Physical fabric swatches

Shopify Hack

TL;DR An experiment to test if the option of having swatches of fabrics posted to them would then make users more confident ordering online.

Fabric library and swatch request page, note some of the filters on right side to filter fabrics shown


This case study documents an experiment to implement fabric swatch/sample ordering functionality to and the outcome this had on customer behaviour, particularly average order value over the initial three months.

  • Make it possible for customers to easily order multiple swatches of fabric for a potential bag order, removing uncertainty and potential for order return/exchanges or ongoing customer dissatisfaction if not exchanged.
  • Set up with minimal cost and development time and resources.
  • Promote in-store, via customer support enquiries and in an email newsletter sent to over 3000 subscribers.

The problem

As a designer and maker of made-to-order bags and accessories (, password — “handmade”) the majority of orders I receive are for products that are not yet made and from repeat customers or individuals directly referred by friends that are existing customers.

The bags themselves are constructed from a black synthetic canvas (Cordura®) and an area of feature fabric which is the detail that makes each bag unique.

Example of the current range of fabrics available for the Travel Shoulder Bag

Customers can therefore be a little uncertain which fabric they like, using the website as a way to preview the bags and ordering the bag in person when they visit in-store the mattt SHOP in Melbourne.

I identified the following main problem areas:

  • As many customer live interstate or overseas it can often be quite a while before they visit Melbourne and the fabrics they like may no longer be available (or they may purchase a bag somewhere else in the meantime).
  • Selling a growing proportion of bags online (currently 78% of all orders) there has also been a significant increase in order returns/exchanges where a fabric isn’t what a customer expected.
  • A number of newer materials such as the kangaroo leather are far more popular in-store than online. This may be due being that it is a difficult material to fully communicate online (in particular the texture and matte finish) and is also a little more subtle than brighter printed fabrics.
Modal preview of the Travel Shoulder Bag in Black Kangaroo Leather

The solution

As this functionality was an experiment to measure customer response and impact on order average value I intended to create the functionality with the minimal development and setup time possible, offer the functionality for an initial three months and measure the impact.

At it’s simplest this functionality would allow customers to view, compare and order small swatches of fabric which would then be posted to the customer in an envelope along with product information and personalised discount code.

This would be complemented by tagging the requested swatches with the customer surname creating a personalised “wish list” on the website (entering their surname in the search box would display the products). This was a simple way to link the physical and online, also making it easier for customers to easily share their selections with friends and family to obtain further feedback.

💡 As these links were public yet not know to other customers it was easy to track these with Google Tag Manager (GTM); basically a more robust version of Google Analytics, to check traffic on these pages (including the number of unique IP addresses they were visited from) to track sharing with friends etc.

The swatches themselves are small pieces of fabric collected during the production process, using these swatches up-cycling what would otherwise be waste. This also meant there was no direct cost associated with producing the swatches.

To minimise development and ensure consistency with other parts of the website the code used for the Accessories page was reused for the fabric library.

Screenshot of the Accessories page

Slightly edited for the fabric library this gave:

Fabric library page

Which basically added a link to view all the products in a particular fabric and moved a REQUEST A SWATCH button under each image. As customers might order several swatches at once this button was modified so that upon requesting a swatch the customer remained on the fabric library page and the button updated to SWATCH IN CART.

REQUEST A SWATCH updating to SWATCH IN CART, note background colour and text update

Another small refinement (copied from the bag product pages) was to have the image switch to a second image when scrolled over. This shows a bag in the fabric (the reverse to the bag pages which show the fabric) to give a better idea of scale.

In total it took approximately two hours to edit the code, create the the fabric swatches “products” and debug any small problems. As this was entirely done by myself, there was minimal cost apart from the time taken.

💡 As this was an experiment and there was minimal additional cost for customers ordering more than a couple swatches I decided to test the idea with very few terms or conditions. Any major abuses of this (say a customer ordering twenty swatches) could then be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

A small delivery cost ($10 for express, $5 for standard delivery) was setup which was credited towards a subsequent order by the customer (so it could be seen as a deposit or credit rather than expense by the customer).

This also made it easy to offer this service at no cost to certain customers with a discount code that would make them eligible for free delivery.

Example of the checkout page for swatches showing the delivery options.

When customers ordered a selection of swatches I include a couple of additional somewhat similar samples Ilalong with a sample of the outer canvas used and grey canvas for the lining.

I found this strategy quite successful as it introduced a sense of surprise and delight with the customers while also driving several orders of kangaroo leather or more subtle fabrics that weren’t originally requested.

Metrics measured

As this was an experiment intended to clarify the impact on average order value and online customer behaviour (pages visited and duration) along with more general feedback, ways to easily measure and compare these metrics were developed when the fabric library page was set up.

Some quantitative strategies used were:

  • Establishing baseline values for average order value both online and in-store.
  • Setting up triggers and testing appropriate URLs in Google Tag Manager (GTM) so that onsite and referral traffic (email newsletter and customised links sent to individual customers) could be readily tracked.
  • Postcards were created for in-store distribution that publicised the functionality with a unique URL (so this referral source/channel could be measured).
  • Tagging customer accounts with SWATCHES/ONLINE or SWATCHES/OFFLINE when orders were placed for swatches so this would be visible in details of subsequent orders.
  • These data sources were all used to calculate and track the proportion of total orders that were instigated by the swatch functionality, average change in order value.
  • In addition to this more general feedback was collected to establish the segment of the customers (new, repeat or fanatic — see Online Survey Case Study for details) and whether the orders were for gifts or own use.


Initially there was very little structured promotion undertaken, this was to ‘stress-test’ the functionality and check it made sense to customers on a one-to-one basis before promoting it heavily (and checking that it didn’t take to much time for me to process the orders etc).

The ways I did promote the functionality was:

  • Suggested during live chat and email support queries with customers, particularly when they mentioned they might be trying to decide between a couple of fabrics.
  • In-store postcards with details and a unique URL. I also had a selection of swatches ‘ready-to-go’ in-store that customers could take for $5 (as no delivery cost was involved). As each $5 payment being redeemable on the website when a bag was ordered, having a unique redemption code made it possible to link specific in-store customers to specific orders.

After the first month (and after some slight refinements were made) I promoted it through a regular email newsletter sent to over 3000 customers. As I had tested the functionality over the preceding month and adjusted descriptive text/explanations along with fine tuning the GTM setup this didn’t see a big impact in terms of time managing the swatch ordering.


Based on feedback from customers over the first month of use I made a number of small refinements to the functionality.

The major change was the creation of standalone landing pages for each fabric designer (see below).

Landing page for Spacecraft, describes background of designer along with all the bags in the fabrics they printed.

This allowed the products linked to from the fabric library to have a greater context for customers (they were taken to the page with all the products by a the designer rather than just the one fabric so could see the background details).

By having a dedicated page for each designer it also made it more worthwhile for the designers themselves to link to the page from their own websites, this along with well structured internal links had a positive impact on the site SEO performance.

Screenshot showing expanded navigation and FABRICS & DESIGNERS section

An unintended benefit of this refinement was that this made it easier for customers to discover both the designer pages and fabric library in the site navigation. This also made it far easier to few a number of different sized bags in a particular fabric; this was previously only possible using search.

Some other potential refinements are:

  • The ability for customers to order a number of swatches along with a gift voucher to give as a gift. This would require a redesign of the collateral used to post and package the swatches (including a physical gift voucher), though could be a fantastic way to personalise a gift voucher especially for those not used to shopping online.
  • A bimonthly/seasonal subscription where customers received new fabrics when they were launched. This might be particularly successful if targeted to customers with high order frequency (low time between orders) or those that had just placed their first order (as this initial enthusiasm for a new online purchase and positive comments from friends and family is best capitalised upon in the first 30 days of use when still a novelty).

The outcome

Whilst first implemented as an experiment to solve a problem that difficult to quantify, the customer interest, feedback and impact on sales has shown that this type of non-standard can have a positive impact on the customer experience.

Fabric swatches was initially offered in-store in a very ad-hoc manner; a customer couldn’t make a decision, I’d give them a couple of offcuts to take home and that’d later order online after checking if a fabric matched other items in their wardrobe etc.

Yet after systemising and formalising this process online the customer response around the functionality was very encouraging, both due to number of orders and subsequent online orders placed and the extremely low cost to the business (and utilisation of what was previously a waste stream in fabric offcuts).

Additional benefits in regards to additional designer landing pages and SEO impacts are also significant improvements to the way customer interacted with the website.

Over the initial three months this functionality measured the following:

  • 48 orders for swatches, each with an average of 5 swatches requested per order
  • 240 swatches were ordered, reducing stockpile of offcuts by at least half
  • 82% of these could be directly linked to online orders
  • The average order value was $278 for these orders compared to $249 for orders placed regularly (approximately 12% increased value)
  • GTM found that 95% of these orders were visited from a single IP address an average of 4 times per order
  • 100% of postcards with paid swatches resulted in orders
  • 12% of postcards without swatches taken could be directly linked to an order


There were potentially many additional benefits from this experiment not related to an increase in average order value or improved traffic from SEO.

Whilst somewhat intangible and difficult to measure they could nonetheless have significant longer term impacts on customer satisfaction and positive associations with the brand as a whole.

This is based more upon customer feedback gathered throughout the experiment rather than quantifiable data or metrics.

These include:

  • Perception of brand and process of ordering a bag as more personalised and tangible, that I see the process as an ongoing conversation rather than a transaction.
  • The analogue nature of the functionality allowed customers to readily get a feel for the fabric rather than a complicated website feature.
  • Customers were given permission to be thoughtful and very considered in their ordering decision, reinforcing the idea that the bags are a high value and quality item while also adding to the perceived value.
  • Reduction in the number of exchanges/returns though perhaps more importantly a reduction in customer dissatisfaction where they might not exchange the bag though be somewhat frustrated every time it is used.
  • A positioning and marketing tool to demonstrate/reinforce thoughtfulness even to those that didn’t use feature. By communicating very definitely that I care that customers order a bag they love I will inevitably attract customers that value these attributes.
  • As this is something not many other online business could, or might think to offer this creates a great point of difference and reason for customers to continue to order my bags online.


Thank you for reading this short case study, if you’d like to know more about this project (or have any suggestions for how it could be improved) I’d love to hear from you.

I’d also be more than happy to share the code I’ve used (if you’re brave) if you might find it useful.

I’ll also be posting other write-ups of other E-commerce Hacks I’ve used to add extra functionality to my website.

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