Vertebrae Customer Spotlight: Mystery Ranch - Vertebrae

Vertebrae Customer Spotlight: Mystery Ranch

Read the shortened case study version here.

About Mystery Ranch

An enduring brand

For more than 20 years, Mystery Ranch has manufactured hand-built, high-quality, user-specific designs that use the best materials available. Their designs are specifically made with the military, wildland firefighters, backpacking, backcountry hunting, and alpinism in mind. 

Far-reaching distribution

Their production and distribution is worldwide. Much of their business is driven by contract work and B2B, but they also sell directly to their consumers who are often interested in the designs they’ve created for the US military. 

The owners

Owners Dana Gleason and Renee Sippel-Baker have been working together and designing durable, lasting backpacks since the 1970’s and have long been recognized as the industry standard in load carriage technology. They started Mystery Ranch in 2000. 

In 2004, they were approached by the U.S. Military. The Navy SEALs requested custom packs to fulfill their needs. This relationship with the Military significantly altered their design and business strategy. 

Meeting customer needs

Mystery Ranch knows the kind of durable, tough pack that their customers need. Many of their clientele literally live out of their packs. They’re the ones who are out in the wilderness during extreme outdoor conditions, hiking or trekking for days. Their packs are their home.

Brand Ambassadors

Mystery Ranch’s film library ties in the company’s brand ambassadors and showcases their mission for designing load-bearing equipment. 

The “Parallel Passions” series is a glimpse into the world of product development from discovery to problem-solving. It tells the story of what they do and why they do it.

The Challenge(s)

Adding and creating images

They knew they needed to add images of their packs on actual people to their eCommerce site, they didn’t stop there. They wanted to show the tiniest details on their packs. The thread and stitching would need to be shown close up so buyers could inspect the items before purchasing. 

The issue then was how to allow customers to see all the details on a static image. It was also important for their prospective buyers to see the size and fit of the pack itself for use in their chosen environments. 

Just placing measurements on the product pages wasn’t enough.  


At the same time, the Mystery Ranch customer service team had voiced that while their sales had increased, so had their return volume. But customers weren’t returning the products because they were unhappy with them. They liked the packs very much. It was because something was lacking on the site. Customers were ordering multiple packs in order to closely inspect them and compare the size and how they fit. When they decided which one was the best one for them, they would then send back the ones they didn’t want. It wasn’t the quality of the products at all!

While the return costs were mostly at the expense of the customers, Mystery Ranch saw it as a problem to tackle. That’s when they began researching 3D, “virtual try-on,” and image zoom.

Mystery Ranch is successful in what we do because we view our eCommerce website as a working software—we’ll never stop improving the user experience.”

Ryan Holm, Director of Marketing, Mystery Ranch

The Solution 

They researched a few companies, but no one was the right fit. Each of those companies was lacking something –  a humanistic approach. It was that approach that sold them on the Vertebrae solution. 

The Mystery Ranch Director of Marketing was on his way to a conference in Denver and the Vertebrae representative was traveling elsewhere. But because Vertebrae puts their clients first, the rep offered to take a detour to where the Mystery Ranch Director of Marketing’s conference was being held so they could have a face-to-face conversation. 

Over a cup of coffee

It was then, during a conversation over coffee, that the Director of Marketing’s concerns about cost and adaptability were discussed. Right away, the Vertebrae representative made the offer to do a test as proof of concept. At that point, it was a no-brainer for Mystery Ranch. They’d found a partner who could meet all of their needs.

The backpack comes to life

The Mystery Ranch customer service team couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw the AR backpack come to life. They were looking at a virtual life-like backpack sitting on a table next to a “real” one. Yet nothing was actually there! It looked so real. 

Could this be the answer to the back-and-forth return issue their client-base was having? 

YES. And it was a game-changer. 

Changing the game

Mystery Ranch launched the Vertebrae experience in March 2020 with only 10 packs. It was an immediate hit with customers. They were able to compare an actual pack to an augmented reality (AR) pack – with no shipping back-and-forth required. 

Their customers were wowed with how realistic the shopping experience was. They could zoom in close and see the woven fabric at a high resolution, something they couldn’t do on a regular 2D static image. 

The Results

Mystery Ranch reports a reduction in returns for products that have Vertebrae 3D & AR experiences enabled. They did A/B testing with Vertebrae, so the immersive experiences would be easily seen and accessible from the site. 

They sent newsletters to their subscribers, describing the experience, and added a banner on their homepage. Today, one can easily access all of their 3D & AR-enabled backpacks from a call-out box on their “shop page.” 

In 2020 users who engaged with the Vertebrae 3D & AR experiences spent about $100K more from just February to September than those who did not engage. And, there was a 115% increase in desktop conversion rate  – and 70% on mobile devices –  for users who engaged with Vertebrae experience compared to those that did not engage. The company reported an increase of average order value of 18% for just a 3-month period between September and December for people who engaged with the Vertebrae experiences.  

Also this year, they’ve had more than 33,000 unique users engaged with Vertebrae experiences.

Growth and expansion

Mystery Ranch is growing their market share and their global brand. The big goal is to enable  3D and AR across their entire catalog. They create their own 3D assets (3D representations of their products) and work with Vertebrae to manage, launch, and maintain these experiences.

Website Impact

The advice they have for other small brands with eCommerce sites is to never be comfortable with never being “done.” They believe that as soon as you settle, you’ll fall behind. 

All of your customers will connect with you at some point through your website. It’s important to always be improving it. Your website is the face – the brand – of your company. 

When you build the best product in your business, you shouldn’t settle for anything less than the best visualization and representation of those products on your website. And that’s advice we can get behind. 

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