Omni-channel success: BonLook’s winning retail formula

4 minute read

Should you run an online store or a shop? It’s hard to say, but it’s worth considering trends in Canadian retail before you decide.

The future of retail in Canada

What does the future of retail in Canada look like? It definitely involves e-commerce.

E-commerce in Canada is on the rise

E-commerce sales are anticipated to grow by 21.1 per cent this year, while traditional retail sales are forecasted to grow by only 3.1 per cent.1 Many retailers have wagered that this means e-commerce is the future, shifting their focus and dollars to the online world. Others have opted to bet on both horses, investing in physical retail and e-commerce omni-channel strategies.

Retail is still king in Canada

There’s no doubt that e-commerce is growing exponentially in Canada, but it’s important to note that retail’s 3.1 per cent growth represents $495 billion and e-commerce’s 21.1 per cent growth only represents $49 billion. Traditional retail is still a behemoth in Canada and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

BonLook’s omni-channel success story

If you’re still not sure whether to sell via physical retail or e-commerce, the story of BonLook may inspire you. Their business tackled both channels brilliantly after struggling to conquer one. Here are a few key takeaways from their journey to success:

They bet on an omni-channel strategy

With 32 retail stores across Canada, and a popular e-commerce site, BonLook has a winning omni-channel strategy that will carry their company into the future. But that’s not how it started. Originally, BonLook was just a struggling online store.

Sophie Boulanger and her brother Louis-Félix launched the company back in 2011 with capital borrowed from family and friends. Sophie got her start in business working on a project for global eyewear giant Luxottica Group while doing her Master’s degree. After observing the impressive margins of the eyewear industry firsthand, she knew that there was a massive opportunity there.

The inside of a BonLook retail location.

The inside of a BonLook retail location.

The siblings dove into the industry head first by creating BonLook – a disruptive new business concept for eyewear. The company designs, manufactures, markets, and sells its own brands – instead of just reselling popular ones. They eliminated the middlemen of the traditional distribution model, offering unmatched value for their brand of prescription frames. Their endeavour was risky as BonLook’s customers would have to put their faith in a new business model, too.

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They targeted the right customers

A fresh new concept needs an open-minded customer base, so the siblings focused their customer acquisition efforts on young adults. Their target customers were open to new things online and attracted to high-quality items at affordable price points.

At first they used word of mouth and influencer marketing tactics to drive sales. Sophie says, “[influencers are] still a cornerstone of our marketing strategy.”

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They used a customer-friendly returns policy to keep customers happy

BonLook decided to offer a flexible returns policy from the get go – which is still in place today. “The main idea was to remove the risk component, by telling people that if you are not comfortable, you can always send the product back and we will cover the cost,” explains Louis-Félix.

They struggled and pivoted, changing their business model

Despite their customer-friendly and forward-thinking efforts, they initially didn’t see the kind of growth they had projected. They suspected that many eyewear customers don’t feel comfortable buying online without trying on the glasses beforehand. They decided to take their business beyond their domain and began hosting shopping events in their Montréal office in 2014. They promoted the events on Facebook and were pleased to discover that they were an immediate revenue-bumping hit.

They experimented with an omni-channel strategy

Inspired by the results of their retail experiment, BonLook took a leap of faith and expanded their modest omni-channel strategy, opening a store in a nearby mall. After their experiment proved to be a success, they opened more stores elsewhere.

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Today, BonLook is fully invested in their omni-channel approach, with 32 stores spread out across Canada and 10 more on the way.

“Going omni-channel was the ideal solution for BonLook to broaden its market,” says Louis-Felix. Customers can connect with the brand in whatever channels they prefer and all delivery is done by Canada Post, which is, “quite honestly, the only game in town when it comes to e-commerce,” since customers can choose whether they want the package dropped off at home or at a nearby Canada Post kiosk.

Sophie and Louis-Felix have opened 15 new stores in the last 12 months. Their disruption of the global eyewear industry is well underway, thanks to their openness to change. The critical takeaway here is that in a rapidly evolving marketplace, your business needs to adapt. If just e-commerce or just retail isn’t working, omni-channel might be the right path for you.

1 eMarketer. Retail & E-commerce Sales, North America, May 2019.

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