A Small Business Start Up Brings Style to Online Shopping

Like many small businesses, Golden Tote’s origins weren’t initially online. Co-founders Sarah Becker & Sarah Sweeney (the “Sarahs”) would put together discounted grab bags highlighting their own clothing line as well as other designers’ offerings. They put them in an attractive tote bag so that customers could discover the selections made just for them. The result was enthusiastic, loyal customers.

Expanding into the E-commerce world was a natural fit for Golden Tote. The personal shopping aspect of what they already offered was complemented by the convenience of online shopping. Hitting the “Submit Order” button for a Golden Tote and the anticipation of its arrival would only enhance customers’ feeling of receiving a surprise that they gave themselves.

Moving that experience online would not be without challenges. Purchasing a Golden Tote couldn’t follow the standard E-commerce routine of browsing a product catalog and choosing the style, color and size of an item. If the Sarahs were going to curate a Golden Tote to provide a variety of items complementing a customer’s wardrobe, they would need to get a sense for each customer’s style profile. A blouse might match perfectly with a flower print blazer, but if flower prints were a “no-no” for a particular customer, that information was critical to avoiding a disappointing Golden Tote experience.

Technologically there would be challenges as well. The discounted price isn’t the only attraction of a Golden Tote. Each month they debut new core items different than the previous month. A new Golden Tote would go on sale the first Monday of each month and that meant heavy site traffic all at once by Customers not wanting to miss out. The site would need to keep up with a flood of simultaneous page views and transactions without slowing down, as well as the inventory database timely updating to avoid selling Golden Totes after they had already sold out.

A Sense of Customer Style

To best curate a Golden Tote for each customer, both basic and nuanced information was needed. From a basic customer satisfaction standpoint, knowing that they wear an extra small top and a size 26 in jeans avoids a return scenario. Style begins factoring in by getting the customers age range (so the selections are age appropriate) and a customer’s “never’s” for colors and clothing items (“I would never wear a mini-skirt”).

Honing in on a customer’s personal “sense of style” in an E-commerce context was more of a challenge. Having a customer type in a self-description wasn’t practical and likely would be more miss than hit for getting what Golden Tote needed. A conversation with the customer via live chat wasn’t only cost prohibitive for a small start up, but also would’ve been an obstacle to conversions by derailing the convenience of online shopping.

The solution was having customers answer a handful of simple, yet targeted questions to create “My Style Profile”. Drop down boxes took care of sizes, age range and a “never wear” color. A fill in the comment blank handled the “never wear” clothing and accessories issue.

Getting a better picture of a customer’s style was handled with 2 simple, yet insightful questions. First, the Sarahs came up with 3 sets of image collages illustrating various fashion styles (fashion forward, casual, more conservative). Customers choose one for “What look best describes your everyday style?”

The other insight into a customer’s style was by having them make a selection in response to “In need of some retail therapy, where do you most often shop?” Their choices ranged from the casual (The Gap) to the more formal (Saks Fifth Avenue).

When it came to E-commerce technology, among the Golden Tote site requirements were:

  • Simple drop downs, fill in comment sections and multiple choice questions.
  • Customers setting up an account to save their style profile(s).
  • A process where customers choose a product or two and then create “My Style Profile” so that a complete Golden Tote can be built around the item(s).

Magento was the go to technology because of its customization capabilities to handle Golden Tote’s E-commerce wrinkles. Golden Tote doesn’t have an extensive product catalog at this time and that aligns with Magento’s compatibility with catalogs of 1 or 1,000 items. As a start up small business, Golden Tote also benefited from the lack of licensing fees that result from Magento’s open source nature.

To handle the intense periods of heavy traffic when a Golden Tote sale begins, a unique scalability was implemented. For those times, Golden Tote is temporarily scaled up onto 8 servers via RackSpace. When the traffic tapers as Golden Totes sell out, the number of servers is correspondingly scaled down. This scalability not only avoids problems when Golden Totes go on sale, but also is a cost savings. Golden Tote only incurs additional server charges for the periods when they are necessary.

Across the E-commerce spectrum, customers have increasingly been shopping online via mobile devices and tablets. That is especially true for Golden Tote (nearly 40% of sales are via mobile device or tablet). Wherever their customers might be when a sale begins (i.e., away from a desktop computer) they want to access the sale as soon as it starts to avoid missing out on a Golden Tote. As a result, responsive design was implemented so that the site provides the best possible user experience whether on a desk top, tablet or smartphone.

Well Built for Now & New Endeavors

The Golden Tote and Endertech collaboration resulted in a well designed and developed E-commerce site. It efficiently facilitates the Sarahs providing Golden Tote customers with a personal shopper type experience in an online setting. It also realizes economic efficiencies by using open source technology (Magento) and scalable server space.

The Sarahs and the Endertech team continue to collaborate in growing and improving the Golden Tote experience. Through its Facebook page, Golden Tote has helped customers swap items with each other (e.g., customer receives a top in navy blue but would rather have it in Kelly green). A “Trading Post” is being developed to move the swapping activity to Golden Tote’s site, which will increase site visits and enhance customer loyalty.