In summer 2016, my company BarkBox scheduled a company retreat to a lake.
Within minutes of receiving an invitation, panic set in.
I had a drawer full of bikinis, but this was a work event, and I felt it would be more appropriate to wear a one-piece swimsuit.
I set out to find an appropriate swimsuit and, hard as I tried, I couldn’t find one that was right for the occasion.
The one-pieces that were available were either too childish, too revealing, too matronly, or designed for athletic performance… and I’m not exactly going out for the next Olympics.
Nothing out there was sleek, chic, timeless. And in none of it did I feel comfortable going on a work retreat to the lake.
I commiserated about this problem with my female colleagues and realized many of them had the same trouble finding a swimsuit as I did. Then I spoke to my female friends and family members, and learned that they, too, struggled to shop for swimwear.
I was hearing a chorus of voices saying loud and clear:
Shopping for swimwear sucks.
If you’re a woman reading this right now –– then I’m sure you, too, have had this experience.
It goes like this:
- You go into a store and find a suit.
- You head to the dressing room. It’s messy. It’s tiny.
- You have to get completely undressed under fluorescent lights.
- The curtain inevitably flies open.
It’s just the worst consumer experience.
And that’s not mentioning the fact that an elegant, high quality product is so hard to find.
As someone who has built my whole career on making better consumer experiences, I knew I wanted to fix the broken swimwear category.
So I mapped out what a company looks like that would solve both the experience and the product issues, and that’s how Andie was born.
The goal was to build a tightly curated collection of chic, timeless one-pieces for women to try in the comfort of their own home.
By fall 2016, I was building out a website and a team.
Direct-to-Consumer Bathing Suits That Don’t Suck
I knew this was going to be an ecommerce venture very early on because I wanted these suits to be affordable.
You actually can find beautiful, chic, timeless one-piece swimsuits –– but they’re $400.
I wanted to bring that price point down to $100, and offer the same level of quality.
That meant I couldn’t go wholesale where you have to mark the garment up 10x in order make any money.
Instead, I knew this needed to be direct from manufacturer to consumer. And that meant I’d need a website.
But there was a problem…
In order to do home try-ons, I had to vault credit cards.
Here is how that works:
- Someone comes to our website
- We need to collect their credit card information and then save it
- Then we need to send them the product and give them the week at home to try it on
- We also need to factor in a couple days for the product to get there, and a couple for it to get back
This meant we needed to be able to hold the credit card for at least two weeks.
And personally, I wanted to hold that card for more like 3 to 4 weeks so that we wouldn’t have to punish the customer and charge them if we hadn’t gotten it back by a certain day on the dot.
So, I started researching ecommerce platforms and couldn’t find one that supported that type of billing.
To be honest, I was doing 1,000 others things at the time –– you know, starting a business! –– and I thought:
“Oh no, this isn’t going to work!”
That’s when I contacted a developer. This is what I got back:
“I can just build something custom and then connect it on the back end to Stripe.”
So, that’s what we did, and in April of 2017 we launched Andie Swim on a completely custom platform.
And things immediately became a shit show.
I Lost My Marketing Ability Just to Take Orders
First of all, with a custom site, there are no integrations pre-built.
What that ultimately means is this:
There’s no data.
We couldn’t see our data. We couldn’t connect into MailChimp. We couldn’t do anything other than sell product on our website.
- No marketing.
- No data-driven strategies.
- No inventory management.
All we had was a website. There was no backend to it.
In fact, every time an order came in, we were marking it in a spreadsheet. That was insanity –– especially trying to keep up with how many orders were coming in.
On top of that, I didn’t have an in-house developer. And I don’t know HTML!
So, I couldn’t make any changes to the site. Not even a single word. It was all hard coded.
Needless to say, I was constantly freaking out.
And then it happened. We sold out of one of our styles, and I couldn’t mark it as sold out on the site.
I frantically called my developer, but he was moving on to other projects and didn’t have time. He wasn’t on retainer or anything. We didn’t have enough money at the time for that.
So, there we were, early summer 2017 –– already selling out of suits and my entire team doing manual inventory management. That’s when I knew something had to change.
I knew there had to be a solution, so I started calling around.
I Don’t Need Hand-Holding. Except When I Do.
I called BigCommerce, Shopify and other major players –– and the BigCommerce team was the only one that really listened to my issue.
Everyone else kept saying, “Yes, yes, we are great for ecommerce! We can do anything.”
But BigCommerce actually listened –– and talked me through the necessary credit card vaulting.
In fact, the woman I spoke with at BigCommerce immediately sent me a list of integrations that were pre-built for the platform as soon as we got off the phone.
One of them was Rebillia, which can do both recurring billing and well as credit card vaulting.
Now, lots of apps can do recurring billing, but most can’t handle our unique credit card vaulting needs.
Not only do we need to hold the card for up to 4 weeks, but we also have to tap it for a varying amount of revenue depending on how many swimsuits the women keep. So, we never know how much we’re going to charge on the card, and we need to only charge it once.
It gets pretty complicated –– but Rebillia solved for it.
Now, keep in mind, I was in peak summer season at this point. And I have a small team.
I’m trying to build an ecommerce business and I do not have time in the peak of summer to figure it out on my own.
BigCommerce had a team that walked me through it.
My rep checked in with me every 3 days and held my hand through the entire process. She recommended connections and apps. She even helped me find a developer for migration from our custom site.
Look, I know what you might be thinking: that this is just the type of thing BigCommerce would want me to say. That if I dove really deep into every platform, Shopify for instance, that I’d see they too integrate with Rebillia.
But, I’ll be honest –– BigCommerce’s customer support made looking at any other platform just not worthwhile.
Manual Work Turned into Marketing Prowess
Plus, launching on BigCommerce opened so many doors!
We were immediately able to leverage more marketing tools than ever before.
- We added SUMO to collect more emails.
- We integrated with MailChimp, just like we wanted to.
- We now use Endicia, a shipping platform that’s been so great.
It was just flawless. Everything that we wanted to use flowed right into the platform.
So, we just keep adding things!
Here are a few others we use:
It’s so fun to be able to see the data and have levers that we can pull to affect things from traffic to conversion to adding new products, testing colors, whatever it is.
And, I can do a lot of it myself, which is the best!
We do a lot of A/B tests, so I’ll put up a new color and then mark it as sold out and then see if people click on it, and that can help to inform the next color we produce.
We do all sorts of things like that now.
BigCommerce allows us to be nimble, and that’s the best way to grow. And grow is what we did.
We had explosive growth as soon as we replatformed onto BigCommerce.
15,000 Product Options –– Custom Cart Not Required
Oh, I’m almost forgetting! We did one other big, new, technical thing thanks to BigCommerce.
Since launching on BigCommerce, our site has had a build-your-own-kit functionality that I still can’t believe I didn’t mention sooner!
See, on the custom site, our store was so basic.
When someone ordered the box, we would just throw in the suit colors and send it to them and hope for the best. That’s an absurd way of running a business!
On BigCommerce, our developer built us this dynamic, build-your-own kit page. It’s a really sexy interface where customers can pick 3 suits with 5 different color options across 3 different styles and 5 sizes.
You could, for instance, pick an extra small in red of one style or a small in black of another style and an extra small in green of a third style if you’re not sure if you’re an extra small or small.
The means there are over 15,000 build-a-box potential options now available to our customers.
And for us on the backend, it’s so easy!
We are able to very quickly see in the BigCommerce orders dashboard what the kit is that the person built, and then we build it and ship it out.
That is a really cool thing. We no longer have to guess what someone’s favorite color is. They can quickly and easily do it themselves – and it’s a fun experience!
The Revenue Power of A/B Testing without Technical Chops
Once we started using BigCommerce, we could see the customer funnel on our website.
We immediately noticed that roughly 50% of people who built a box didn’t purchase.
So, we used SUMO to launch an exit-intent pop-up on the cart page to further encourage people to check out and not bounce.
Olark chat brought conversions up like crazy, too!
In general, we’ve just been A/B testing constantly since we’ve gotten on the platform.
One cool thing we found is that we saw sites like Stitch Fix or Truck Club charging a small fee for their home try-ons. So, we decided to test it.
Before, we didn’t charge a fee at all to try the suits. We would only charge you at the end when you decided to buy.
But, we added a $10 fee for two weeks to see how that would affect conversion and return rates.
What we found was that it did not adversely affect conversion. Conversion stayed flat. The same number of people were ordering despite the fee.
And instead, it actually helped to generate fewer returns –– meaning more people were ultimately buying a suit.
That’s because of the $10 fee.
If you kept anything, that fee would be credited to your order. People essentially felt like they were already making a little bit of an investment, so it was easier to decide to keep a suit than to send all three back and then lose the $10.
That was a great find! So, now we have a fee. Of course, it isn’t about the fee at all. It’s about the return rate.
All Charts Point Up and to the Right
It’s been a wild ride. The company has hardly been an idea for a year, much less a live website. But we’ve done so much in such a short period of time.
And I want other entrepreneurs to know: the barrier to entry is low.
Don’t be scared –– just try it! Platforms like BigCommerce make it so easy to start an ecommerce brand.
I spent a lot of time developing the brand, the look and feel. It looks great, but it’s evolving. The hardest lesson for me is to not be cautious about the brand and to take risks. You can get live with a website theme and just go for it, and iterate over time.
- So, take risks.
- It’s OK to change course.
- After all, there’s so much room to grow!
Now’s the time to test everything, go crazy and try wild things. I try to remember that every day.
Read More Andie Swim Coverage
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