Disruption in a Box: Why Emma Mattress is thriving in a struggling sector


There are few places in retail where the impact of digitalisation has been felt more sharply than the furniture sector.

Furniture retailers face a battle on multiple fronts. At one side declining footfall even before the pandemic, staggering business rates and the retail-wide shift away from big-box stores are forcing furniture brands to explore online-focused models.

On the other side preventing them from simply shifting online, is the fact that customers will seldom commit to purchasing an item of furniture without first seeing it in person. Furniture is expensive, bulky and costly to deliver, meaning customers want to examine it in detail which simply can’t be offered digitally.

This struggle, which sent the UK’s second largest furniture retailer Harveys into administration the same day as Bensons for Beds last year, has opened the door for a “new wave” of brands with very different ways of doing business to disrupt the industry.

Chief among these is Emma Mattress, pioneer of the now commonplace “bed-in-a-box” model which enables customers to test its products in their own homes and return them for free if it’s not right.

READ MORE: Emma Mattress annual sales skyrockets 86%

“Emma was among the pioneers in a new wave of direct-to-consumer brands, brands that value a direct connection with their customers and offer them a most convenient shopping experience,” Emma’s head of UK and Ireland Santosh Marrivagu told Charged.

“With a clear product portfolio, a user-friendly online-shop, free, no-contact delivery, a 200-night trial period and a 10-year guarantee, Emma completely changed the way people would buy mattresses”.

This flexible model has driven “tremendous growth” at Emma since it launched in 2015, selling over 1 million mattresses to date in over 23 countries.

But this philosophy of flexibility runs far deeper than just its product offering, penetrating to the depths of Emma’s technical building blocks. Like many of the “new wave” of direct-to-consumer retailers, Emma has embraced the practice of building a modular ecommerce tech stack, allowing it to chop and change its structure as needs dictate.

This modular system also allows Emma to work with a range of third-party specialists, integrating their systems and solutions across its network seamlessly. One such company is Signifyd, which Emma partnered with at the end of last year to help it further accelerate growth.

Signifyd’s head of product and customer marketing Ashley Kiolbasa told Charged: “Emma is a true digital native. Digital natives tend to be direct-to-consumer leaders, who have disrupted traditional retail in a number of ways.

READ MORE: Emma Mattress reveals new in-house Sleep Expert Taskforce

“These digital natives understand the power of technology to build a better customer experience. They tend to build a tech stack that combines home-grown innovation with the best-in-breed solution providers.”

While finding a way to effectively sell furniture online has enabled Emma to negate many of the risks facing the wider furniture sector, it represents a new battle front complete with a host of new risks to contend with.

According to the latest data from the NFIB Fraud and Cyber Crime Dashboard, UK online shopping fraud skyrocketed last year to 89,800 cases, up from just 5900 a year earlier.

Scammers have relished the opportunities such a dramatic shift online has presented, but fraudsters don’t only target shoppers.

“People make fraudulent orders every day,” Kiolbasa continued.

“Lots of them, in fact. Most fraud is conducted by criminal rings that are in the business of commiting fraud. It’s something of a numbers game for them. The more fraudulent orders they place, the thinking goes, the more they will find success defrauding merchants.

“Not all fraud is committed by professional fraudsters, though. We also see a flavor of fraud we consider to be consumer abuse. Consumer abuse is committed by the rightful credit cardholder and generally involves a false complaint that something went wrong with the order and a claim that the customer deserves a refund.”

This threat is once again best dealt with by being flexible. Rather than hiring its own anti-fraud team and building solutions from scratch, Emma’s modular framework has allowed it to instantly adopt specialist systems from third parties.

As Marrivagu explained: “Fraud is an obvious threat, because fraudulent orders are the equivalent of a thief walking off with our products without paying. Therefore, we rely on Signifyd’s Commerce Protection Platforms for tackling that issue.

“In terms of our growth prospects, Signifyd helps us significantly as our approved orders increased by more than six per cent since we started working together.

“Signifyd is approving 70 per cent of the traffic that would have been declined by our former 3-D Secure protection system… When other companies are losing customers to bad CX and friction in the checkout process, we gain market share.”

Somewhat paradoxically, it is these “new wave” retailers’ ability to change on the fly and rapidly respond to new challenges which allow them to remain permanently in the market. Emma’s flexible approach in everything from its customer offering to the technical structuring of its platform, has allowed it to revolutionise a rigid and problem-fraught market.

When retail returns to some semblance of normality post-pandemic retailers across all sectors will be faced with multiple new battles on multiple new fronts. Any who are unable or unwilling to be flexible down to their core will likely struggle to win enough battles to survive.

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