Thai lingerie makers boost online presence, produce face masks

08, Jun. 2020

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By Chalermlapvoraboon Valaiporn

BANGKOK, NNA— As undergarment companies went online to boost sales and stem losses from recent coronavirus lockdowns, not all Thai women saw it as an appropriate shopping experience.

For many years, women had been enjoying the helpful and discreet customer service at lingerie shops as they provided measurements and allowed fittings to ensure that they would be satisfied with their buys.

To their disappointment, this came to a halt when malls and markets had to be closed during lockdowns to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some hesitated to buy such intimate garments online as they were afraid their selected item would not fit well or the material would not meet their expectation.

Jaruwan J., 43, a human resource officer, pointed out that “unlike clothing, undergarments are more delicate and have to fit-to-size even more." That is why customers need the special assistance of the staff at undergarment shops.

Agreeing, Vipaporn A., 24, a sales woman, said, “I have never bought it online because I am scared it won't fit well. It is also important that I feel the material before buying.”

Aware of their concerns, undergarment companies like Thai Wacoal Public Co. and Sabina Co. paid more attention to creating effective digital marketing as they boost their online presence to attract sales.

After 585 Sabina stores were temporarily shuttered nationwide, the company drove sales to its official website and launched promotions on television as it transformed its business model quickly to stay engaged with customers.

It introduced new products in livestreaming with the help of social influencers and reviewers and provided detailed information on the type, feel and comfort of the material apart from prices. The company also made it a practice to reply to the customers who had asked questions in the comment section.

These efforts seemed to have paid off very well. Within the total revenue of 682 million baht in the first quarter of 2020, online sales jumped 49 percent or 70 million baht more, the main contribution for revenue from non-retail sales.

Other sales from the same group such as sales from TV promotions contributed 34 percent to its revenue while sales from catalogues accounted for 17 percent.

Sabina, which has 26 percent or the second biggest share of the undergarment market, reportedly increased staff strength by 30 people to support the operation of its social media platforms and livestreaming.

In fact, its 1,200 retail workers had urged the company to promote online sales since the start of March of this year to keep up sales momentum even during the coronavirus shutdown. It is expecting online sales to increase by 20 percent in the second quarter, said Bunchai Punturaumporn, CEO of Sabina.

However, its online performance would not be able to cover losses from the temporary closure of shops, Bunchai told NNA.

The company’s total revenue grew continuously in the past several years till it dropped by 92 million baht to 682 million baht in the first quarter of 2020.

Bunchai said, “for the first time in four to five years of continuous growth, our company faced a decrease in revenue and I would like to put all the blame on Covid-19.”

Thai Wacoal, the market leader with 38 percent market share, also took their business to online and social media platforms during the shutdown.

The company, which sells the famous Japanese Wacoal brand, held online sales and promotions offering discounts and set deals.

They attracted customers like Kamonthip T., 26, a sales assistant. She said, “I recently bought four undergarment pieces because there was a promotion. I don’t purchase undergarments often unless there’s a promotion.”

While Thai Wacoal did not reveal figures for its online performance, the company reported a significant loss in local sales in the first quarter. It fell to 667 million baht from 837 million baht in the first quarter of 2019.

Meanwhile, both Sabina and Thai Wacoal have stopped underwear production temporarily and turned to producing face masks instead.

They have been in high demand by health personnel and the public following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. In fact, Sabina has included face masks in their product repertoire as it has seen demand growing.

“Making fabric masks during this period has helped our production workers as they have work to do and also the company with its cash flow,” said Bunchai.

The company plans to increase mask production and create coordinating designs for mask and undergarment sets to be made by its 2,000 production workers, according to Sabina’s quarterly report to Stock Exchange of Thailand

Thailand undergarment sector made over 12 billion baht in sales each year. The market also grew by a healthy 6.5 percent annually from 2011, according to Thailand’s Board of Investment.

The three leaders - Thai Wacoal, Sabina and Germany’s Triumph International - collectively contributed 68 percent to Thailand’s total undergarment sales, according to the board's statement.

Undergarment shops reopened recently but they have had to follow health and social distancing protocol before further easing in the next phase. Sabina has temporarily closed all fitting rooms to protect customers during the transition.

As of Sunday, Thailand reported eight new coronavirus infections, taking its total to 3,112. So far, 58 people had died since the outbreak.