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“Selling online is a more scientific & optimal way to buy experiential products"

Wakefit.co, India’s largest sleep solutions start-up funded by Sequoia Capital, has captured the online space with their sleep products. The online retail brand is also known for some of the most viral campaigns in the country – Sleep Internship, being one of them.

With the lockdown, Wakefit.co came out with exciting study reports on Sleep and a Postcard campaign led by TV stars and stand-up comics requesting people to thank the good samaritans in this hour of crises. The entire shoot was done keeping social distancing in mind and adhering to all other safety norms. The brand believes that marketing promotions will not be the same again – making a film under lockdown takes some rewiring. Script and idea will take precedence – content is what will eventually connect.

While the operations were shut till May 3, 2020 (Lockdown 2), the company is gradually putting things together in their attempt to restart the operations with restrictions being lifted.

The company is seeing a huge potential for online D2C business in the coming years. Now is the time for D2C companies to innovate, upgrade and strengthen their supply chain channel.  A streamlined supply chain can drive wins in 2020 and 2021.  Even when the lockdown opens up completely, consumer brands are expected to focus heavily on creating value through direct distribution. This would mean owning the first-mile, last-mile, and long-haul logistics. The post-COVID-19 world is not going to be about money alone, it is going to be about getting the right experience from the delivery and getting the right product at the right time.

The online mattress industry, which is pegged at Rs 10,000 crore, has seen little innovation over the years. Be it technology or marketing – mattress was never part of consumers’ mainstream conversation despite conventional brands like Kurlon and Sleepwell dominating the market. Used to be bought on impulse or as a last minute purchase, mattress was the last thing that came to consumers’ minds. However, things are going to change with the advent of new age start-ups like Wakefit.co. Tapping in the new wave of next generation populace who are health conscious, aware of things and available online, mattress start-ups are gradually but surely managing to change the perception over mattress.

In this interaction with Adgully, Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, Co-founder & Director, Wakefit.co, speaks at length about the company’s growth strategy, the trend towards high-ticket and high-involvement transactions on e-commerce portals, and much more.

You did extensive research with many customers and designed your products according to the needs of the customers. How did this help you to be a different brand? What is the value addition and differentiation that you are bringing in your brand Wakefit by studying the customer closely?

As a direct to consumer (D2C) brand, our biggest USP is that we are able to connect with our customers directly on a daily basis. Our products are manufactured based on the learnings, suggestions and feedback we receive from the customers. We are acutely aware that the requirement for spinal alignment in the US is different from the requirement for the average Indian customer. Similarly, an Indian family of three may sleep on the same mattress, while that may not be the case in Germany or France.

This knowledge helps us provide actionable insights in improving and enhancing the sleep quality of people. The value addition and differentiation that we bring to the Indian customers are characterised by the wide customer base we cater to and keep in touch with for 100 days after a purchase has been made. That eventually goes into developing world-class products and services, tailored for consumers across the country.

Our customer and market knowledge has also allowed us to forge meaningful collaborations with forward-thinking companies. We have also installed specially designed nap rooms in companies, to allow employees to de-stress during hectic work schedules. With respect to sleep and home solutions, it is imperative to make decisions based on the lifestyle of our target consumers. This customer-centric focus has helped us learn, innovate and contribute to the sleep ecosystem on a regular basis.

Primarily you are an online brand where the purchase can be done only via e-commerce platform. In a product like mattresses the look, touch and feeling experience is important before the prospects decides to buy a brand. How are you addressing this gap as India still has a whole lot of brick and mortar mentality?

Unlike popular convention, we at Wakefit.co do not believe that selling mattresses online is a gap at all. In fact, it is a more scientific and optimal way to buy experiential products like mattresses. Studies have unequivocally shown that we need to sleep on a new mattress for at least 15 days before our body can get adjusted to it. Brick-and-mortar stores – usually with no return policies – do not offer this benefit to customers.

At Wakefit.co, we offer a 100-day trial period on the purchase to ensure that our customers have more than the ‘touch and feel’ experience to help make the right purchase. Given the COVID-19 situation, customers are more likely to prefer the option of shopping from the safety of their homes over the next few months. It’s going to be the ‘new normal’ and we expect a positive trend towards high-ticket and high-involvement transactions on e-commerce portals.

The first quarter will almost go without much sales happening for almost every industry. How will that impact your company and the brand? How do you think the mattress industry performs overall in this quarter and the coming financial year?

The first quarter has certainly led to some volatility, especially for industries operating in non-essential goods. However, as the lockdown is eased and businesses are resuscitating demand, we are also seeing positive signs of revival. One interesting trend that we have noticed during the lockdown is that due to the prolonged time spent at home, people are realising the value of investing in good sleep and home solutions – whether it’s a mattress, a workstation or any other important piece of furniture at home. We are seeing an increase in demand for these items and are confident that demand will surge during the festive season, starting September onwards.

Supply Chain and distribution have been hampered due to the lockdown. What is your strategy here to reach your products to the customers and how do you plan to do so?

Our vision has always been to ensure that no one is deprived of a good quality sleep. We serve more than 19,000 pin codes, including J&K, North-East and some of the remotest Tier II and Tier III cities and towns in India. We also work with multiple logistics partners in order to deliver across these 19,000 pincodes. In these tough times, our robust relationship with logistics partners – who have different strengths in different geographies – have stood us in good stead.

Initially, the main challenge was keeping up to date with the classification and declassification of areas into red, orange and green zones. We now have an in-house technology to ensure that the changes are updated in real-time. There is no uncertainty as we keep our customers updated on the expected date of delivery. We are doing our best to serve our customers, within the current constraints.

So how are you creating awareness and building saliency for the brand to be in the consideration set? Any media strategy that is being deployed.

Over the last one year, Wakefit.co has been making concerted efforts in brand building. We have been fortunate to have two viral campaigns recently - one was the Wakefit.co Sleep Internship, which got us 1.75 lakh entries from over 30 countries, and the other was the Open Letter campaign that shared concerns, insecurities, fears, and even gratitude, during the lockdown period. We received an overwhelming response for both the campaigns.

Both these campaigns were built on the tenets of relatability of content, customer love and knowledge sharing without being preachy. Our media strategy is to continue to focus on great ideas and quality content to create brand awareness and build saliency. That is the way we wish to create our brand – with customer feedback and love rather than merely indulging in ad spends.

Do you have any technology collaboration with any International company? In today’s world Innovation is the name of the game so how are bringing innovation in your products to carve a niche positioning in a crowded market which has some heavy weight brands such as, Kurl-On, Sleepwell, Duroflex and Centaury.

No, we do not have any technology collaborations with international companies. We are purely an Indian brand, created with the purpose of serving Indian customers. We do import raw materials from Europe and the Middle East and we have also invested in German manufacturing equipment, which provides high efficiency and low cost. This is mainly to ensure that our factory is automated and we are not largely dependent on manual processes. However, the products manufactured incorporate feedback and behavioural patterns of consumers across different geographies within the country. The R&D and manufacturing is solely for India. After extensive research and focus on the ground realities of Indian consumer trends, we ensure that our products are tailored to meet the needs of our country.

Post the lockdown there are several conversations that are going on about the change in consumer behaviour. Do you have any views on the same? How do you plan to tackle the new normalcy that everyone has to face?

It looks like we are not going to get rid of COVID-19 anytime soon. We need to learn to live with the virus. Hygiene, social distancing, spending more time indoors etc. will continue to be our realities for at least the next one-two years.

Health and wellbeing will take centre stage, with more conversations on how to adopt a healthy lifestyle, how to maintain good hygiene and immunity through sleep habits, products, eating habits, yoga and meditation, etc. We believe that businesses must be well-equipped to cater to these new customer needs and people must take steps to improve the health and hygiene of their surroundings in the days to come. On the business end, we cannot afford to have more lockdowns, given the requirements of the Indian economy and its consumers but rather, we will have to come up with suitable approaches to deal with the ‘new normal’.

What is your view on going the digital route to reach your target audience? Have you increased your budgets in digital, as the mass media especially print his hit now?

We have always been a digital first brand in terms of distribution, branding as well as performance marketing. This is primarily because we initially couldn’t afford mainstream media. As a startup, our focus has always been on building great content to create brand differentiation, while keeping an eye on the return on investment. In the coming months, we will continue to focus on digital media to reach out to our target audience and communicate our value proposition to them.

How are you planning to enrich the customer experience and customer service? Like they say a good customer service will increase the brand loyalty quotient

Customer experience has been an integral part of Wakefit.co’s DNA and growth story since the beginning. In fact, our customer experience team is the largest team in the company! Our motto is to keep our customers happy and serve them well, throughout the pre-sale, sale and most importantly post-sale usage period. Experience teaches us that happy customers become brand ambassadors for the company, driving business growth in the most organic manner. We believe that is the best way to grow a brand, as word--of-mouth is one of the most powerful tools, especially for start-ups like ours.

At Wakefit.co, we are always working towards improving customer experience. We also ensure that processes for different products are created differently, as the processes and usage experience vary from mattresses to beds to pillows. It is important to address every single touch point and stay with the customer from the time they consider buying a product to the time they have satisfactorily settled in with the usage of the product. This helps us create a positive experience for users and consequently, builds customer loyalty and retain customers.

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