Boutiques find business boom with new live sales tool

Dec. 2, 2019

When a woman travels 1,400 miles to shop at a boutique, it’s not just about the clothes.

In late July, that woman – from Pennsylvania – and others from states as far as Kansas descended on a two-story, 20,000-square-foot warehouse at the I-29 Renner exit for Filly Flair’s first massive warehouse sale.

“They just want to experience it and see where their clothes come from,” founder Laura Benson said. “It’s the experience.”

But Benson knows there’s a little more to it than that.

Since launching her business from her basement in 2010, social media has been a not-so-secret weapon for her. With a Facebook page that swelled to more than 1 million followers, her customer base is worldwide and landed her among the elite of the online boutique world.

That’s how she became introduced to CommentSold, a fast-growing platform designed for live online video selling. Customers watch an online presentation of merchandise on Facebook or through an app and simply comment with the word “sold,” an item number and a size when they wish to purchase. That prompts the software to send an invoice through messaging, and the transaction can be completed.

“To be really honest, I think it’s going to change the way people shop,” said Benson, who began using CommentSold in 2018. “Why would you want to shop a Photoshopped picture when you can shop in a format that can tell you the fit?”

Benson’s customers quickly seem to be proving her right. After starting live sales, her already industry-leading business doubled in size – enough to convince her not to open a retail store in the warehouse as planned and invest in building up her studio for live sales instead.

“It was hypergrowth,” she said. “It really brings an experience. You’re not going to spend an hour at the mall, but you can lay in bed after the kids go to bed, and it’s entertaining, and you feel like you know who is presenting the product, and they can tell you more about the item.”

Which leads back to that warehouse sale in July. Benson knows her lives sales helped draw customers hundreds of miles to shop.

“As crazy as it seems, a lot of them want to meet me,” she said. “They feel so much more connected, and they know my life. I’ve done lives in my closet with my kids running around. I think that’s why.”

Benson also has gone live from her hotel room in Las Vegas during a buying trip. She offered newly found merchandise for sale and darted in and out of camera range trying it on for viewers.

“I found these shoes. and I showed a picture and said I’d let you pre-order and let’s see how many want them,” she said. “They sold out in an hour, so we went and got another thousand.”

Her studio inside the warehouse has multiple backdrops and is used daily. She’s hiring specifically to support the live video element of the business.

“The industry has changed,” she said. “People want the ease of use and customer experience, but they want the personal connection. They don’t care if it’s a professional photo, but they want to know it’s the right color and fit.”

Benson’s success is one of many for Brandon Kruse, the creator of CommentSold. Based in Alabama, he’s a serial entrepreneur who started working in software development as a teenager.

He was inspired to start CommentSold when his wife, Amanda, was struggling to get traction for her online boutique, Discount Divas, using Facebook and Shopify as her platforms. She would post a link to merchandise on Facebook, and people would like it, but they wouldn’t follow through and buy.

“So we talked about making the process easier,” Kruse said.

Instantly, sales jumped on Facebook. But they didn’t want to be reliant on the social media giant, so they developed an app that integrated the CommentSold technology and began offering it to other businesses in March 2017.

“Now, you have an extremely resilient business. Facebook can’t take it away from you,” Kruse said. “To this day, my wife’s company doesn’t have a website.”

Benson is a pro at it, he added.

“Seeing the deep-rooted relationships you can build by going live and interacting nightly or weekly is a fun parallel trend that never happened in e-commerce previously,” he said.

“It was the faceless, nameless web. And instead, you’re ordering from Laura, and you’re being entertained, and shopping is secondary. People don’t realize the impact of live sales. I relate it to a TV show where there’s a shift in content consumption. We’re getting off cable and onto streaming, but live is even more entertaining. Laura has about 1,000 times the engagement of QVC.”

CommentSold now supports more than 14,000 business customers – most of them boutiques.

“It’s crazy,” Kruse said. “It’s been an insane ride.”

He recommends going live at least three times a week, especially between 7 and 8 p.m.

“It’s what we call the power hour,” he said. “Everybody is home. And if you dive into the numbers, Laura is doing a relatively small number of individual shoppers, so to me that says the potential is huge. My wife was doing over $1 million per month in sales, and 80 percent was coming from north Alabama. One in four women in Huntsville had shopped. These people are tuning in, and they love consuming that content.”

Other boutiques in the Sioux Falls area also are finding success.

Amanda Christopherson had to pace herself with live sales for Brandon-based Beautique while her new warehouse was under construction earlier this year.

“We’ve had to be careful because we didn’t have room to grow until we moved into the new warehouse,” she said.

“We don’t do it daily … we want our customers going to the website and not only CommentSold, so it’s been a mix. We like it, and it’s great, but they also take a percent of sales, and it all depends on if your customer likes it.”

Katie Iverson, who owns the boutique Glamour Defined and handbag business Designer Arm Candy, decided to close her retail storefront in Harrisburg after experiencing significant growth through live sales using CommentSold.

“We definitely saw an increase in our sales because of the ease and convenience, and seeing the action of other women buying created a very high demand,” Iverson said.

That’s especially true with her designer handbag line, where inventory generally is limited to only one of each item.

“They know if they are interested they have to jump on it and comment ‘sold’ or someone else will grab it,” she said. “It’s not unheard of to do 10 bags, which is pretty big, and if we do a live sale, we could sell out or sell 80 percent of them in less than 15 minutes.”

By late April, online sales accounted for more than 82 percent of her business.

“CommentSold really was a deciding factor in closing down our storefront for Glamour Defined,” she said. “It made more sense to focus on what was working and lower our overhead.”

She now has a 6,000-square-foot warehouse in Harrisburg to support the boutique’s apparel and accessories, her handbag line and a print shop she uses for a T-shirt business. Her husband built a 1,000-square-foot studio into the warehouse.

By the time she did a pre-Black Friday sale recently, she used prerecorded videos, sat back and watched the business roll in as she got ready to ship.

“We’ve been doubling our year-to-date sales since I started the business, and CommentSold has been a huge factor because of the ease of convenience and how it saves time and creates demand,” Iverson said.

“It’s been cool to watch how it’s influenced our business in so many ways I didn’t know were possible, and it gets new consumers. It’s really taken us to places I never thought were possible.”

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Boutiques find business boom with new live sales tool

“To be really honest, I think it’s going to change the way people shop.” You might say every day is Cyber Monday for boutiques using this new tool that’s causing sales to shoot up.

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