Web sales have more than doubled in the past two months across all online channels at bedding manufacturer and retailer American Textile, says Brian Lehr, vice president of ecommerce. But the online sales surge is not enough to cushion the blow his company is taking with the physical retail stores it sells in being closed.
American Textile sells its products through the bricks-and-mortar stores and websites of merchants, including Walmart Inc. (No. 3 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000) and Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (No. 59), online through web-only companies like Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1) and Wayfair Inc. (No. 6), and through its own direct-to-consumer sites SealyBedding.com and Aller-Ease.com. Web sales at the 100-year-old business have been increasing every week for the past 8 weeks and began tapering just this last week as more stores began to open, Lehr says.
“If you would have told me eight weeks ago [the coronavirus] would have caused our sales to more than double across all our online channels I wouldn’t have believed you,” Lehr says.
Online sales began increasing incrementally each week when stores started closing. “[Consumers] clearly adopted online shopping technologies because they couldn’t go to stores,” he says. “I’m hoping for a bit of a halo effect where people continue to use this technology rather than go back to their old habits of shopping only in stores.”
Despite the online surge, total sales are down “significantly” Lehr says, declining to be more specific. “Stores like Bed Bath & Beyond are shut and that’s a huge amount of our business.”
The consumer shift to shopping online has prompted American Textile to focus more on its own ecommerce sites. Lehr was just hired in March to head up online initiatives. Doug Venuti also recently joined the company as vice president of information technology.
“Lehr and Venuti will help the company drive deeper digital transformation both internally and externally,” American Textile said in announcing the hires.
Specifically since the pandemic, the company has been promoting its Aller-Ease site, which sells bedding that blocks allergens and hot water washable items. That site also sells antimicrobial items that protect against bacteria, odor, fungus, mildew and mold, and offer infection control. That side of its business has seen a more than 300% increase in conversion rates since the pandemic, Lehr says.
Part of that is a result of consumers wanting to practice better hygiene to prevent COVID-19, but some of it is also a result of investments the company has made in that part of its business, including ramping up Google Paid search spending for those products, Lehr says. It’s also made site tweaks, including creating two rotating homepage banners calling out its antimicrobial and hot water washable lines. In the coming weeks a click of those banners will lead shoppers to all those types of products American Textile sells. It’s also been offering more sales, Lehr says. Right now, Aller-Ease is offering 30% off sitewide.
American Textile alters business practices
Beyond website enhancements, American Textile has also worked to modify its manufacturing facilities to continue to make its products safely.
“It’s been a challenge from a safety perspective,” Lehr says. The retailer checks the temperatures of all employees before they enter the building, requires staff to wear face masks and practices social distancing. Employees also work in staggered shifts so fewer workers are in the building at any given time, cutting down on crowds in lunchrooms and lounges. And there are no group meetings. Conference rooms are closed. The company created a safety procedure policy that’s about 10 pages long in response to the pandemic, Lehr says. Additionally, all corporate employees who typically work in the company’s offices now work from home.
One major change the company had to make as a result of the pandemic is shifting its annual marketing meeting to a digital format. At that meeting, merchants interested in selling American Textile products could see the items in person, try them out and learn more about them. This year, the retailer took that meeting online using presentations and video demonstrations to try and replicate the in-person meeting as best it could.
“Our marketing and sales teams put a lot of effort into changing the meeting. It helped us that we were able to move quickly,” Lehr says, “What still hurts is that many of our retailer partner stores are still closed.”Favorite