NEW YORK (AP) – Danielle Schwartz has not requested an oil painting of her cat. But she adores the portrait of Stinky hanging in her upstate New York home, a surprise gift from an unlikely place: an online pet store.
It’s one of over 1,000 free paintings that Chewy sends out to select customers every week – even during the pandemic – tapping into people’s obsession with their furry children and, she hopes, gaining customers at life.
In the cut-throat world of online shopping, that personal and somewhat kitschy touch is how Chewy seeks to set itself apart from the competition, which has only become more rigid as more and more people shop online. and add pandemic animals to their families. Pet ownership is expected to increase 4% in 2020, the first increase in several years, according to the Petco Foundation.
Chewy’s strategy seems to be working on Schwartz, whose blue-eyed cat likes to rub against the board in his cat tree.
“I just want to buy them everything,” she said. “It’s a big company. I was shocked that they did something so personal.
Portraits have become a hit on social media, where people share images of themselves or request that their pets be turned into works of art.
Eric Sheridan, a sales specialist from Lee, Florida, requested a portrait via the Twitter account of Gozer, his Boston Terrier with more than 3,000 followers. A representative from Chewy replied, “My paws are crossed so we can send you one.” He arrived a month and a half later. “Christmas came early”, Sheridan tweeted from Gozer’s account.
Not everyone is excited to get a mysterious portrait – the company acknowledges that some confused customers send them back. But many of those who get an animal portrait are documenting it for social media, giving Chewy free publicity – a trend the company noticed when it started shipping them.
“Customers were going to bananas,” says co-founder Ryan Cohen, who contributed to the idea in 2013 before leaving the company.
Chewy was founded in 2011, marrying fast delivery from Amazon with the convenience of a local pet store. It also aimed to grab a slice of the fortune Americans spend on their pets, which is expected to total $ 99 billion in 2020, according to the American Pet Products Association. Pet store chain PetSmart bought Chewy in 2017 for more than $ 3 billion to grow its online business, but then turned Chewy two years later into a publicly traded company. is now worth around $ 40 billion, although it never made a profit.
Amazon and Chewy dominate the online pet supplies industry, with Amazon over 50% and Chewy 34% market share, according to retail consultancy 1010data. But the pandemic has been particularly good for Chewy as people avoid physical stores. Its stock price more than tripled in 2020. Sales climbed 45% during the August-October quarter. And it added 5 million new customers last year, bringing its total customer base to nearly 18 million.
Phillip M. Cooper, a pet industry consultant, credits customer service with. “It set the standard,” he says.
The company’s 2,500 officers are trained to answer questions from pet parents, such as what foods are best for older dogs or where to find shelter. Chewy sends new customers handwritten notes and all buyers receive greeting cards by post. He even sends flowers to people whose animals have died.
“It helped ease the pain,” says Jordan Redman of Norman, Oklahoma, who received a bouquet of flowers after the death of Bud, his golden retriever.
But it is the paintings that gasp customers. There’s no way to buy one from Chewy, and the company doesn’t say exactly how someone will be selected. But he usually sends them to those who have animal pictures on their Chewy account or have shared one with a customer service agent.
For clues, look at the experience of Danielle Moore, who said Chewy asked her to send a photo of her Australian cattle dog Kana during a call about returning an order. Kana’s likeness emerged three months later. Moore liked it so much that she tried to buy another one through Chewy, but the customer service agent didn’t budge. Instead, the Dallas chemist ordered one for $ 36 on Etsy, and the paintings hang on the wall together.
Chewy is not disclosing the cost of making and sending the portraits. He has worked with hundreds of artists across the country who receive photos of their subjects via email from the company.
Josh Lawson, who paints 20 to 50 portraits a week, has made snakes, goats and even what he thinks are bison. It may take two hours or more to complete a portrait. Fluffy kittens, for example, need extra care and a long-tipped brush to get the right amount of lint. “I want to make them look real,” he says.
There is pressure to do it. Chewy says he rejects artwork that doesn’t resemble the animal enough or sends it back for rework. The goal is for people to tell others about Chewy and gain a prominent place on buyers’ walls, serving as a billboard for the business.
Annesley Clark, a law student in St. Louis, was surprised to see how the free paint looked like her pit bull mix, Willow. “I was beside myself,” she says. “It’s exactly her.
She couldn’t wait to show it. The next day, she took him to a socially distant picnic with four other people and held up the artwork. “I said, ‘Look at this. It’s perfect. His friends agreed.
Follow Joseph Pisani on Twitter: @ josephpisani