A New York Times article asks, “Is there any home purchase more confusing and fraught with anxiety than buying a mattress?” Many people would answer ‘no.’ Somewhat akin to buying a new car, the process can be complicated by myriad choices of brands and models, plagued by hard selling and hidden costs (warranty, delivery), and let’s not get started with the returns process.
But as mattress shopping has gotten trickier over the past decades, sleep has become an important health and wellness focus. Just Google “importance of sleep” to receive a slew of recent news articles discussing everything from a link between sleep and college students’ grades to how employees can improve productivity with workday naps.
What is a consumer to do? Is there a better alternative to traditional mattress shopping?
Enter Casper, the online mattress company that says they were founded at the intersection of “…thinking about how we disrupt the mattress industry but also having a really holistic focus on sleep and wellness,” explains Casper COO Neil Parikh.
How is it possible that anyone wants to buy a mattress online? It’s all about building trust by providing the right experience.
Building Trust with Your Brand
It’s hard to trust the commission-driven, in-store mattress salesperson, but Casper has made it part of their mission to serve their customers—helping customers to trust them. Parikh explains:
“I remember this one phone call I had with a to-be father who was about to bring home his wife and kid from the hospital and they needed the mattress same-day. It struck us that what we're doing is really impacting people's lives. So that's when we decided to build out an awesome customer experience team. We've now got 70 people between New York and LA who are really dedicated to serving people, and that has become a pillar of the brand.”
Casper extends “serving the customer” to include extensive research and development. Says Parikh:
“…everything starts with understanding what the customer wants. When we set out to make sheets, for example, we interviewed tons of people, watched them sleeping, we put sensors on them, and even before we had a hypothesis, we were trying to figure out what goes on in the bedroom.”
Besides sheet design, some of the ways Casper’s focus on the customer plays out include free shipping and a 100-night trial—after the convenience of a simple online shopping experience without pressure or haggle.
In the brick and mortar world, Nordstrom is highly regarded as taking a similar approach to customer service and building trust with their customers. With an empathetic eye on the customer, Nordstrom has implemented innovations like mobile technology that lets you pay anywhere instead of waiting in line. The brand’s liberal return policy also builds trust with customers, allowing them to return without a receipt, clothing and shoes that have been worn, cosmetics that have been open and used, etc.
Other Nordstrom services to surprise and delight the customer include free personal styling and free basic tailoring at all store locations.
Putting the customer before the sale helps both Casper and Nordstrom to provide an experience that generates trust between the buyer and the brand.
What This Means for Pure Play Retailers
While it might be impossible to provide something like free tailoring online, pure play retailers must create a digital or virtual experience center that allows the customer to connect with the company on the same level as brands like Casper and Nordstrom. You must go the extra mile to show that the company is willing to invest in the consumer before the consumer must invest in you.
Build Trust with Content
To create this experience, you should carefully craft content that builds rapport and trust around your product.
To get this right, it’s important to use consistent messaging and stick to your brand values and brand personality. Consider engaging the audience by creating content about…the audience! Get your audience to generate their own content about your brand through competitions and events. And finally, use or build channels to share all of this content bi-directionally. Enable customers to communicate with you live. Listen to them—and be prepared to respond.
Build Trust with Technology
Like Nordstrom’s technology that lets you skip the line, you should also consider how you can use technology to increase convenience for the customer. For example, Casper uses technology “as a way to get better at every single part of the business.” This includes optimizing distribution to deliver same-day or next-day in the vast majority of the country.
“In San Francisco, New York, and LA you can get Casper delivered to you faster than you can get a slice of pizza delivered to you. I think the technology we've built is in many ways responsible for that, and our plan is to grow and scale this over time.”
There are infinite ways that pure play retailers can use technology to improve convenience and build trust with customers. On the simple end, retailers can:
- Let customers know how many units are left, online and in store.
- Provide real-time tracking on order and shipments.
- Enable live chat for customer questions and support issues.
The continued adoption of machine learning and artificial intelligence lets us take things even further. With the right technology, you can listen and react to buyers’ signals—imitating a more intimate, human conversation. Use these digital cues to provide customers with the most relevant offers…and to give them space if they’re just browsing or not interested.
The Rule of Thumb: Customer First
Because there are so many online retailers, the way to differentiate yourself as a pure play retailer is to put the customer first with an eye on building trust. Few companies in the pure play space are using a customer-centric lens when it comes to things like free and fast shipping, easy returns and open, honest communication between the brand and the buyer.
One last quote from Parikh:
“…your brand is not a logo, your brand is the way your customer feels about you when they interact with your product, when they open it, when they have an awesome service experience, so that's what we're focused on building.”
You should be, too. Get this focus right, and you could be sold out of product from day one, just like Casper.
Check out how we’re bringing the human back to marketing at Harte Hanks.