How Chewy Built a $7 Billion Business Based on Customer Experience

by Mike Dupuy

“Every time I order through Chewy I am blown away by the speed and quality of the service.”

“I have never come across such an understanding company and one so willing to help and give advice.”

“I think Chewy is the best thing since sliced bread.”

“There is simply no better online business…”

The quotes above are actual testimonials from customers of the online pet supply retailer Chewy, submitted by the company in connection with its nomination for the 2017 Stevie Awards Customer Service Department of the Year (which it won). And, this is just a sampling of the effusive praise Chewy has received from its loyal customers. Clearly, this company is doing something right.

If you work in eCommerce, you know just how valuable positive customer reviews are. In fact, in a 2022 survey by BrightLocal, a stunning 93% of customers said that they read online reviews before making a purchase, and 91% of 18-34 year olds said that they trust online reviews as much as recommendations from friends.   

Creating a Culture of Customer-Obsession

Glowing customer reviews about Chewy’s commitment to not just customer service, but the full customer experience are, at this point, legendary. Among the testimonials Chewy submitted to the Stevie Awards was an email from a cash-strapped customer whose beloved cat died a day after her order for a two-month supply of expensive, prescription cat food arrived from Chewy.

The customer reached out to Chewy on their site via online chat to ask if she could return the food. Instead, Chewy immediately refunded her order, asked her to donate the food to her local animal shelter, and—this is where the legendary part really kicks in—sent her a bouquet of flowers and a touching note of condolence. “Never in my life could I ever have imagined that I would be as deeply touched by the actions of a for-profit company, let alone an internet .com one, as I have been this week,” she later wrote.

This grieving customer’s situation wasn’t a one-time fluke, either. In addition to condolence notes, Chewy customers routinely receive anniversary and pet birthday notes from the company, and Chewy has even sent a lucky few customers oil paintings—yes, you read that right, oil paintings—of their furry family members.

Unlike other companies who view service and support as a more reactive tool to address customer concerns, Chewy is taking an entirely different approach: they view each and every interaction they have with their customers as an opportunity to better those customers’ experiences. Or, to put it another way, Chewy has made the purposeful decision to borrow from the business model exemplified by online shoe giant Zappos—it operates, in effect, as a customer service company that just happens to sell pet supplies.

The strategy seems to be working. According to data cited by Forbes, since Chewy’s founding in 2011, its share of the online pet retail market has grown to exceed that of Amazon. And, last April, Chewy’s brick-and-mortar rival PetSmart paid $3.35 billion to acquire Chewy in an all-cash deal, reportedly the largest e-commerce acquisition in history. Experience, being a more subjective metric by nature, is seldom simple to quantify—but this record-setting  price tag shows just how much PetSmart values what it can learn from Chewy’s customer service magic. And Chewy's success hasn't slowed down since the acquisition – in 2021, the online retailer's market share grew to $7.1 billion.  

How Chewy Nails eCommerce Customer Service

What’s there to learn? Plenty, as Forbes contributing writer Paula Rosenblum discovered when she paid a visit to the company’s new contact center in Hollywood, Florida in 2018. Here are just a few of the extraordinary ways she found Chewy implementing its customer service obsession:

  • Chewy makes it easy for customers to get help on whatever channel they prefer, whether that's live chat, email, or a voice call, and "pet experts" are on standby to help customers 24/7.
  • Chewy shuns automated call answering. A real person answers every customer service call.
  • Chewy aims to answer every customer service call within four seconds or two rings and largely succeeds.
  • Chewy makes a commitment to training its agents when they join the company and on a continuing basis, contributing to high morale, low turnover, and a great work environment that facilitates friendly, thoughtful customer service interactions.

And it's clear that Chewy's commitment to customer-obsession isn't just a feature of their exceptional customer service team – it's part of their brand identity. 

“Of all the items that set Chewy apart, however, none may be more important than its direct 24/7/365 customer service operation that empowers employees to go above and beyond for their customers. Examples include sending a customer flowers to congratulate them on a wedding that was mentioned on a call. Another representative sent an unused keyboard from the company’s supply closet when a customer mentioned having a broken device,” said George Anderson in a 2021 RetailWire feature on the pet supplier.

In cementing brand loyalty through delivering amazing customer experiences, Chewy takes a page not just from Zappos (which famously made “customer service” the answer to the question “How could buying shoes online even work?”), but also from a long line of clothing retailers like L.L. Bean, Nordstrom, and Patagonia who have discovered that a company’s simple acts of kindness and generosity, and a commitment to standing by the quality and condition of its products, can mean far more to its customers than a few cents in savings.

“Companies like Chewy are role models for others to look up to and learn from. It’s time to add Chewy to the list of customer service and experience rock stars like Zappos, Apple and Nordstrom. Their relentless focus on their customers earns them a spot in the customer service experience hall of fame.”
– Shep Hyken, customer service/experience expert and New York Times bestselling author of The Amazement Revolution

What seems particularly insightful about Chewy’s adoption of a business model built around customer service, however, is that the company deals in a product category in which customers have a heightened emotional investment in their buying decision. It goes without saying that people truly, deeply, love their pets. Chewy’s commitment to customer experience taps directly into the intensity of that feeling, in effect telling its customers that Chewy loves the customers’ pets too. Once a customer associates the same feeling of devotion she has to her pet with her opinion of her pet product supplier, the result is an unusually strong and personal bond.

5 Ways Online Retailers Can Earn Customer Loyalty

Chewy's passionate customer base is compelling evidence for making customer experience a key feature of your business. Here are 5 of Chewy's CX strategies that you can use improve your customer experience in 2022:

  1. Offer multiple ways for your customers to contact you, whether that's via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, email, or voice call. 
  2. Make "above and beyond" the norm. In every customer interaction, think about how you can wow the customer, and then make it happen. Maybe you can't send every customer an oil painting of their pet, but you could send a handwritten thank you note to your loyal customers to thank them for their business.
  3. Aim to respond to customer service requests quickly and try to resolve every issue the first time the customer contacts you.
  4. Invest in your agents. Happy, well-paid, and well-rested agents provide better service, which leads to happier customers.
  5. Ask for customer feedback frequently. Considering measuring customer satisfaction after every voice call or asking customers to leave a review after a purchase. 

Ready to take your retail store's customer experience to the next level? Learn more about how UJET is helping leading retail brands deliver a great experience to every customer. 

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