemmas through superb customer service and engagement. The label’s’ customer service team—famously known as Ninjas—can be contacted via email, phone, and video chat.

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Source: Dappered[

In imparting advice on fashion, fit, and style, Bonobos grant its Ninjas an unusually liberal degree of autonomy. They are allowed to improvise on customer solutions and resolve issues as they see fit.

Bonobos’ exceptional customer service further improved when the company diversified its line of products and expanded into brick-and-mortar stores in the early 2010s. Called Guideshops, Bonobos’ physical stores were somewhat a happy accident according to Dunn in an interview with Racked.

"We were really nervous about retail, but we tested a space in Boston, and that did amazing [...] then we tested one in Chicago and one in Georgetown and kept seeing the same thing: half the people were not going to try the brand if they could not try on the clothes first. It’s too big of a leap to place that order if you don’t know what you're getting.”

At Guideshops, customers can book personal guided shopping sessions, where they can sample and browse through Bonobos products. This “no-frills, no harassment” strategy leaves men with an “enjoyable, shopping bag-free experience”, an affair that is further improved by Bonobos’ policy of lifetime returns policy (it has recently reduced this timespan to 90 days).

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A Bonobos Guideshop. Source:

Unsurprisingly, this heightened level of customer service has generated immense word-of-mouth marketing. For example, in a Time Magazine feature, Bonobos’ customers routinely introduce the brand to their friends and colleagues. Dunn himself estimates that referrals account for half of Bonobos’ new customers.

In addition to word-of-mouth, Bonobos has included its customers in the development of new products. The company has used its social media outlets to request customer feedback on certain design ideas. While this seems conventional for most businesses, it isn’t so for the fashion industry.

4. An Engaging Leadership

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Image: Inc

Scroll through the Internet and you’d find numerous interviews, op-eds, and features on Bonobos’ founders and executives. Moreover, these individuals also maintain an active and prolific online presence, be it through personal blogs or Twitter accounts.

With Bonobos’ heavy reliance on positive word-of-mouth marketing, the personalities of its leadership probably contribute much to this tactic. Indeed, a cult of personality has elevated many brands to iconic and cult status—think Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, or Tony Hsieh.

In Bonobos’ case, Andy Dunn has personally produced numerous widely-circulated think pieces, while Brian Spaly regularly promotes the humble origins of the company.

As a result, Bonobos becomes more than a company that sells fit clothes. It becomes a gateway for men to have their cake and eat it too. Or in this case, to indulge in hassle-free retail therapy and to look good without the appearance of trying too hard.

Hey! Want to read more about successful eCommerce fashion brands? Well, check out our article on online fashion brand giant ASOS.

Hydar Saharudin
Hydar Saharudin

Hydar reads History at Nanyang Technological University. He likes cats and Cersei Lannister.

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