The SSENSE of success

One of the biggest benefits of online retail is the opportunity to go global. It can also be a major headache if you haven’t done your homework. To help retailers negotiate the complexities, we’ve been developing our ability to simplify international shipping. But it can’t be a cookie cutter approach. To really support a retailer’s vision, we aim to understand all aspects of what they do and how they want to evolve.

In the Spring 2016 issue of Canada Post’s Delivering the Online World magazine, we profiled SSENSE – a trendy fashion retailer based in Montreal that is successfully expanding their international reach. You can read the story, as it appeared in the magazine, below.


The fashion retailer shares insights on e-commerce, content and the pursuit of international markets

In 2006, three years after brothers Rami, Firas and Bassel Atallah founded Canadian start-up SSENSE, they sought to fill the space between traditional retailers and what was then a relatively new and underserved market: online shoppers. Smart move. Today, the Montreal retailer is known as a formidable brand with a heavily trafficked website delivering high-end labels to trendsetters around the world.

By offering its global audience a unique fusion of street culture and fashion, authentic content, and top-tier in-demand names like Balmain and Saint Laurent, the omni-channel retailer has set itself apart – and grown into the largest online fashion retailer in the country. So what’s next?

The company’s co-founder and COO, Bassel Atallah, and its VP of Operations, Joe Asmar, tell Delivering the Online World magazine how they plan to make this next phase as successful as the first.


Bassel Atallah, Chief Operating Officer


How it all started

The idea to create a global creative platform first emerged while Rami was completing his undergraduate studies in computer engineering. Sparked by a simple online transaction where he sold a pair of jeans for a healthy profit, he was quickly convinced of the potential in e-commerce, a relatively uncharted frontier at the time.

I had just started university and our brother Firas had begun an entry-level position at a bank. We decided to join Rami and soon opened a store in 2004, while simultaneously managing the online business and continuing our studies.

Then, in 2006, we launched and that’s when the business started to grow exponentially.


Pushing boundaries

When we started, it was clear that there was a growing segment of consumers who were ready to shop online, but established retailers were slow to capitalize on this new market opportunity. We are constantly challenging ourselves
and our teams to push the boundaries of what is expected. Whether it’s our product assortment, content creation, retail strategy or website architecture, we are always thinking ahead.



Crossing the border

This is the beauty of selling online. We were international as soon as we started selling online. From the beginning, we accepted orders from any country. That involved a little more risk, especially to make sure that all payments were legitimate and that the orders were delivered to our customers on time.


New markets

Currently, we are concentrating on Europe and Asia.


This year’s focus

Our greatest initiatives right now touch on pushing internationalization, re-defining the physical retail experience and evolving our brand. We also recently appointed our first editor-in-chief to refine and scale our exclusive content direction.


Joe Asmar, Vice President of Operations


International risks

Overseas expansion carries a multitude of challenges for a business. An extensive knowledge of the local culture and business practices is necessary before entering a new foreign market.

It is crucial that we understand and can cater to the local needs of the targeted region or country, encompassing numerous aspects such as languages, currencies, products, styling, expected service levels, etc. We strive to provide a
fully localized experience while maintaining a consistent brand image. We also have a very diligent logistics team that is tasked to ensure 100% compliance across the globe.



We are achieving unprecedented incremental growth in Asia, while North America remains our biggest market. We are also keeping a close eye on Europe as we have numerous initiatives in our pipeline that will help us grow this market even further.


Necessary expertise

Our internationalization has happened quite organically. Nonetheless, when it comes to localization, numerous skill sets are needed to handle such change. This includes branding, content production, languages, currencies and logistics. The latter is a critical aspect when it comes to localization.



The importance of logistics

It is of utmost importance for us to offer our clients a seamless experience from the minute they click on an item they like, to the moment they receive it at their doorstep.

This could be a great challenge as it involves moving the item through numerous jurisdictions and accounting for every country’s regulations, while making sure that no surprises or additional charges are incurred by the recipient when the item is received. We are now able to account for duties and taxes at purchase level, thus avoiding extra charges at delivery. Our clients appreciate the transparency we offer, which is evident in our high retention rates.



Expanding internationally is a much bigger challenge than local entrepreneurship, as it opens the door to numerous obstacles and uncertainties. Fortunately, there is a vast amount of information now available at our fingertips that enables us to have all the necessary knowledge for such initiatives.

As for the reward for online endeavours, it’s quite substantial because it provides instant access to global markets, which cannot be achieved through physical retail, for example. So my advice to entrepreneurs is: Leave no stone unturned when you plan an international expansion and, in return, expect great rewards.