Table XI Blog


Writing the book about accepting payments on the web

E-commerce is literally the most rewarding part of a web application — you can see money flowing into your company due directly to the code you have written. But dealing with payments and payment gateways is complicated and stressful. It's often the most complicated and precise business logic in a system.

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Shopify Helps Us Launch Maria Pinto’s New E-commerce Site,

Web banner for Maria Pinto’s site M2057 featuring a model wearing a blue dress.

“It’s certainly no coincidence Maria Pinto’s clothing and accessories make us feel amazing and empowered; it’s by design.”

— Kristina Moore, Forbes Magazine

This week we launched the brand new, the e-commerce site for fashion designer Maria Pinto’s new collection, M2057 by Maria Pinto, and the follow-up to her groundbreaking Kickstarter project. The successful campaign, which raised more than $270,000 this past fall, proved there was a market for Maria’s designs, so she decided to build an e-commerce site to make them more widely available.

This was a fun and interesting project for us, both since we were excited to continue working with Maria, and because it was our first time using the e-commerce platform, Shopify.

Building an e-commerce site from scratch is a long and expensive process, so for retailers who want to get their stores up quickly and affordably, Shopify presents a good option. The platform offers online retailers a cost-effective, off-the-shelf solution which includes hosting, customizable templates, and software to manage backend processes like order fulfilment and shipping.

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Tech + Fashion: Looking to the Future with M2057 by Maria Pinto

 Kickstarter banner for Maria Pinto's M2057 collectionFor the past few months, we've been working with internationally renowned fashion designer Maria Pinto to help her launch her new business and fashion collection on Kickstarter. This has been a real labor of passion for me personally. Maria is one of the smartest, most gracious and humble people I've ever met. She, like many entrepreneurs, has taken it on the chin professionally a couple of times over the years, and I'm working my hardest to help her get going again.

For those unfamiliar, Maria Pinto is well known in the fashion world for her work designing for Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and other celebrities, and for her high-end, highly constructed clothes. We owe the whole cultural consciousness surrounding "Michelle Obama's arms" to Maria's decision to put Michelle in a sleeveless dress at several prominent occasions. These dresses retailed for over a thousand dollars, with some reaching truly stratospheric levels (see Page 10 of the Spring 2010 collection for a yellow chiffon dress that has to be seen to be believed).

Model wearing the Isabella dress from Maria Pinto's M2057 collection

All of the excitement of the 2008 Obama campaign inspired Maria to expand her operations and open a retail store. Business was great for a while, but the economic headwinds of that era took their toll on her customer base, and Maria closed her store and stopped producing new collections.

I met Maria through our mutual friend, Emmanuel Nony, the fantastic restaurateur behind Sepia and NoMi. He mentioned a “fashion designer friend” who was considering re-launching her business on Kickstarter, and I had to hear more (admittedly, I knew who this friend was, and was very excited about the possibility of helping her with the campaign).

When I met up with Maria, it was clear that instead of re-launching her ultra-high-end collection, she was planning to create a new brand called M2057, named for the year she will turn 100. The new line is stunning, but better reflects the times in which we live. M2057 takes the same principles of structure and design, but the pieces are much more accessible: high quality, high value (dresses are $250), and designed to fit most body types and sizes. These dresses are perfect for any busy woman on the go, be it for work or for pleasure. I happen to be married to such a woman, and she concurs!

Since then, we've been working very closely with Maria on this, consulting on the project and building the M2057 website, so I've had a chance to see and touch the samples. The fabrics of these dresses are incredibly beautiful and they don't wrinkle, are machine-washable, travel well, and can be styled in many ways. I've watched rooms of women at the events we've been having around town light up when they see the product in person—the dresses are really that great. They've also gotten a lot of positive press attention.

In order to get the new business and clothing line off the ground, we've turned to crowd-funding site Kickstarter. The only way to buy the clothes is to "pre-order" by becoming a backer to support the campaign. We'll only be able to launch this new line if $250,000 worth of product is pre-ordered by October 14. When the goal is met, we'll go into production of the dresses and we will follow up with all backers on size, style, and color choices. Product will be delivered to your door in/around March, well in time for the spring season.

Model wearing the Sophia dress from Maria Pinto's M2057 collectionIt’s been a fascinating opportunity and challenge working on this campaign. Nobody has really cracked the nut of online retail for women’s apparel; the personal experience is so important when it comes to high quality fabric and design. Furthermore, to a bunch of techies, Kickstarter seems easy to use—you can create an account directly or just link it to your Facebook account. All payments are handled securely through Amazon. And you don’t pay unless the campaign closes. But to those unfamiliar with crowdfunding, it has proven quite daunting in various cases.

We’re right in the thick of the campaign now, with less than 20 days left to meet our goal. We are optimistic that we’ll get there, but it hasn’t been a walk in the park. So, if you’re inclined to check out the video and maybe support the campaign, that would make my day. It’s not everyday you have a chance to buy something truly special for you or a loved one and support a fabulous independent entrepreneur in the process. We’ll look forward to sharing more stories from the trenches and lessons learned from Kickstarter in a subsequent post.


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Fashion Meets Tech: Maria Pinto Partners with Table XI

M2057 by Maria PintoLabor Day Weekend marks the end of summer. For some of us, it signals the time to put away the summer clothes and dig out the sweaters. But for the team at Table XI, this Labor Day marked a different kind of fashion milestone. Over the weekend we helped Chicago-based designer Maria Pinto launch her newest collection, M2057 by Maria Pinto, offered exclusively for pre-order on Kickstarter. Maria is one of the first internationally known designers to launch a collection on the crowdfunding platform.

For anyone who follows Chicago fashion, Maria Pinto is a familiar name. With more than 20 years in the fashion industry, she’s dressed some of the world’s most stylish and influential women, including Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Brooke Shields. Her return to the fashion world has already started a buzz: This weekend the story was covered by The New York Times and Huffington Post.

It’s been an amazing opportunity to partner with Maria on such a pioneering campaign. We’ve had the chance to be involved from the initial brainstorming and strategy, through the video shoot (take a closer look and you’ll even spot our own Kat Achenbach!), to the launch.

M2057 on Kickstarter is a disruption of the fashion industry. It represents an innovative way to connect with customers, develop product in small iterations, and improve manufacturing efficiencies. The collection is something entirely new to the market, and is the result of years of customer feedback from women who couldn’t find high quality and high value in the same pieces.

Dress Jesse front

Anyone who talks to Maria can feel her excitement. “M2057 merges form and function with an urban flair, and includes seven dresses, two jackets and four accessories. The collection is designed to complement a wide range of body types and sizes. Each piece is made from high-quality Italian fabric that is machine washable and travel-friendly, and can be styled a number of ways,” Maria says.

M2057 Kickstarter backers will have the chance to pre-order garments from the line at levels ranging from $75-$250. At higher levels, backers can spend a day with Ms. Pinto in her studio, or host a party with her for 50 friends at Chicago’s Sepia (a restaurant, coincidentally, that sits right below the old Table XI office, and one of our longtime favorites). All Kickstarter backers will receive a signed thank you note from Maria, be listed as special contributors to the M2057 collection, and be granted special access to online previews of future collections.

We look forward to what’s next.  Follow along with the campaign’s progress at, and please share the campaign with your friends, family, and coworkers. We think they’ll like it.

Follow Maria on Twitter at @mariapinto and and like her on Facebook: MariaPinto.


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Foxycart Checks Out

Foxycart logoSometimes when a client comes to us with a new project or problem, we have to build software from scratch, but other times there’s a ready-made solution already in the marketplace. Part of our job is figuring out when to build and when to buy: Developing software to support a third party application to fit a client’s needs can save a heap of time and money.

For our recent renovations of Old Town Oil’s and Strange Cargo’s online stores, we found an innovative platform in Foxycart, a hosted shopping cart application. The headaches of many e-commerce solutions include storing and processing all the shopping cart data, like sensitive order, password, and credit card information, as well as staying current with regulated compliance processes. Foxycart handles all of this backend work, but is still compatible with highly customized user interfaces on the front end, like Old Town Oil's oil and vinegar pages, which contain detailed tasting notes and suggested pairings.

For services that Foxycart does not provide, such as certain order fulfillment processes like creating shipping labels and emailing customers about shipments, we developed our own software called Foxcage to work in conjunction with Foxycart. This combined solution of using both third party and custom developed software gives our clients exactly what they need.

Want to talk more about your e-commerce site? Drop us a line.

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6 Ways an Online Facelift Can Lift Traffic and Sales

A t-shirt that reads: who does your web?When we launched Strange Cargo’s new website in November, co-owner Jay Schwartz called the new site "bigger, bolder, and better." We’re excited to have the numbers back up Jay's words: In the month leading up to Christmas, the t-shirt retailer saw an improved conversion rate, an increase in the average order amount, and more than 50% growth in online revenue.

What’s making the difference? A cleaner, more compelling interface and newly created content have led to more traffic and sales conversions. Here are six changes that have contributed to improved sales performance:

  1. Longer, keyword-rich product descriptions increase visibility among search engines while capturing the brand’s irreverent style and voice.
  2. More customization options and a user-friendly, graphic interface make it quick and easy for shoppers to navigate the site and design the products they want.
  3. New product images feature real people wearing Strange Cargo’s merchandise, evoking the store's sense of fun and community.
  4. New product pages promote accessories and other items not previously available online.
  5. A one-page checkout process streamlines purchasing, leading to greater sales conversions.
  6. Newly added Facebook and Twitter buttons have increased social interaction and helped draw attention to social media promotions.

Curious about similar opportunities for your site? Let's talk.

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Tech Trend: E-Commerce

Chart showing ecommerce growth metrics.Leading up to this last holiday season, shoppers spent $18.7 billion in e-stores, up 15% from last year. Cyber Monday sales were up 33% over 2010, with a growing number of consumers making purchases from their smart phones and tablets. The message is clear: E-commerce isn't just an afterthought or a "nice to have" anymore—it's the mainstream.

Managing a successful online store requires a different set of skills than running a brick-and-mortar operation, however. Long after a site launches, retailers face challenges like finding new customers in a crowded web space and tweaking their sites based on customer and market feedback.

According to The Wall Street Journal, retailers like Target, Kohl's, and Coach are tackling these problems by hiring Chief E-Commerce Officers (CECOs) "who can build and manage websites, handle increasingly complex inventory management, and unsnarl the logistical problems that come with developing a new sales channel." Unfortunately, CECOs don't come cheap. "E-commerce heads—who a decade ago made $50,000 to $100,000 a year and lurked in the back offices of retailers' catalog businesses or in tech support—have joined the C-suite. Their salaries now range between $300,000 and $500,000, on a par with heads of merchandise or marketing."

At Table XI, we often play this role for mid-market companies desiring the expertise of, but lacking the budget for, a full-time CECO. If you ever want to talk with someone who knows as much about doing business online as you do about running your business offline, drop us a line. We'd love to chat about your needs.

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An Online Overhaul at the YMCA

The YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago logoThe term "e-commerce" probably brings to mind sites like EBay or We recently had the opportunity to develop a less conventional type of e-commerce platform for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

Instead of clothing or books, the YMCA's inventory is its programing: Twenty-one centers in the Chicago area offer a number of different classes that vary in type, size, and participant age. However, information and nomenclature for these programs lacked consistency across the Y's Web site and its network of centers, making it difficult for people to find and sign up for the classes that interested them.

Our goal was to update and simplify the online registration process to make these programs more accessible to members and prospective members. In addition to establishing consistent titles and descriptions for classes, we turned the catalogue into an online platform easily searchable by criteria, such as program type, sport, league, time, age group, and center location. Need to find out what centers offer kids' swim classes on Monday nights? Now that info is only a few clicks away.

This streamlined process of searching and registering for programs will increase class enrollment while relieving the clerical strain at centers during registration periods. It will also improve the Y experience for current members and widen the Y's visibility to potential customers.

We are thrilled to be partnering with the YMCA Chicago and are excited about our future projects together!

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