Stella Seula Lee is a co-founder of Box o’ Bliss – an international e-commerce firm that retails premium Korean products to customers in the United States. Courtesy of their affiliation with Deleo Korea, Box o’ Bliss has been able to develop an effective and affordable business model, driven by competitive international shipping rates and a plethora of trendy, well-curated Korean goods on offer.
Fortunately for us, Stella was able to take some time out of her busy schedule and answer a few insightful questions we had about her fast-growing business and its success story.
Stella, when did you decide to start Box o’ Bliss and did you ever think it would be as successful as it has become?
Box o’ Bliss was founded in September 2017 and the website was launched in May 2018. I knew there were potential customers in the U.S. who would love to buy premium, trendy Korean products because of my own experiences when studying in the U.S.
When I was an exchange student in a small town in Indiana, I could not find any premium, authentic Korean food items in the area. Thankfully, my mother used to send me my favourite Korean snacks, along with peach-shaped hand creams and cute pens and notebooks. I would often share them with my American friends and they were always fascinated by how different the items were and amazed at the level of quality. When I was living in Philadelphia, which is a fairly big city, it still wasn’t easy to find what I wanted. Over the years, I became certain that with the right selection of products, Korean items could be very appealing to American consumers.
Knowing the potential of the market from both my personal experience and my extensive market research, I had to find the last piece of the puzzle—the international shipping service. It took me a while to find the right partner because most international shipping services were either too expensive or too slow and unreliable. Deleo Korea, an official partner of USPS and now our parent company, was perfect in that they could provide fast, reliable international shipping services with very competitive rates.
With the whole picture complete, there was no doubt our business would quickly become a success story.
Why do you think distinctly Korean products have performed so well with western customers, particularly those in the United States?
On top of their uniqueness, Korean products are very high in quality. Take K-beauty trend as an example; it’s been a few years since the cushion foundation has been a big hit in the global beauty market and now every single beauty brand—from Maybelline to Chanel—has cushion foundations. Savvy customers who like to lead the trends often find Korean products (possibly the next cushion foundation) appealing because of the unique character and the premium quality.
What type of products have performed the best and why do you think this is the case?
Currently, our best-selling category is food; Korean food is known for being wholesome, but it can be tricky and cumbersome to make authentic Korean dishes, especially if one isn’t experienced in the cooking process. Our Woulducook meal kits are very popular for those who want to make Korean dishes at home because it includes all the ingredients (exempting the fresh groceries) such as the relevant spices, sauces, noodles and dried vegetables. Moreover, the recipes are printed in English, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean.
Another best-selling product is Foreverskin Salmon DNA Sheet Masks. As the name suggest, the main ingredient of the sheet masks is salmon DNA, which helps keep a person’s skin vibrant, youthful and wrinkle-free. This unique ingredient was interesting enough to spark the curiosity of our customers based in the US, despite there being an abundance of alternative beauty products in the US market.
What do you think your business does differently compared to your main competitors and how do you think that has helped with your success?
Two factors were a key to our success—great curation and low shipping cost.
Our merchandiser team is always in the hunt for premium and trendy products and puts great effort in curating them, ensuring they are tailored to the needs of our US customers. There were other big companies who tried similar business models, however, they failed to grow loyal customers because their products were mostly generic, and the curation was the same as how it’s done in Korea. On the other hand, we always challenge the way we think and try to understand how our customers would think.
Also, while shipping has always been the biggest challenge for other cross-border ecommerce companies, mainly because it either costs too much or takes too long, we had the upper hand from the beginning. We offer our customers the most affordable international shipping rates thanks to our parent company – a logistics IT platform with an official partnership with USPS.
In terms of your customer base, what do you think they value the most (i.e. service, convenience)?
Our loyal customers are the ones who love premium, unique, and trendy Korean products that they cannot buy from retailers like Amazon. For the same reason, their friends or family would ask where to buy those products and they soon become our customers as well. Also, because our average order is worth above $100, our customers appreciate the reliability of our shipping service that enables them to track their packages from Korea to their doorsteps. Finally, tax-free shopping is always a plus (as long as the order is under $800).
Are there any plans to expand to other countries, whether it be in Asia or Europe? Do you think your business model will need to change for this to be effective?
Yes, we are very excited to expand our services to Canada, Japan, China, and Singapore this year, and to Europe and other countries very soon as well.
Since we think understanding the culture and the needs of the target market is crucial, our website for each country will be curated with different products and contents, based on the needs of the local customers. For example, unlike the US market, premium sesame oil is in very high demand in Japan, so we’re preparing Japanese contents that will show how the exceptional quality of Myeongin Myeongchon sesame oil is achieved through a laborious process thanks to a certified master!
What would be your advice to others trying to be successful when retailing foreign goods to European/American customers?
Understanding the market is essential—first you need to find great products that are unique, attractive and appealing to the target customers. Then, with the understanding of the market as a basis, you need to curate and present the products with the right contents, carefully tailored to the culture and the needs of your target market. On top of this, it helps to have some expertise in international business trends, cross-culture communication techniques and market research analysis.
Thank you Stella for sharing your thoughts with us!
You can follow up with Stella Seula Lee at www.boxobliss.com