How TOMS Is Winning Through Focusing On Design

Yaw Purple

Yaw Aning

Founder & CEO

Stacy Carpenter

Stacy Carpenter, Director of Customer Experience at TOMS, shares how she's turned her love for design into a differentiator for TOMS.

Follow TOMS - Website / Twitter

in their words

This is where design can really shine and really lead you down the pathway toward greater conversion and greater revenues and increase profitability. Because what design can do is – it is like the psychological conversation with a customer.

Stacy Carpenter, Director of Customer Experience at TOMS

Podcast Transcript

Y: Yaw

S: Stacy

S: This is where design can really shine and really lead down the pathway towards greater conversion and greater revenues and increase profitability because what design can do is it is like the psychological conversation with a customer.

Y: Welcome to Touchpoints! A show where we celebrate the stories of Direct to Consumer leaders, marketers, and operators that are creating breakout brands in the digital era.

I’m Yaw Aning. I’m the co-founder & CEO of Malomo, a shipment tracking platform that believes in helping brands drive deeper relationships with customers.

Behind every great brand are great people in the trenches every day, putting in the work needed to help these brands grow and develop.

Today we take an inside look at TOMS. For those of you that don’t know TOMS, TOMS is a fashion and apparel company that was one of the first dtc brands to become popular due to its iconic mission: giving away a pair of shoes to those in need whenever a customer made a purchase. They call this the One for One Movement.

TOMS took the world by storm as an early pioneer in the direct to consumer space, and experienced incredible growth due largely to its novel mission and business model.

TOMS began in 2006, and a lot has changed since then.

To give you an idea, here was the hottest tech from that year.

The apple iphone was released, texting just surpassed phone calls, the Motorola RAZR was the most popular phone, facebook was at 20 million users while Myspace was valued at $35B, and Netflix just launched its streaming service. Oh, how times have changed.

During that time, brands had all the power and consumer trust was built through large, elaborate marketing campaigns. Social networks, robust digital experiences, and the rapid dissemination of information were just beginning.

Social media and technology like smartphones democratized the power so that consumers could demand more from the brands they buy from and access an enormous amount of information. At the same time, platforms like Shopify made it incredibly easy to start an online store creating an abundance of choice for the consumer.

Over the last 12 years, these technologies advanced exponentially and consumers now have the power to get anything they want, on demand.

This created two challenges for TOMS.

Their novel mission became table stakes as thousands upon thousands of brands attempted to emulate the success TOMS experienced by leading with a mission of their own, causing a “brand mission” to become table stakes in today’s dtc environment.

Secondly, as consumer behavior adapts to new technologies, the digital experience continually moves beyond the desktop, into all different types of devices, such as the smartphone, tablets, watches, and even glasses.

So, How did TOMS adapt it’s way of doing things to meet these consumer expectations and continue to thrive in this new era of retail?

Enter Stacy Carpenter, Director of Customer Experience at TOMs. She was brought on to guide TOMS through these changes. A designer by trade, Stacy is consistently pushing the boundaries solving consumer problems and translating TOMS initiatives into an experience that captivates audiences and drive results.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Stacy revamped the TOMS buying experience when they saw that 50% of customers who understood the TOMS mission bought more and bought more often.
  • How TOMS interjects more touchpoints into the buying experience but actually increasing conversions and sales in the process.
  • How as consumers shift from desktop to mobile, Stacy turned TOMS into a true mobile first brand that turned the mobile experience into a driver of growth.

So could you start with your journey as a UX/UI designer and now leading the customer experience team at TOMS?

S: I came in as a UX/UI designer and some of my first projects were auditing our website to see how mobile-friendly it was. I actually came from designing and focusing on mobile apps for a mobile cellular company. I came from AT&T so I brought that expertise to TOM's immediately. And then within my role of defining our mobile strategy, obviously, mobile traffic was growing exponentially to the website so that became a more important part of the Tom's e-commerce team. I was able to get promoted to Senior UX Designer and then shortly thereafter UX manager where I managed our UX and UI team. We strictly focused on the e-commerce business and also telling the brand story on Toms.com. And then from there I took on our content team which owns all of our digital content and produces content for all of our key products and brand story and then received another promotion to Director of Customer Experience which is also where I took on customer service, to have that complete end-to-end view of the customer journey from entering Toms.com to on, so nurturing those relationships and the lifetime value of each customer.

Y: Stacy’s rocketed to leadership as the head of customer experience in only 4 years. She attributes her quick growth to her goal-oriented nature.

S: I'm very goal oriented and I've always worked at very fast paced companies, so I toggled in my career with fashion and technology and gone back and forth between the two, but every company that I've worked has always been extremely deadline-driven and as always moved very quickly. So what I was able to bring to TOMS is that importance of being goal-driven and being deadline-driven and being able to execute upon a vision on a direct timeline. When I first got to TOMS a lot of the groups were kind of just working on projects ad hoc it was kind of like whoever raised their hand the tallest and not necessarily which projects were going to have greatest impact on revenue, conversions and also brand affinity and lifetime value. So I brought that more clear focus to the team and I think that's why I was able to be promoted so quickly because I was able to focus on projects that really move the needle of the business and was recognized for that.

Y: To Stacy, design wasn’t just making something look good or function better. Design was a tool to impact the growth and trajectory of the business. She was intentional about finding projects that could demonstrate tangible impact to TOMS. She focused on finding design projects that had direct line of sight to customer lifetime value and brand affinity.

S: There have been so many projects that I feel like have had a major impact on the brand and our revenue goals throughout the years, but some of my favorite are

  • We did a complete overhaul of the website, and it never actually came into fruition because we had to step away from the project for other reasons - it was a platform migration project - but I was really proud of the work that we put into that project & integrating content with commerce. Up until this point, and honestly still now, I feel like we have separate sections for shopping and separate sections for learning. So what we were looking to do was with this new site was to learn and shop at the same time. Again like you can't change customer behavior too much, but you can influence it and that's where the merging of content & commerce was going. So when I'm on a product detail page I not only have everything I need to add something to cart, but I'm also bringing in information about the brand and the purpose behind the product that you are purchasing. So that project that was really proud of even though I never actually launched.
  • Another really exciting project that we launched was called Choose Your Country where a customer had the opportunity post-purchase to choose the country that they wanted their shoes, their giving shoes to go to and that's just gave us a ton of really interesting insight and data into how passionate our customers were about our brand purpose and how we can integrate that experience up funnel into the path to purchase.

Y: What like, what was happening inside the business that uncovered to you and your team that, “hey we really need to build a content strategy around the products in the business!”.

S: We got some really interesting data and research from a consulting company and what it told us was that 50% of the customers of TOMS.com knew about our brand purpose and had a really high lifetime value and AOV, conversion the gambit. But in the other 50% of customers that came to TOMS.com did not know we were a giving, mission-driven company and their lifetime value was lower, their conversion rate was lower, and there AOV was lower. Wo when we saw that we were like, “This is a humongous opportunity for the brand. right?” Now, like, how do we take that 50% and carve out those customers and integrate more of our content into the path of purchase to againn elevate their shopping experience to get them into that other 50%?

Y: It’s amazing to think that half of all of TOMS customers had no idea about their one for one mission. This was a huge insight for Stacy and her team.

S: It was a pretty jaw-dropping number when we saw it. But at the end of the day, people are busy and some people just like the fashion aspect of the shoes. You know people don't tend to read, people don’t tend to, the average person doesn't do a ton of research. They might have just seen the shoes somewhere and gone, “That shoe’s popular, I think I'm going to buy it!” and really not look for anything else, right? Like some people are just purely driven by the fashion sense of the product, they also they just don’t read. They just didn't even notice it. Maybe if they look back now and prompted the question they would notice, but again, people are busy people have their own stuff going on.

Y: And what about the other 50% of customers who did understand the mission?

S: They have a much higher lifetime value so they purchase more frequently, their conversion rate was higher, they had a higher average order value. So even though they purchase more frequently, they they also purchase more, more frequently. So people that did care about the brand, knew about the brand, bought more. Which seems like logical to most people but also it was great to see some numbers that back up what we already thought and also finding ways, “Well how can we grow that percentage but also nurture those customers?” because you don't want to lose those customers right and overtime TOMS is special because it was one of the first mission driven brands. Especially one of the most popular ones but now there are a gazillion mission-driven brands there and so many people have been inspired by the movement that TOMS started. So you need to find a way to nurture your existing customers while still introducing new audiences.

So what's special about Tom's is nothing like TOMS existed 12 years ago but, but now like you said there are a ton of brands - in fact it is table stakes - you have to have some form of mission or some sort of charitable donation aspect of your brand. For TOMS in keeping TOMS relevant what has been important has been constantly looking and evolving and progressing and researching. So we're actually about to embark on a complete evolution of our purpose and instead of focusing on a direct one-for-one, we are focusing more on issues that matter to our customers and also creating a stance like we've never really done before. So you might have noticed this past November our founder went on the Jimmy Fallon show and he announced we were going to be donating the largest corporate donation ever to arrange organizations that are focused on gun safety and gun control and ending gun violence. So that was something very new for TOMS so now we're looking for more ways that we can take a stance on issues that matter to our customer base and our employee base. So I think you'll see a pretty amazing evolution of the way we approach our giving and the way we talk about it with our customers. I think they'll be much more involvement with our customers in much more interaction, right? Because the whole industry has changed. It used to be that the company created its values and its product and customers bought it. So it was all supply based. But now everything is demand base, right? Customers are creating a demand for products that suppliers are then looking back and filling that demand and we're trying to shift the way we approach our model and are giving to meet that new business model.

Y: TOMS believes that by taking a strong point of view on issues that matter to its customers, it can better align with those customers. But taking a stance is not without risk.

S: There's a definite risk to taking any strong point of view in today's world. And TOMS is always luckiest fontunately that giving shoes to children in need is pretty highly uncontroversial. But obviously gun violence in America is very controversial. So we knew going into it that not our entire customer base is it going to go along with us. TOMS is very lucky in that we have a very wide range of customers. So we run the gambit. We have blue states, we have red states, we have Democrats, we have Republicans, we have Independents, we have everyone. We're very lucky. But what I thought it was interesting was that some people in the organization actually anticipated a much stronger backlash than we actually got and the amount of people that came to TOMS because of the stand that we took just way overshadowed any sort of backlash that there was. Because at the end of the day I think gun control is a very controversial subject in America, the underlying issue is not so controversial. Like we really focus on universal background checks. Anyone that goes to purchase a gun should go through a background check. This is something that at least like 95% of people - whether or not they own guns or don't own gun - believe it. So we really wanted to focus on underlying issues that are much less controversial than the issue and its totality.

What's amazing is we have an entire giving team and they really focus on research and finding out, what those issues are that our customer base cares about and also just the larger population cares about? and they also found the organizations that are doing the best work, the most impactful work in those areas.

Y: As TOMS refocuses its mission, it’s Stacy and her team’s job to figure out how to translate this new mission into experiences customers have.

Getting customers to buy into a single mission or issue is already difficult.

Case in point, TOMS is the pioneer of mission driven branding and, remember, only 50% of their customers actually knew what their mission was.

With the addition of multiple issues, Stacy must figure out how to make their customers aware of the many issues they now support.

S: So what we do is we look at the entire customer journey right? Like every step along the customer journey and also the customer intent along the customer journey. So the way we break it down is

  • Engagement -which is any sort of landing experience
  • Browse - which is when the customer is kind of just researching and going through different parts of the website and then actual...
  • Conversion - where they purchase an item and then…
  • Nurturing - so post purchase, how do we continue that relationship with the customer and make it even stronger?

...and then throughout those customer intents we break down the sections of the site that go along with each customer intent nd then areas of the site that we can emerge content and commerce - again to elevate that intent and also guide to customer down the path to purchase.

Something that we're looking at is as soon as the customer lands on TOMS.com creating individualized, unique experiences that immediately bring them into our brand. So instead of landing them on a home page or a product detail page or an index page, actually igniting conversation with them and ask them, “What is your issue?” So give them some options that say “here are the things that we are focused on, we want to know what you're interested in” and we want to have them pick an issue... and then a issue follows them all the way through their path to purchase and all the way through their path to purchase we're letting them know how their purchases impacts the issue that they care about.

we're starting simple. We have our overall company values that we have aligned some issues to. And we know that people can be overwhelmed by choice, so we're going to be presenting the customer with four choices. There are four issues that align with larger buckets right? Specially, here we're focused on the UN goal of sustainability so a lot of the issues that we focus on are also aligned with the global sustainable goals and so the customer can pick one of those issues and then that carries with them through the path to purchase. And then we want to see how it goes. We want to gather some data...we want to get some reactions ...we went to get some feedback and maybe we'll need to expand out those choices, we’ll need to add “Other” where the customer can enter their choice...but the idea is to start somewhere that is doable and then expand out from there.

Y: It seems like - which I think is kind of interesting - Stacy actually putting more touch points into the purchase journey between where somebody identifies they want to buy a pair of shoes and when they actually make a purchase, actually increasing the customer journey, which almost seems counter-intuitive in e-commerce where most brands are trying to reduce the number of places that someone has to navigate to to get to the buy button. “why are we adding more complexity to the buying journey?”

S: Yeah definitely and the way that we're seeing it is again, trying to understand a culture in the team of not being afraid of trying something different... not being afraid of trying something new. We might fail, this might not perform well. We don't know….but if it doesn't, we're going to fail fast and then optimize and we're going to try something different but the idea is to create a culture that is unafraid to try something different that might go against the grain a bit and be able to learn an optimized from each iteration.

TOMS has a very startup, entrepreneurial culture and I think that really comes from our founder Blake. He is very entrepreneurial and always wanted to try things and I think that is very ingrained in the culture and it's unique and special at TOMS. So for us, I think there's always that human aspect to it - that people are afraid to fail & people are often afraid to try new things. So you want that feeling to be widespread across the team and across the employee base of embracing new things and embracing change and also embracing the fact that something may not do well in that is okay. I think that is something that's really hard for people because you feel as an employee at a company that everything you do should do well because that will mean that you will reach your goals and you will be praised or whatever else that might come with but I feel like you should also get praised for trying something and it not doing well because you learn more from those opportunities.

Y: Stacy has quite the pulse on customer behavior and how that behavior changes over time. She walked me through TOMS mobile strategy and how it’s becoming an increasingly important aspect of the customer experience.

S: So when I first started at TOMS, the team really wasn't looking much at the journey of our website on a mobile device. So when it was designed in the first place, it was designed really for desktop, which all designers love because it's big and beautiful and it's great to present and you have unlimited space and then everything just kind of scales down to mobile because it was a responsive framework...but they didn't really think about that mobile as an individual device much like I as an individual have unique tastes and preferences, devices also have unique tastes and preferences. And the way I use those devices as an individual is different. So conversion tends to be lower on mobile, right? People are not so used to converting on mobile but engagement and browsing tend to be much higher on mobile. And when you think of it - from a design perspective - you want to design it in a way that people are using your website on the device that they are using it on ...and that's where that design thinking comes into play because without designer thinking, I’ve designed a website and its scales down and great, I'm done, I don't need to do anything else...but a designer comes in and “eeerrr no!” Customer intent tells me the way a customer interacts with the website on a different device is completely different. So you can't just take your design from desktop then scale it down. You need to actually look at each experience and see how you can elevate that experience on the device that is being experienced on.

So when I first came to TOMS the company had just launched its first responsive website. So before they didn't have a website that was responsive that scale down to mobile. There was a mobile app but there wasn't a team dedicated to that mobile app so it was kind of just ignored. So really when I started was the first time we even had the infrastructure and foundation to pay attention to mobile and that…. and I know the iPhone came out in what was it like 2006 or 2007 or 2008... but it was interesting I don't think people actually started thinking about shopping on websites and interacting with websites on their mobile device within a browser really until 2012, 2013, 2014. So you know it took quite a while for that to even become a thing and then once it became a thing, it quickly became a thing quickly because people were quickly on their mobile device, right? Looking at websites on a browser. But up until then everything was either app based or people were still on the desktop.


I also think it's important to remember when I'm at work, I'm on my desktop or I'm on my laptop. I do all my work on my laptop I don't do all of my work on my mobile device. So it's almost counterintuitive to then force a person to look at mobile and the way you interact with mobile because all day your job you're not interacting with your mobile device - at least you know, if you're doing your job...you might be, you might be on Facebook...you might be looking at videos or like TV but you actually don't do your job on a mobile device. And that's what I feel has been hard on the adoption of mobile design and mobile design thinking and that people are still stuck in this desktop/laptop mindset because that's where they do all of their stuff. And that's changing. More and more people are doing more on their mobile devices but it's still a shift and it's still not changing as quickly as the way shopping behavior’s changing which is much more rapid.

Y: Despite the trend with customers moving more toward mobile, building a culture that forces people to think about experiences across multiple devices.

S: Mobile-first is definitely like this big buzz word in the industry like everyone loves to say “We have a mobile first strategy or that our design is all mobile-first. If I'm going to be really honest, I think that's all completely BS. I don't think anyone is truly mobile first and has a mobile-first strategy - that is a company that is focusing in providing experiences across a wide array of devices.

But my philosophy coming in to TOMS was always just saying “Mobile, too” So I get it. Desktop is much more fun to design for many ways. A.) you're just used to it. B.) there's more space C.) it's what you're on...it's what you're doing your work on so you just know it better. But there's also something incredibly exciting about mobile and I wanted to make sure that people throughout the organization were just thinking about mobile. So not so much mobile first because that was unrealistic but just a mobile to don’t ignore it. Just look at it every single day. Get on your mobile device. Go on TOMS.com. Interact with it. Like what are your pain points? What are your issues? What do you think customers are experiencing on this device?... and quickly, you build a lot of empathy and also a culture around wanting to make it better, right? Because you're not like forcing it down people's throats or creating some form of methodology that is unrealistic for your business but just slowly bringing it into people's daily work flows.

Y: Stacy was the voice throughout TOMS making sure everyone was experiencing the site from the side that matters most; the customer

S: Yeah I think the job of any designer, right, is to educate and inform about the issues the customers are experiencing and mobile was a key focal point for the business. So it's easy to create the case...all you do is show the flow of traffic across devices over months & years and you very quickly see that traffic is moving towards mobile & moving away from desktop. But also you just need to get people comfortable with thinking about a different device in a different mindset in that is where the struggle comes in. Desktop is so ingrained in designers and organizations in general that there's a struggle. But every struggle is an opportunity and that's where I get really excited because if everything is easy and you don't need any buy in because you have buy in and everybody just agrees with you really quickly, then what's the purpose of you being there? What's the purpose of having designers because designers are there to identify problems and create solutions and also educate and inform upon those problems and solutions to the organization. So I see every struggle as an exciting opportunity and also a reason as to why I have a job!

Y: And her efforts paid off.

S: Yeah! What was exciting was that we were able to increase conversion on mobile pretty substantially and we were also able to prove out that a customer goes on mobile to browse and then comes back to desktop to convert. So you want to make sure that you are enhancing all of your browsing sections so that when they come back to desktop, they're able to convert pretty easily, right? and do you also want to make sure that those two experiences are connected. So I can browse on mobile, come back on desktop & everything is the same and it's ready for me to go to the next step which is to convert.

Y: I remember in fifth grade, my teacher walked into the classroom as the bell rang with her typical stack of books and folders. As she laid her books down, she took out her purse, and snagged a crisp 20 dollar bill from her wallet. She held it up to the classroom and asked, “what is this worth?”

The classroom was like a pack of hyena’s looking at a large wildebeest. “That’s 20 bucks! I could buy so much with that!” we all yelled.

She then held up your standard white printer paper, and asked, “ok, what is this worth?”

The class laughed, “that’s just paper, it’s not worth a thing!”

The teacher then took the white piece of paper and ripped it right in half. The classroom didn’t blink an eye.

She then took the $20 and ripped it, right down the middle of the bill. I’ve never seen kids more upset than I did right there, with any hopes of getting an easy $20 thrown out the window.

The teacher said, “The $20 bill and the white sheet of paper are essentially made out of the same material, they’re both paper. So why did you get so upset at the $20 being ripped and not the white paper? What is the difference between the two?”

After a few minutes of silence, she said, “trust - the difference in the $20 is that you see the green color and official government marks that you trust would be accepted at different stores when you buy something.”

For a brand, the same concept applies. The brands logo, color palette, and unique tone & voice are the key components of building trust with consumers, and trust is what helps separate brands from their competitors.

S: This is where design can really shine and really lead down the pathway towards greater conversion and greater revenues and increase profitability because what design can do is it is like the psychological conversation with a customer, So when I land on the website, I make a decision pretty quickly if this website is legit or not. And if it doesn't look legitimate - which is design, right? - I'm going to leave and then I am done. And that's why design is so important, because design is what makes a customer engage, move down the path to purchase and also feel like they're doing something that is legitimate & comfortable and that's what I feel is so important. And that's where the testing comes in because you want to test into making sure that you're designing experiences that make the customer feel really good about what they're doing and leading them to the next step of the journey. Because you can make one mistake and it can be the smallest thing. It can be a color, it can be an error message, it can be just a weird-looking design element and that's going to ruin the entire relationship with the customer so easily so that's why design is so key to the customer experience.

This is where I get kind of excited. So we do a ton of testing. We test different colors all the time. We test different forms of CTAs. We test different language all the time. So that's very ingrained into the team but at the end of the day and the reason why I get kind of excited is,

Y: When thinking about your brand and the focus on design, Stacy is adamant that every touchpoint counts.

S: I would say every detail matters and all those little details of the experience create the larger experience as a whole. In design, we talk a lot about microinteractions and edge cases and you know different use cases. But every single element in an experience tells the customer about your brand and either makes them feel really good about your brand or makes them feel like something is not, right?...like something is shady, like maybe they shouldn't be doing this. And what you want to do with your design and experience is ensure to the customer that they are making a great choice because at the end of the day with e-commerce that person is giving you their hard-earned money and that's a pretty insane thing, if you think about it. Like a person goes online, they find a thing that they like, and then without much hesitation, they put in their personal data, their credit card information, and they believe wholeheartedly that that product is going to end up at their doorstep. That's like a pretty crazy thing, if you think about it. That takes a lot of firm belief in that site that you are interacting with because you are giving away a lot of your information and you're also saying that you believe that that item is going to end up at your door without you having to do anything right? You're leaning on that company to do everything and you're trusting them. And that level of trust is not easy to gain and it's very easy to lose. So what I would say is really focus on building trust with your customers through your experience.

Yeah & the best brands do it the best, right? I mean at the end of the day, Apple is just selling phones and computers but somehow they've managed to create a whole experience around these devices. And their customers not only have so much trust in Apple but it's almost like a cult. Like they believe in Apple and at the end of the day a lot of the hardware is the same as any other device out there right so it's all through the experience of the brand that they've been able to sell this entire story and this entire experience of what you get out of paying twice as much for an Apple product versus Lenovo product.

Y: I’m Yaw Aning, thank you for listening.

I really hope you enjoyed listening to this episode as we enjoyed creating it!

Huge thanks to Stacy for sharing her story. You can find out more about TOMS at Toms.com.

The Touchpoints series is brought to you by Malomo. A shipment tracking platform that lets retailers create magical moments that drive engagement with customers after they buy.

To learn more about Malomo, go to www.gomalomo.com. That’s G.O - M.A.L - O. M.O

To listen to other episodes in this series, search on your favorite podcasting app, or visit www.gomalomo.com.