Sustainability and corporate growth are twin pillars that can hold a company’s success for the long-term and need not be exclusive. This Q and A shows the perspective of Shanir Kol, founder and CEO of SleePare, an online and in-store American mattress company that is studying the Southeast Asian market, and particularly the Philippines, for expansion. The business is currently represented in five states and cities including New York, DC, Miami, Boston, and Los Angeles.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: The pandemic has seen a surge in eCommerce in Southeast Asia. How do you see it changing and evolving even further in the region? What about the Philippines?
A: The Philippines’ eCommerce market sales made a dramatic leap in 2021. Involving more than 70 million active online users, it raised its capitalization up to $17 billion and is estimated to grow up to $25 billion annually by 2025. In the Philippines, the online portion of retail has gone past the US, and is up to 25%, vs about 17% in the US. The Southeast Asian market is very advanced and interesting in terms of online sales share in retail. It can be educational to watch that market in order to forecast what may happen in the US and other markets in the future.
What we notice seems to be a part of the global trend, as we see the level going higher over the past decades. But I believe that online sales will reach saturation at some point; traditional retail won’t give up easily and will come up with finding ways to sustain the businesses.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: I would keep the same key strategy while expanding to the Philippines which I used in launching a business in the US or in any SEA country. Our core value is providing customers with unique experiences. If I speak generally about online brands, it’s easy to bring the natural advantage of online sales to our clients. Mentioning at least a couple of them such as a huge selection or cheaper price make a comprehensive argument. The most challenging part is the experience. How to make shopping interesting and fun?
The experience is the main reason customers still choose ‘old fashioned,’ brick-and-mortar shopping more frequently than shopping online. People love to interact, touch, feel and smell the items they are buying, get a word of advice from a professional, and ultimately take the product back home with them, as the ultimate satisfying reward.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: In planning to expand business toward the Philippines, how will your core audience and approach differ from US and Canadian markets?
A: Being the 4th largest English speaking country in the world, the Philippines is interesting to us as a market where SleePare can introduce the entire US mattress brands selection, the mattress-testing service, and the entire sale and logistics service. Over 90 million people will have easy access to the newest technologies and ideas of the US mattress industry. SleePare will also be interested in adding local brands to the mix, to offer customers a great selection.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: You have been very outspoken about the need for sustainability for businesses and the planet. How can we find common ground between eCommerce and sustainability?
A: Once those solutions for sustainability are implanted, they do work. People just have to be aware of them. Sometimes customers have to pay a bit more for the short term, but always the reward will be worth it. The change can come from the customers if they are educated to the consequences of their decisions.
In the case of SleePare, customers even pay less. SleePare’s comparison tool based on big data analysis reflects peoples’ preferences in terms of price, durability, and comfort level. Each customer finds a model that fits his particular needs quickly and effectively. The criteria might be a certain budget, firmness lever, type of filler, zone of support, and special pain-relief areas. Then the client comes to the showroom to meet a specialist to help him make an educated final decision.
What we also focus our attention on is the huge environmental aspect of our business concept, as we help reduce the percentage of returned and then thrown-away mattresses by nearly 80% in comparison to customers who buy it directly online. This is also the secret of how we can offer a cheaper price than online.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: How is sustainability relevant to today’s marketing campaigns?
A: About 20 years ago, worrying about global sustainability was a privilege. Now, more of the weaker populations are in the frontlines as well, living in low-elevation towns, and having less ability to mobilize. Naturally a wider segment of many populations are concerned about these issues. What companies should do to improve their processes should be real – not just marketing. But it should appear on their front page, as it’s not less important than other information about the brand and products.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: How can we make sustainability more effective and appealing to those who are not yet ‘into it’ and are probably hearing it for the first time?
A: Nowadays, almost everyone has at least the basic awareness of the concept of sustainability. Going through the recent disasters and dramatic weather changes have made people especially attentive to the issue. Our planet and nature are making it impossible for anyone to ignore this problem. People living in more vulnerable places, like the shores of the Philippines and other islands in Asia are very much ‘into it’.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Your brand is about good sleep, wellness, relaxation, and rest, which have become important to probably all markets during and even after the pandemic. What kind of messaging and campaigns will sustain this interest?
Al SleePare is a kind of hybrid model between the offline and online. What we are trying to say is that buying online is great, because you have a lot of options, and may carefully compare and make an educated choice. But in some industries, like selling mattresses, you just can’t skip the stage of visiting the showroom and trying your mattress before purchase, if you want to spend the next 7 years in the mattress that fits you the best. It’s essential both for your health and for the global environment, as repeated exchanges produce mountains of garbage from fresh valuable resources.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Do the messaging and the market change when you transition from offline retail into digital and online marketing, e.g. eCommerce?
Al Absolutely, everyone is trying to sell on their platform, so they will adjust their massaging to the platform it’s delivered on. Sometimes even the product itself might be affected. What we see from our segment are various mattress companies that only offer one firmness for all, to make it easier for customers to choose. So the customer’s variety of choice is being affected to try and improve the exchange's problem.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Not all traditional or retail brands make it successfully into eCommerce. What would be the formula or necessary steps for success?
A: I don' think that every brand should move to online sales. It’s nice to have an online branch, but some of the retail segments require one-by-one human interaction to make an educated and conscious choice. Ultimately all of us, the customers, are humans and we like to interact with other humans and enjoy our shopping experience. So, if the field that you are in can be interesting and better represented in real brick-and-mortar shops, I wouldn’t necessarily try to move it online, other than an informative website where customers can learn more before their visit
If you already went online, you should offer the best customer experience possible. The giants obviously have the advantages, which are lower prices and generous delivery options and returns. But if you run a small business, the best strategy you may adhere to is qualified customer service. You should suggest a wide representation of your product (photo, video, customer reviews), be personally available on chats, on the phone, and communicate with the customers throughout all the possible channels.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Where do you see eCommerce going and evolving into? How can retail stores ride on this wave? On the other hand, should they or should they make a stand in traditional retail?
Al I am convinced that the next generation of online will be given to the newest technologies. Technologies already bring the customer experience to the new stage. For example, if we talk about selling cars, I may mention those 360-degrees views of your designed vehicle. Other AR or VR technologies let you virtually try on clothing. Several applications allow you to put on glasses or makeup.
On the other hand, we may witness more hybrid models, when you initially get the idea of what item or concept you are looking for and then may give it a try, like test-driving a car and then building and ordering online the model you choose. Another example is to pick up a mattress model online and try it before you buy it at a SleePare store and so on. We have to remember that shopping in stores is an enjoyable experience for most customers, so these two platforms aren’t necessarily separate and parallel forever. They are blending into each other at many points.