August 13, 2014, 9:34 AM

How an e-retailer uses customer service to sell an unusual product online

A Canadian mattress company’s dedication to customer service helps it sell a product consumers might be wary of purchasing online.

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Because of the sheer size and personal nature of the product, one might think sales of mattress  would be one of the last hold-outs of traditional bricks-and-mortar stores.

Not if twin brothers Sam and Andrew Prochazka have their way.

The Canadian duo started Novosbed, a web-only retailer of mattresses five years ago after Sam bought a mattress at a traditional store. He thought there had to be a better way. So he sought to find it.

Novosbed sells memory foam—a type of foam that conforms to a consumer’s body—mattresses online for prices that start at $679 for a twin mattress and $1,019 for a king mattress. Sam says the company is on track to do more than $5 million in sales this year. The mattresses are manufactured in Breinigsville, PA, about 60 miles north of Philadelphia, although the company itself is based in Edmonton. When the mattresses are shipped, they are vacuum-sealed, which reduces the size of the package—and consequently the price and time of shipping. The longest distance a mattress is shipped, says Sam, is to Southern California. That takes just three to four days.

Novosbed uses predictive inventory analysis to estimate how many mattresses to produce to have enough inventory, but not too much that the inventory becomes cumbersome to store. Mattresses after all, are rather large. The company ships 95% of its order within 24 hours of order.

The mattresses all come with a return policy that allows customers to return a purchased mattress for a new one between 60 and 120 days after purchase. The used mattresses are donated to a local charity because they cannot be resold.

In addition to offering a generous return policy, Sam says, the company’s dedication to customer service helps it sell its product—and keep return rates at just 3%. “As much as we would love for the web site to sell $850 mattresses, it can’t do it alone,” he says. Four of the company’s five employees are dedicated to customer service, and it’s all handled in-house. “Customer service is too important to subcontract out,” Sam says.

If the phone rings during business hours, he says, there’s a mad dash to answer it. The company is just as responsive via e-mail, Sam says. The customer service team is also active with live chat. A window pops up on the company’s e-commerce site when a visitor starts browsing through mattresses. During normal business hours, a consumer on the site can always talk to a live person.

In order to make sure each employee is aware of company policies, the customer service staff maintains a wiki, a web application that allows all staff members to collaborate on one document, related to customer service practices. The online encyclopedia is an example of this. “The wiki empowers a customer service employee to change the workflow,” Sam says. “That’s really been helpful.” He says the wiki is pretty mature at this point, but on average an employee spends 30 minutes a week tweaking procedures contained in the document.

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