We started selling cowboy boots and flip-flops from a converted Airstream trailer in downtown Austin in 2014. It was an amazing experience and an opportunity to learn from our customers what people really care about in a boot buying experience.
We sold from our downtown location for many years, and also brought two other Airstreams to various public and private events around town, spreading the joy of boots and flops to thousands of people. So selling in person, and specifically in a friendly, intimate setting, is baked into our DNA.
In June 2020, we switched our focus to ecommerce and launched a new brand and new online store. But it wasn’t because we didn’t like selling in person from the Airstream. It was a truly special thing — a place where we as small business owners got to directly connect with our customers — and we loved it. We loved it so much that we’ve tried to re-create the Airstream experience in our ecommerce presence as much as possible.
Even though we’re still a small business, we’re focused on creating the best customer experience around. And a big part of that is thinking back to what worked in the Airstream.
We enjoyed talking to people in the shop: getting to know them, making new friends, seeing if they’d ever worn cowboy boots before, and finding out why they were in Austin or stopped by our shop. When we thought about focusing all of our efforts on our website, we wanted to have that same kind of friendly, casual feel.
So we worked hard to write conversational, friendly content that has some real personality to it. We always try to make the site sound similar to how we talked to people in the shop — no stiff copy or marketing buzzwords.
A Feast for the Senses
Shopping in the Airstream engaged all the senses. Well, maybe not taste. That would be gross. But usually the first thing a customer would say is how great the leather smells. People could get up close and see the quality, touch the product and feel the construction, hear the pop of their foot going into a boot as they tried it on and how the heel sounds striking the ground.
It’s not easy to bring that online. But here’s what we’ve done so far to replicate it as closely as possible:
- Photography/Video: It was important for us to have a lot of high-quality photos of our boots and flip-flops, along with video to show them in action. We believe you can get a strong sense of the quality through great content.
- Free Exchanges: So much of what you like or don’t like about a boot is in the fit and feel. So we let people try them on at home and exchange or return them if they aren’t quite right.
- Unboxing: While we can’t offer the smell or sounds of the Airstream online, we did put a lot of focus on having beautiful, unique packaging that makes unboxing your new boots an experience in itself.
Outstanding Customer Experience
We got used to forming personal relationships with customers when selling out of the Airstream. It was one of the most important and rewarding parts of the business back then. We’ve tried to keep that relationship building at the core of what we’re doing online as well, offering a high-touch customer experience that makes it easy to buy.
So many companies that sell online are purely transactional. We think both the seller and the buyer lose something with that approach. Here are a few of the things we’ve done to try and bring back an outstanding customer experience and service:
- Founder-Led Customer Service: Alvies’ co-founder, Clay Sexton, is in charge of customer service. That’s how important it is for us. He brings a lot of the same approach and customer-first attitude to online service as he did when he was selling in the Airstream. If you’ve ever emailed or called us with questions, chances are you’ve talked to Clay.
- Sizing Robot: We’ve invested in a tool we call our Sizing Robot, an automated sizing guide that can tell you what size you wear in Alvies boots and flops based on other shoes you have in your closet. It’s quick and easy to get your size, and we find that people who use it rarely need to exchange for a different size.
- Post-Purchase Check-in: I send an email to everyone who buys boots or flops from us a couple weeks after purchase. I thank them for buying from us and tell them they can reply if they have any questions or feedback. As a small business owner I really do appreciate every purchase, and have gotten some excellent replies over the last year (overwhelmingly positive, with some constructive).
- Thank-You Notes: In addition to the email, I also send out a handwritten thank-you note to anyone who buys boots or flops. This started as something we did to celebrate our 1-year anniversary in June, sending a note to anyone who had purchased in the past year. But it got such a great response that we’re now doing it for every order.
- Fit Sherpa: This is one of the programs I’m most excited about. Earlier this year, we started offering a free fit consultation to anyone who buys a pair of boots from us. Fit can be a tricky thing with cowboy boots, and sometimes you just need an expert to talk you through how a boot feels and how it should fit.
Have an idea of how we can improve our customer experience even further? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.