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御龙在天帝陵: 在網上賣家具如何做大,這家美國500強新貴是榜樣

御龙在天十大烧钱名人 www.xfivd.icu Jeffrey M. O’Brien 2019年05月27日

這家《財富》美國500強新晉企業擁有兩位頗具遠見卓識的創始人,2300名數據極客,持續飆升的銷售額。現在,它需要扭虧為盈。

1995年從康奈爾大學畢業后不久,尼拉杰·沙阿和史蒂夫·科奈恩決定比一比他們微薄的銀行存款。這兩位面帶稚氣的工程專業學生都喜歡談生意,都善于分析,也都有過人的勇氣和毅力。但也僅此而已。當時,科奈恩以幾千美元的優勢勝出,所以頗為得意。但沙阿無動于衷?!拔頤墻竦鎂藪蟮某曬?,今天這點存款差異真的不算什么?!笨頗味骷塹盟庋檔?。

彼時,新興的互聯網熱潮開始展現廣闊的前景。沙阿和科奈恩決定追隨資金的涌動方向。在很短的時間內,他們建立并出售了一家IT服務咨詢公司和一家移動開發商店。大約在2002年,兩人的財力足以讓他們利用科奈恩家的一間閑置臥室,創建了一個名為RacksandStands.com,聽起來很卑微的電子商務網站。它提供任何你想用來存放你的立體聲音響的東西。他們學會了利用谷歌關鍵字廣告(Google AdWords)進行定量營銷,并與供應商和分銷商建立了聯系。他們自己處理客戶服務,盡最大努力確保購物者按時收到訂單,并衡量他們所能衡量的一切?!?個月后,我們成為了最大的在線娛樂家具銷售商之一?!鄙嘲⑺?。

接下來,他們把這個模型復制到大約250個垂直領域,比如JustSouthwesternRugs.com、EveryCuckooClock.com、AllBakersRacks.com、HolidayDecorationsDirect.com,等等?!拔頤腔?到10年的時間來構建系統和基礎設施。在運營趨于穩定之前,我們不太擔心前端?!笨頗味韃鉤淥??!按唇ㄒ桓齙繾由濤褳?,并建立一個性感的前端,是很容易做到的事情。但要持續地提供你所承諾的體驗,則是非常困難的?!?/p>

如今,沙阿和科奈恩分別擔任全球第12大在線零售商Wayfair的首席執行官和聯席董事長。根據研究公司Digital Commerce 360的數據,Wayfair的年銷售額約為68億美元,仍然遠遠落后于亞馬遜和沃爾瑪,但領先于百思買和好市多。這家公司銷售大量家具,以及其他一些家居用品,從島式廚房、浴室盥洗臺,到小張地毯,從雙層床到熱水浴缸,不一而足。幾乎所有的產品都是免費配送(哪怕重達350磅的組合式沙發,亦是如此),而且通常在幾天內就能送達。像其他電子商務先驅一樣,Wayfair提供幾乎無限的選擇,衡量一切,并致力于不惜一切代價讓客戶滿意。就這樣,這個在科奈恩家的臥室中醞釀出來的創意,已經為兩位聯合創始人賺得了合計超過40億美元的凈資產,而他們的智慧結晶也首次躋身《財富》美國500強榜單。

幾乎以任何標準衡量,Wayfair都獲得了巨大的成功。自2014年上市以來,其年收入增長了五倍,最近一季的收入達到19億美元,年增長率為40%。Wayfair目前擁有超過1.2萬名員工,遍布波士頓、柏林、愛爾蘭和美國許多城市,每周都有數十名新員工加入。此外,活躍客戶(意指在過去一年購買過一次的客戶)的數量同比增長40%,達到1640萬。Wayfair正在成為一個近乎家喻戶曉的品牌。根據內部調查,它的品牌認知度(“你聽說過Wayfair嗎?”)約為90%。

然而,如果你對Wayfair有一個大致了解,你就知道這家公司有個污點。它深陷赤字泥沼。龐大的虧損額甚至讓有些人認為,沙阿和科奈恩正在走向毀滅。盡管收入增長顯著,但Wayfair去年虧損逾5億美元,最近一季的虧損較2018年第一季度幾乎翻了一番。著名的賣空者,在線投資通訊Citron Research的編輯安德魯·萊夫特將Wayfair稱為“反亞馬遜”。在一篇被廣泛引用的論文中,兩位學者聲稱,該公司在基礎設施、廣告支出和歐洲擴張方面的巨額投資是不可持續的。質疑者認為,Wayfair沒有盈利路徑;被亞馬遜這樣的巨頭收購或許是最好的可能結果,所有這些收入增長只不過是降低了這種情景出現的可能性而已。

事實證明,Wayfair的股價頗具韌性,盡管它確實在波動。根據S3 Analytics在今年2月發布的一份報告,去年做空這只股票的投資者總共損失了10.7億美元。在Wayfair公布第一季度業績之后,該股遭受重挫,隨后又被卷入關稅戰引發的市場拋售潮中,但截至本期《財富》雜志付印時,該股今年迄今仍上漲了50%以上。沙阿和科奈恩似乎得到了機構買家的信任,這一點很有幫助。Wayfair的前10大股東包括富達投資、Janus、摩根大通、先鋒集團和貝萊德,共計持有4200萬股,約占流通股的70%。這意味著,至少就目前而言,精明的投資者愿意花錢認可Wayfair的愿景。

但《財富》美國500強榜單有兩類新來者。其中一類猶如轉瞬即逝的曇花,比如1995年突然出現在該榜單上的Payless Cashways,在幾年后就不見蹤跡。另一種是像亞馬遜這樣的公司。2002年,它爬到了第492位,然后穩步上升,并隨著規模的增長而不斷演化。

問題是,Wayfair是哪一種呢?

Not long after graduating from Cornell back in 1995, Niraj Shah and Steve Conine decided to compare their meager bank accounts. Both fresh-faced engineering students who liked talking business, they possessed highly analytical minds and more than their share of pluck and will. But little else. At the time, Conine was up several thousand dollars and so rubbed it in. But Shah was blasé. “We’re going to be so successful,” Conine recalls him saying, that “the difference in our savings today will be irrelevant.”

The nascent dotcom boom was beginning to reveal a vast Internet landscape, and Shah and Conine followed the money. In short order, they built and sold an IT services consulting company and a mobile development shop, earning enough to self-fund, circa 2002, a humble-sounding venture called RacksandStands.com out of a spare bedroom in Conine’s house. It offered anything you could ever want to hold your stereo. They learned quantitative marketing via Google AdWords and bonded with suppliers and distributors. They handled customer service themselves, did their best to ensure that shoppers received their orders on time, and measured everything they could. “In four months, we became one of the largest online sellers of entertainment furniture,” Shah says.

So they replicated the model across 250 or so almost comically vertical segments. JustSouthwesternRugs.com. EveryCuckooClock.com. AllBakersRacks.com. HolidayDecorationsDirect.com. “We spent nine, 10 years building the systems and infrastructure and worried less about the front end until we had operational consistency,” Conine adds. “It’s easy to start an e-commerce site and build a sexy front end. It’s very hard to durably deliver the experience you’re promising.”

Today, Shah and Conine are the CEO and cochairman, respectively, of Wayfair, the world’s 12th-largest online retailer. With $6.8?billion in sales, Wayfair is still well behind Amazon and Walmart, but ahead of Best Buy and Costco, according to the research firm Digital Commerce 360. The company sells a whole lot of furniture and then some, from kitchen islands and bathroom vanities to throw rugs, bunk beds, and hot tubs. Nearly all of its goods are delivered for free (even the 350-pound sectional sofas) and typically within a few days. Like its progenitors, Wayfair offers nearly unlimited choice, measures everything, and commits to making customers happy at all costs. That formula hatched in Conine’s bedroom has showered the cofounders with a collective net worth of more than $4 billion and vaulted their brainchild onto the Fortune 500 for the first time.

By almost any measure, Wayfair is killing it. Annual revenues have increased sixfold since the company’s 2014 IPO and are growing 40% annually, to $1.9 billion in the most recent quarter. The company employs well over 12,000 people in Boston; Berlin; Ireland; and various U.S. cities, with dozens more “Wayfairians” joining each week. The number of active customers, defined as having made a purchase in the past year, also jumped nearly 40% year over year, to 16.4 million, and the company is approaching household-name status. According to internal surveys, aided brand recognition (“Have you heard of Wayfair?”) is about 90%.

And yet. If you’ve had even a cursory interest in Wayfair, you know there’s a black mark on the company. It’s deep in the red. So much so that some believe Shah and Conine are on the road to ruin. Despite significant top-line growth, Wayfair lost more than half a billion last year, and losses nearly doubled in the most recent quarter over the first quarter of 2018. One prominent short, Andrew Left of Citron Research, refers to Wayfair as “the anti-Amazon.” A pair of academics published a widely quoted paper that asserts the company’s massive investments in infrastructure, ad spending, and European expansion are unsustainable. The skeptics contend that Wayfair has no path to profitability and all the revenue growth is only decreasing the likelihood of a best-possible outcome: acquisition by, say, Amazon.

Somehow the share price, while definitely volatile, has proved relatively resilient. So much so that those shorting the stock have lost a collective $1.07 billion over the past year, per a February report by S3 Analytics. The stock took a drubbing after the company’s first quarter earning announcement, then got swept up in a broad market selloff over tariffs, but was still up more than 50% year to date as Fortune went to press. It helps that Shah and Conine seem to have the trust of institutional buyers. Wayfair’s top 10 shareholders, including Fidelity, Janus, JPMorgan, Vanguard, and BlackRock, own 42 million shares, or roughly 70% of the float. Which means the smart money, at least for the time being, is buying and holding the Wayfair vision.

But there are two types of newcomers to the Fortune 500. Those, like Payless Cashways, which popped onto the list in 1995 only to disappear a few years later. Or those, like Amazon, which debut near the bottom (it crept in at No. 492 in 2002) and steadily ascend the ranks, changing, navigating, and evolving as they grow.

The question is, which kind of company is Wayfair?

****

這是午餐時間。在波士頓市中心的Wayfair 科普利廣場自助餐廳,沙阿一邊吃著雞肉香蒜沙司三明治,一邊暢談著他對公司未來的展望。他的周圍幾乎都是20多歲的年輕人。沙阿解釋說,在美國和歐洲,包括家具和幾乎所有家居用品在內的整個潛在家庭用品市場,代表著8000億美元的商機。Wayfair目前占據的市場份額約為1%。他想征服剩下的市場。

當被問及他打算如何實現這一目標時,他展開了一段敘述,口若懸河。所有的句子似乎都被精心排列成結構完整、條理清晰的段落。很明顯他以前這樣做過。也許講述過一千次。但這絲毫沒有減弱他的興奮情緒。遠非如此。這恰恰是要點所在。

典型的家庭用品購買體驗往往非常糟糕。沒有真正的品牌。所謂的產品發現(product discovery)是很難做到的。此外,即使消費者知道他們在尋找什么,他們也不知道怎么開口。就像時裝一樣,人們購買家居用品是為了反映自己的品味,通常需要幫助。相反,與他們打交道的往往是一心想掙提成,咄咄逼人的銷售人員。像沙發這樣的大物件通常需要很長的交貨時間,而且很難運送到家。你要么雇一輛U-Haul卡車,要么支付昂貴的送貨費用。對供應商來說,這也是一門糟糕的生意。零售商的日子也不好過,因為顧客往往好幾年不見蹤影。在線零售商面臨殘酷的資金壓力,因為顧客不能觸摸產品,這就給購買造成了障礙(他們稱之為“摩擦”),但這也增加了獲得高額回報的機會。

Wayfair正在解決這一困境。它致力于滿足各種口味和預算,提供幾乎無限的選擇——來自于1.1萬家供應商的1400多萬種產品。該公司雇傭了2300多名工程師和數據科學家,他們尋求通過極端個性化來推動忠誠度,并減少摩擦。此外,還有3000名客服代表悉心培養客戶的滿意度和忠誠度。該公司擁有超過1200萬平方英尺的倉儲空間,其中包括十幾個北美和歐洲的物流中心。Wayfair通過這些中心遞送笨重的包裹,許多都是在兩天內送達。沙阿說,這個不斷增長的網絡是實現次日送達和當日送達的關鍵。Wayfair還在開發新技術,以提高消費者在購買之前設計、搭建,甚至觸摸家具的能力。它每年要在廣告上花費10億美元,因為千禧一代來了!

“千禧一代在線購物的傾向是我們核心客戶的四到五倍。現在把這個故事前推10年,20年。到那時,所有的買家都是那些從小就使用聯網手機的人。他們結了婚,有了房子和孩子?!鄙嘲⑺??!扒ъ淮嶄湛疾餃氬輝僭諑糜魏推【粕匣敲炊嗲哪炅?。在接下來的25年,他們會開始把錢投資在家中?!?/p>

沙阿和科奈恩并不是第一批渴望主宰家庭用品的企業家。在這一領域,倒閉和垂死掙扎的企業數不勝數,從Levitz到西爾斯百貨,再到Bed, Bath & Beyond,不一而足。哪怕純粹的電商也難逃厄運。家居電商One Kings Lane籌集了1億美元資金,最終以3000萬美元的價格售出。有機會退出,算是運氣好的。面向千禧一代的家居電商Dot & Bo一度備受炒作,但最終中途夭折。Wayfair很可能已經過了遭受這種命運的臨界點。但它仍然有可能被亞馬遜摧毀。據研究機構Digital Commerce 360估算,亞馬遜2017年的家庭用品銷售額為120億美元,同比增長50%。如果杰夫·貝佐斯和他的公司曾經對這樣一個經常被認為過于昂貴或難以交貨的產品類別感到矛盾,那么現在顯然已經不是這樣了。

與西雅圖巨頭的另一個相似之處是:投資者迫切希望獲得關于Wayfair盈利路徑的信息。接受《財富》雜志專訪時,他似乎并不在意外界的批評。他堅稱,“從調整后息稅前利潤來看,在過去10個季度中,公司的美國業務有7個季度是盈利的?!痹謁婧笳倏?月份財報電話會議上,他對投資者說了同樣一番話。但實際上,他似乎把這個話題當成了一種干擾?!拔以縉詰玫降淖詈媒ㄒ槭?,不要試圖向投資者兜售任何東西。只要告訴他們你打算做什么就行了。如果他們覺得這很有意思,也許他們就會買這只股票?!彼??!白鈧?,你會得到你應得的投資者?!?!-- cend -->

It’s lunchtime in Wayfair’s Copley Square cafeteria in downtown Boston. Shah is holding forth on his vision for the company’s future over a chicken pesto Parmesan sandwich in the midst of a near monoculture of twentysomethings. He explains that the total addressable market for home goods—including furniture and just about everything else for your home—in the U.S. and Europe represents an $800 billion opportunity. Wayfair is currently capturing about 1%. He wants the rest.

Asked how he intends to make that happen, he launches a narrative stream, each word racing to stay ahead of the one behind it. Sentences arrange into fully formed, highly articulate paragraphs. It’s clear he’s done this before. Maybe a thousand times. But the repetition hasn’t dampened his excitement. Far from it. Here’s the gist.

The typical experience of buying home goods is awful. There are no real brands. Product discovery is difficult, and even when consumers know what they’re looking for, they don’t know how to ask for it. As with fashion, people buy home goods to reflect their taste and often need help. Instead, they get pushy salespeople on commission. Big items like sofas often require long lead times and are difficult to get home. Either you hire a U-Haul or incur expensive delivery charges. It’s also a lousy business for suppliers because even the largest brick-and-mortar retailers have only so much room. It’s tough for retailers, too, because customers often disappear for years at a time. And financially, it’s brutal for online retailers because customers can’t touch the product, which creates a barrier to buying (“friction,” as they call it) while also increasing the chance of pricey returns.

Wayfair is fixing this morass with a virtually unlimited selection for every taste and budget—more than 14 million products from 11,000 suppliers. It employs more than 2,300 engineers and data scientists who drive loyalty and attempt to reduce friction through extreme personalization. An additional 3,000 customer service reps foster satisfaction and loyalty. The company has more than 12 million square feet of warehouse space, including a dozen North American and European fulfillment centers, from which it hand-delivers bulky packages, many within two days. Shah says this growing network is the key to implementing next-day and same-day delivery. Wayfair is also creating new technologies to improve a consumer’s ability to design, stage, and even virtually feel furniture before buying it. And it’s dropping $1 billion in advertising a year because, all together now, the millennials are coming!

“Their propensity to buy online is four or five times our core customer today. Now roll this story forward a decade, two decades, when the whole population of buyers becomes folks who grew up with a phone connected to the Internet. They’re married with a house and kids,” Shah says. “Millennials are just starting to age into that spot where they’ll stop spending so much on travel and beer, and start spending the next 25 years investing in their homes.”

Shah and Conine are hardly the first entrepreneurs with a hunger to dominate home goods. The category is littered with the dead and dying, from Levitz and Sears (see our feature in this issue) to Bed, Bath & Beyond. And going Internet-only is no insulation. One Kings Lane raised $100 million in funding only to sell for $30 million. And it was lucky to find an exit. The much-hyped millennial-focused Dot & Bo merely died on the vine. Wayfair is likely past the point of suffering such a fate. But it could yet be crushed by Amazon. Digital Commerce 360 pegged Amazon’s 2017 home goods sales at $12 billion—up 50% from the prior year. If Jeff Bezos and company once seemed ambivalent about a category often considered to be too expensive or too difficult to fulfill, that’s clearly no longer true.

Another similarity to the Seattle giant: Investors are clamoring for information on Wayfair’s path to profitability. In my conversations with Shah, he seems unconcerned with outside criticism. He asserts to me, and subsequently to investors during the May earnings call, that the company’s U.S. operations have been “adjusted Ebitda profitable for seven of the last 10 quarters.” But really, he seems to view the very subject as a distraction. “The best piece of advice I got in the early days was, when it comes to investors, don’t try to sell them anything. Just tell them what you’re planning to do. If they find it interesting, maybe they’ll buy the stock,” he says. “In the end, you’ll get the investors you deserve.”

****

在4月中旬的馬薩諸塞州,春天是一種精神狀態?!跋衷誆ㄊ慷俚鈉率?8華氏度,正在下雨?!逼還鏌糝諷iri說?!敖裉?,這種天氣預計還將延續下去?!笨頗味韃⒚揮斜幌諾?。沙阿像是一位書生氣十足的知識分子,喜歡穿牛津衫,時不時地用食指向上推動他的眼鏡架??頗味髟蚴且桓齪檬ば暮芮?,鐘情于戶外運動的山地自行車手。他的頭發總是亂蓬蓬的,喜歡穿周末休閑裝——尼龍長褲、登山靴、一件巴塔哥尼亞(Patagonia)聯合品牌背心。一大早,他就邀請我去以水面骯臟著稱的查爾斯河玩單槳沖浪。

天剛亮,我們在離他家幾個街區遠的一個下水點碰面,并開玩笑說,我們肯定會落水的,就看能撐多久了。事實證明,只花了大約10分鐘?!拔也換崽P??!鋇蔽掖鈾信闌氐匠謇稅逕鮮?,科奈恩不動聲色地說道?!懊磕暾飧鍪焙?,河水還是相對干凈的?!?/p>

當我們繼續沿著田園詩般的后灣區向前滑行的時候,他開始講述Wayfair的早期歲月??頗味骰匾淥?,他和沙阿曾經多次參加在北卡羅來納州海波因特市舉行的年度家具大會。兩人在展廳內來回走動,試圖與制造商和分銷商建立聯系,學習業務,并嘗試著理解他們經受的挫折。

據科奈恩介紹,他們倆在創業早期就招聘策略做出一個決定:公司將根據分析能力、戰略思維能力和思維敏捷度,而不是經驗來招聘包括最高管理層在內的員工團隊。在波士頓的兩天里,我采訪了Wayfair的多位高管,其中包括擁有金融MBA學位的首席技術官,擁有物理博士學位的數據科學主管,還有一位全球人才主管。他也是MBA出身,曾經在貝恩公司從事私募股權業務,也在麥肯錫做過咨詢工作,但他并沒有人事管理方面的經驗。(這里到處都是前咨詢公司顧問。)

當這種方法出現問題時,員工們會在求職公告板上抱怨無能的經理。但采用這種方式的根本原因是,Wayfair沒有真正的先例可循,所以最好的策略是招聘文化契合度高的員工,對新員工進行教育,并相信他們會迎頭趕上。直到今天,只要有空,科奈恩還會在每周的入職培訓會上向新員工解釋他的策略。

我們擦干衣服,回到科普利廣場。在那里,沙阿繼續給我講述一些關鍵的早期拐點。到2008年,250多個微網站的銷售額達到2.5億美元,他一邊說,一邊在白板上畫出一個時間表?!霸諛鞘焙?,我們注意到我們的模型有一個巨大缺陷,那就是顧客非常高興,但重復購買率只有10%或20%左右?!彼??!霸誚酉呂吹牧僥昀?,我們專注于推動重復訂單增長?!?/p>

他們把一切都整合到一個名為CSN Stores的傘形公司,設計了一個公用消息頭,把所有東西都可視化地連接起來,并啟動了一個電郵營銷活動,以推高姐妹網站的流量。重復率增加了一倍,然后趨于平穩。現在是時候打造一個客戶很容易理解的品牌了,這有助于他們建立起對跨產品類別的信任。(Wayfair這個名字并沒有真正的起源故事。他們花了一大筆錢,讓一家品牌公司起了這樣一個名字。)2011年,他們推出Wayfair.com,并籌集了第一輪資金,目的是提高知名度。

Massachusetts in mid-April, when spring is a state of mind: “It’s currently 48 degrees and raining in Boston,” Siri says. “Today you should expect more of the same.” Conine is undeterred. Whereas Shah projects a bookish intellectual prone to oxford shirts and pushing up the bridge of his glasses with the middle of his index finger, Conine is a competitive mountain biker who’d just plain rather be outside. His hair is perpetually tousled, and he favors weekend casual: nylon pants, hiking boots, a co-branded Patagonia vest. This morning he’s extended an invitation to go paddleboarding on the famously dirty water of the Charles River.

We meet at a launch point a couple blocks from his home just after dawn and joke about the over/under on how long before someone falls in. As it turns out, about 10 minutes. “I wouldn’t worry too much,” Conine says dryly as I pull myself back on the board. “I think it’s relatively clean this time of year.”

We continue on our knees alongside the bucolic Back Bay neighborhood while he narrates Wayfair’s early days. He recalls repeated visits to the annual furniture conference in High Point, N.C., where he and Shah would walk the show floor trying to connect with manufacturers and distributors to learn the business and to understand their frustrations.

He tells me about one of the decisions the partners made in the early years when it came to hiring. The company would hire for analytical strength, the ability to think strategically, and mental dexterity rather than for experience—including at the highest levels of management. During two days in Boston, I interview, among others, the CTO, who has an MBA in finance; a director of data science, who has a Ph.D. in physics; and the head of global talent, another MBA whose background includes private equity at Bain and consulting with McKinsey but excludes personnel management experience. (The place is crawling with ex-consultants.)

When such an approach goes wrong, employees gripe on the job boards about their clueless managers. But the rationale was that there’s no true precedent for the Wayfair way, so the best strategy is to hire for cultural fit, educate new hires, and trust they’ll catch up. To this day, Conine tries to explain this strategy to the new hires at every weekly orientation when he’s in town.

We dry off and head back to Copley Square, where Shah picks up the thread about some of the key early inflection points. By 2008, he says, drawing a timeline on a whiteboard, those 250-odd microsites had $250 million in sales. “At that point, we noticed one of the big weaknesses in our model was that customers were very happy, but the repeat purchase rate was something like 10% or 20%,” he says. “For the next two years, we focused on driving repeat orders.”

They rolled everything into an umbrella company called CSN Stores, designed a common header to connect everything visually, and started an email marketing program to drive traffic to sister sites. Repeat rates doubled—then plateaued. It was time to build a brand that customers could easily understand and develop trust with across product categories. (There’s no real origin story with the Wayfair name. They paid a branding firm a bunch of money.) In 2011 they unveiled Wayfair.com and raised their first round of capital with an eye toward driving awareness.

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Wayfair現在仍然投入大量精力和資金打造一系列自有品牌,目前包括Wayfair.com、AllModern、Birch Lane、Joss & Main和Perigold。但這并不是一種典型的營銷方式。高管們反復宣揚該公司的“打造自己”文化。營銷也不例外。它沒有將創意和媒體投放外包給代理商,而是雇傭內部團隊來創作和處理其無處不在的電視廣告、電郵營銷、明信片、商品目錄、雜志廣告、Instagram紅人營銷、以及各種促銷活動的附屬品,比如Way Day ,后者是Wayfair版的Prime Day。A/B測試是常態。數據科學家們對每一份拷貝、調色板和植入式廣告都進行了研究。沒有固定的預算。Wayfair預計今年將在市場營銷上投入近10億美元——但如果回報證明增加支出是合理的,這一數字可能還會上升?!拔頤欽諮耙幻糯成戲淺V鞴鄣難Э?,并運用了大量數學和科學知識?!庇弊懿帽ど崳鹵硎?。舍溫負責媒體購買、測量和廣告技術團隊,以及130名工程師和數據科學家。毫不奇怪的是,此前任職于麥肯錫公司的他,沒有任何營銷經驗。

Wayfair的營銷團隊為付費搜索創建了一個專有的競價算法,并開發了一個機器學習程序來預測約2000萬個關鍵詞的價值。他們建立了一個動態重定向平臺,分析瀏覽歷史,并建議Wayfair廣告應該如何在互聯網上追蹤用戶。它正在被重新調整用途,以改善產品推薦?!拔頤茄У降囊患率?,利用你的相關信息總是好事一樁。每次這樣做的時候,我們都能看到進步?!鄙崳濾??!暗頤塹腗L平臺也將確定一套旨在向任何新訪客展示的理想產品。從歷史上看,這類工作都是基于直覺,通過手工完成的,但這是無法擴展的?!?/p>

涉及到媒體購買時,該團隊使用定制算法來尋找“套利機會”。例如,他們注意到,每年1月,媒體費率就會降低。據他們推測,這是因為媒體購買機構正在與客戶進行合同談判。于是,他們蜂擁而入,以獲得更高的價值?!拔頤竅褳蹲首楹暇磣齬善憊郝蚓霾吣茄忻教騫郝??!彼??!暗筆諧”硐值梅搶硇允?,我們不會追逐出價?!?/p>

丹尼爾·麥卡錫對此并不買賬。他是埃默里大學營銷學助理教授,也是一篇被廣泛引用的論文《對上市非合約公司基于客戶的估值》(Customer-Based Corporate Valuation for public Traded non-contract companies)的合著者。它探索各種旨在衡量客戶長期價值的方法,并審查了包括Wayfair在內的幾家公司的客戶獲取成本(CAC)。這篇論文很復雜,但結論是悲觀的。簡而言之,他指出,Wayfair的開支過高,而且情況只會變得更糟?!癈AC在本季度升至新高,吸引每位新客戶的成本大約為88美元?!彼??!八親穌廡┩蹲室丫哪炅?,其利潤率實際上一直在下降。上個季度是有史以來最糟糕的一個季度?!甭罌ㄎ怪室蒞ayfair是否有能力在歐洲復制其美國模式。

從舍溫到沙阿,多位Wayfair高管均對CAC的簡單性嗤之以鼻?!罷庀羆撲慵偕櫛頤撬械撓延枚際欽攵孕驢突У?,但我們更多的廣告支出是面向現有的忠實客戶?!鄙崳濾?。更重要的是,客戶行為與季度盈利并不完全一致。他指出,盡管人們購買家居用品的頻率可能非常低,但在過去12個月里,平均每位消費者購買了1.85次。

Wayfair still puts a tremendous amount of effort and money into building its brands, which now include Wayfair.com, AllModern, Birch Lane, Joss & Main, and Perigold. But it’s not a typical approach to marketing. Executives repeatedly tout the company’s “build your own”culture, and marketing is no exception. Rather than outsource creation and media placement to agencies, it employs internal teams to create and handle its ubiquitous TV commercials, email campaigns, postcards, catalogs, magazine ads, Instagram influencer posts, and collateral around various promotions like Way Day, Wayfair’s version of Prime Day. A/B testing is the norm. Data scientists crawl over every bit of copy, color palette, and product placement. And there’s no set budget. Wayfair expects to spend close to $1 billion on marketing this year—but that could go up if the returns justify increased spending. “We’re taking a discipline that is traditionally quite subjective and applying a lot of math and science,” says VP of marketing Bob Sherwin, who oversees the media-buying, measurement, and ad-tech teams as well as 130 engineers and data scientists. It comes as little surprise that he has no marketing experience. He’s ex-McKinsey.

Wayfair’s marketing team has created a proprietary bidding algorithm for paid search and a machine-learning program to predict the value of approximately 20 million keywords. They built a dynamic retargeting platform to analyze browsing history and advise how Wayfair ads should follow you across the Internet, and it’s being repurposed to improve product recommendations. “One of the things we’ve learned is that leveraging information about you is always a good thing. We see improvement every time we do it,” Sherwin says. “But our ML platform will also determine the ideal set of products to show any new visitor. Historically, that kind of thing was done manually, based on intuition, but that wasn’t scalable.”

When it comes to media buying, the team uses custom algorithms to scour for “arbitrage opportunities.” For example, they noticed that rates drop every January, when media-buying agencies—they surmised—are in contract negotiations with clients, so that’s when they swoop in to get more value. “We do media buying like a portfolio manager makes stock-buying decisions,” he says. “When the market is behaving irrationally, we don’t chase the bids.”

Daniel McCarthy isn’t sold on any of this. He’s an assistant professor of marketing at Emory University and a coauthor of a widely cited paper, “Customer-Based Corporate Valuation for Publicly Traded Non-Contractual Firms.” It explores various methods for gauging customer long-term value and scrutinizes customer acquisition costs (CAC) of a few companies, including Wayfair. The thesis is complex, but the takeaway is bearish. In short, he says Wayfair spends way too much and that things are only getting worse. “CAC rose to new highs this quarter, about $88 to bring in every new customer,” he says. “They’ve been making these investments for four years, and their margins have actually been deteriorating. The last quarter was the worst in their history.” McCarthy also questions Wayfair’s ability to replicate its U.S. model in Europe.

From Sherwin to Shah, the Wayfair response is to scoff at the simplicity of CAC metrics. “The calculation assumes all of our marketing dollars go against new customers, but more of our ad spend is going to existing customers that are loyal to us,” Sherwin says. What’s more, customer behavior doesn’t track neatly to quarterly earnings. While home-furnishings purchases can be highly sporadic, he points out that the average customer made 1.85 purchases over the past 12 months.

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Wayfair尋求讓客戶在未來更加頻繁地返回。最有趣的措施之一是Wayfair Next。你可以把它想象成一個研發實驗室,專注于在數字論壇中復制甚至改進現實的家居用品零售體驗。

近些年來,這個實驗室一直在運用虛擬現實(VR)和增強現實(AR)技術。在我訪問期間,Wayfair Next的主管施雷尼克·薩達爾基讓我在增強現實平臺Magic Leap AR上嘗試一款應用,它能夠讓用戶挑選虛擬的家具,并將其置放于一個實際的房間內。用戶可以拍攝她家的地毯或墻紙,然后將它以數字方式插入一套Wayfair沙發的旁邊,看看它們的搭配效果。研究人員演示了一個定制的掃描器。它能夠讓他們創建3D打印的家具模型和一款觸覺應用,后者使平板電腦的屏幕感覺像是織物的紋理。這些小發明都是中長期投資。它們最終可能像那些永遠無法上市的概念車那樣,僅僅是概念而已——抑或,它們將成為Wayfair在千禧一代中打造忠誠度的關鍵。

與此同時,Wayfair為改善物流所做的工作已經初見成效。根據該公司的說法,Wayfair已經向其物流部門CastleGate投入“數億美元”,以幫助它能夠以消費者習以為常(這當然是拜亞馬遜的Amazon Prime服務所賜)的速度交付貨物。Wayfair賭的是,通過處理更多的物流工作,它可以在經濟上受益,并提高客戶滿意度。目前,該公司銷售的包裹大約有3000萬件,其中有“比例頗為可觀,并且不斷增長的一部分”是通過CastleGate網絡交付的。2018年第四季度,通過CastleGate運送的小包裹的價值同比翻了一番。對于大型包裹來說,這一比例升至14%,該公司預計它還會上升。

為了理解CastleGate的運作方式,我參觀了一個最新的物流中心。它位于達拉斯以南的高速公路旁,占地87.4萬平方英尺。場地總監吉姆·德西蒙指出,這些貨架的大小和形狀都是為適應不規則物體而設計的。小包裹平均3立方英尺,30磅重。大型物品的平均重量為80磅,體積為22立方英尺。他向我介紹幾十名負責搬運東西的工人。他們駕駛電動叉車疾馳而過,把產品抬到一個定制的產品搬運器上,它是專門為處理尺寸奇特的物件而設計的。這座閃閃發光的鋼結構高15英尺,帶有一條51英寸寬的傳送帶——在走完約三分之一英里之后,它會自動回圈。從遠處看,這座大廈就像是縣里集市上的過山車。無數包裹在一系列頭頂傳感器的下方穿行。這些傳感器掃描條形碼,并將包裹分配到特定的卡車上。一個機械臂將每個包裹沿15條通道中的一條推下,放入一個集裝箱中。

The plan is to bring customers back more regularly in the future. One of the company’s most interesting efforts is called Wayfair Next. Think of it as an R&D lab focused on replicating or even improving upon the terrestrial home goods retail experience in a digital forum.

The lab has been working with virtual reality and augmented reality for a few years, and during my visit, the head of Wayfair Next, Shrenik Sadalgi, lets me try an app on the Magic Leap AR platform that makes it possible to pick and place virtual furniture into an actual room. A user can capture the pattern of her own rug or wallpaper and insert it digitally next to a Wayfair couch to see how they jell. They demo a custom-built scanner that enables them to create 3D-printed models of furniture and a haptics application that makes the screen of a tablet feel like the texture of fabric. These gizmos are medium-to--longer-term bets. They could turn out to be the equivalent of concept cars that never make it to market—or they may be the keys to building loyalty among millennials as they age into staging their living rooms.

Meanwhile, Wayfair’s work to improve fulfillment is already bearing fruit. According to the company, it has poured “hundreds of millions of dollars” into its CastleGate logistics unit to help deliver goods at the pace that consumers have become accustomed to, thanks to Amazon Prime. It’s a bet that by handling more of the fulfillment, Wayfair can benefit financially and increase customer satisfaction. Currently, “a meaningful and growing percentage” of the roughly 30 million packages it sells are delivered through the CastleGate network. The dollar value of small parcels shipped through CastleGate doubled in fourth quarter 2018 over the year prior. For large parcels, it rose to 14%, and the company expects that to increase.

To understand how CastleGate works, I visit one of the newest centers, an 874,000-square-foot facility alongside the highway just south of Dallas. Site director Jim DeSimone points out the various sizes and shapes of the shelves designed to accommodate irregular objects. Small parcels average three cubic feet and 30 pounds. Large items come in at 80 pounds and 22 cubic feet, on average. He introduces dozens of workers tasked with moving things around. They zoom by on electric forklifts and lift products onto a custom product mover that’s purpose-built to handle odd-size objects. The gleaming steel structure is 15 feet tall and features a 51-inch-wide conveyor belt that circles back on itself over the course of traveling a third of a mile. From a distance, the edifice might pass for a county fair roller coaster. The packages travel beneath a series of overhead sensors that scan bar codes and assign them to a particular truck. A mechanical arm pushes each package down one of the 15 lanes and into a shipping container.

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當兩人還在康奈爾大學讀本科的時候,沙阿和科奈恩就因為對數字的共同興趣而成為好友。圖片來源:Courtesy of Wayfair

這棟設施是Wayfair的運營理念落地的地方。如果你想象的是一個高度自動化的機器人場景,那就錯了。盡管波士頓擁有先進的技術和工藝,但要交付這些形狀奇特,往往很重的貨物,主要還是要靠幾十個人的努力。

對于這些努力,大衛·伯格曼頗為贊賞。他是家具制造商Butler Specialty的首席執行官。該公司主要設計、制造和銷售像茶幾、柜子、裝飾性支架和櫥柜這類特色家具。自從他在1998年從父親及其合伙人手中購買了Butler Specialty以來,伯格曼一直親自運營這家芝加哥公司。與Wayfair合作之前,他最大的銷售問題來自于實體零售商。他們只有這么多展示空間,幾乎沒有能力預測需求。他依靠銷售代表來爭取新的訂單和零售空間。Wayfair顛覆了這一模式——它不僅擁有無限的展示商品的能力,其衡量和調整需求的能力也是前所未有的?!八怯爰負醮游叢詡揖咝幸蕩嬖詮墓┯ι探⒘撕獻鞴叵?。這是非常不尋常的,正因如此,我們認同他們正在兜售的一切?!輩衤??!吧嘲⒂滌形以謚耙瞪鬧寫游醇腦都渴?。他是那種你想追隨的人?!?!-- cend -->

This facility is where Wayfair’s rubber hits the road. If you’re picturing a highly automated scene with robots, that’s the wrong company. For all the technology and sophistication in Boston, fulfilling the promise to deliver oddly shaped and often heavy goods rests primarily on the shoulders of dozens of humans.

David Bergman, for one, appreciates the effort. The CEO of Butler Specialty Co., a furniture manufacturer that designs, engineers, and sells accent furniture like end tables, chests, consoles, and cabinets, has been running his Chicago business since buying it from his father and his father’s partner in 1998. Pre-Wayfair, his biggest sales problems stemmed from brick-and-mortar retailers. They had only so much display room and little ability to predict demand. He relied on sales reps to push for new orders and space on the retail floor. Wayfair has flipped the script with an unlimited ability to show long-tail goods and an unprecedented ability to measure and tweak demand. “They’ve built a partnership with vendors that pretty much never existed in home furnishings. It’s extremely unusual, and because of that, we buy into everything they’re selling—whether that’s CastleGate or promotions or whatever,” Bergman says. “Niraj has a clarity of vision that I’ve never seen in my career. He’s the kind of person you just want to follow.”

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在Wayfair開放式辦公空間中的一間會議室里,我對兩位聯合創始人進行了最后一次采訪??頗味鞲嶄掌鎰孕諧蹈俠?,頭發還是亂蓬蓬的。沙阿顯得特別放松?!拔以暈鬩丫峋敫頤翹富傲??!彼?。從幾近破產的窮學生到一家《財富》美國500強企業的掌門人,這對搭檔已經攜手走過了一段長達24年的旅程。我問他們是否參加過創業者咨詢??頗味饜ψ潘擔骸懊揮?!盡管在創業早期,我想我根本無法跟這個家伙打交道,我經常繞著查爾斯河走一圈來發泄情緒。但我們總能解決問題?!?/p>

和任何關系一樣,你很難知道私下里發生了什么,但從表面上看,他們仍然很親密。這并不是說他們會心有靈犀地幫對方說完后半句話。沙阿的說話風格不允許這樣做。但他們憑直覺知道對方在想什么?!拔頤竊?5%的情況下意見一致?!鄙嘲⑺??!暗蔽頤且餳灰恢率?,嗯,這真的很有趣。你會想,為什么會這樣?一定有什么東西我沒看見?!?/p>

兩位聯合創始人及其家人仍然擁有該公司32%的股份——以及投票權。盡管他們的銀行存款一開始有點不太平衡,但從那以后就難分伯仲了。沙阿說,平等的伙伴關系是兩人最重大的決定之一,因為就像婚姻一樣,建立穩定的長期商業關系至關重要?!拔蟻不犢嫘λ滴胰勻宦浜?,但我總是更善于花錢?!彼ψ潘?。(財富中文網)

本文作者杰弗里·奧布萊恩是舊金山灣區故事工作室StoryTK的聯合創始人。

本文另一版本登載于《財富》雜志2019年6月刊,標題為《一切都是為了Wayfair》。

譯者:任文科

In our final meeting, the cofounders are seated in one of the many conference rooms dotting Wayfair’s open office. Conine is windblown from a bike ride. Shah is especially relaxed. “I thought you’d be sick of talking to us by now,” he says. The duo have made a 24-year journey from nearly broke students to running a Fortune 500 company. I ask if they’ve ever been to founders’ counseling. Conine laughs: “No! Though in the early days, I’d think, I can’t deal with this guy, and walk around the Charles to blow off steam. But we’d always work it out.”

As with any relationship, it’s difficult to know what happens in private, but outwardly, they still seem close. It’s not that they finish each other’s sentences. Shah’s rhetorical style doesn’t allow for it. But they intuit what the other is thinking. “We agree like 95% of the time,” Shah says. “When we disagree, well, that’s really interesting. You think, why? There must be something I’m not seeing.”

The cofounders and their families still own 32% of the company they created, as well as voting control. And while things may have started out a bit uneven with their bank accounts, it’s been 50/50 ever since. Equal partnership, Shah says, was one of the biggest decisions the duo ever made—because just as with a marriage, it’s crucial for a long-term business relationship to start on a stable footing. “Although I like to joke that I’m still running behind,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve always been better at spending my money.”

Jeffrey O’Brien (@jeffreyobrien) is cofounder of the Bay Area storytelling studio, StoryTK.

A version of this article appears in the June 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “It’s All Clicking for Wayfair.”

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