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在网上卖家具如何做大,这家美国500强新贵是榜样

Jeffrey M. O’Brien 2019年05月27日

这家《财富》美国500强新晋企业拥有两位颇具远见卓识的创始人,2300名数据极客,持续飙升的销售额。现在,它需要扭亏为盈。

1995年从康奈尔大学毕业后不久,尼拉杰·沙阿和史蒂夫·科奈恩决定比一比他们微薄的银行存款。这两位面带稚气的工程专业学生都喜欢谈生意,都善于分析,也都有过人的勇气和毅力。但也仅此而已。当时,科奈恩以几千美元的优势胜出,所以颇为得意。但沙阿无动于衷。“我们将获得巨大的成功,今天这点存款差异真的不算什么。”科奈恩记得他这样说道。

彼时,新兴的互联网热潮开始展现广阔的前景。沙阿和科奈恩决定追随资金的涌动方向。在很短的时间内,他们建立并出售了一家IT服务咨询公司和一家移动开发商店。大约在2002年,两人的财力足以让他们利用科奈恩家的一间闲置卧室,创建了一个名为RacksandStands.com,听起来很卑微的电子商务网站。它提供任何你想用来存放你的立体声音响的东西。他们学会了利用谷歌关键字广告(Google AdWords)进行定量营销,并与供应商和分销商建立了联系。他们自己处理客户服务,尽最大努力确保购物者按时收到订单,并衡量他们所能衡量的一切。“4个月后,我们成为了最大的在线娱乐家具销售商之一。”沙阿说。

接下来,他们把这个模型复制到大约250个垂直领域,比如JustSouthwesternRugs.com、EveryCuckooClock.com、AllBakersRacks.com、HolidayDecorationsDirect.com,等等。“我们花了9到10年的时间来构建系统和基础设施。在运营趋于稳定之前,我们不太担心前端。”科奈恩补充说。“创建一个电子商务网站,并建立一个性感的前端,是很容易做到的事情。但要持续地提供你所承诺的体验,则是非常困难的。”

如今,沙阿和科奈恩分别担任全球第12大在线零售商Wayfair的首席执行官和联席董事长。根据研究公司Digital Commerce 360的数据,Wayfair的年销售额约为68亿美元,仍然远远落后于亚马逊和沃尔玛,但领先于百思买和好市多。这家公司销售大量家具,以及其他一些家居用品,从岛式厨房、浴室盥洗台,到小张地毯,从双层床到热水浴缸,不一而足。几乎所有的产品都是免费配送(哪怕重达350磅的组合式沙发,亦是如此),而且通常在几天内就能送达。像其他电子商务先驱一样,Wayfair提供几乎无限的选择,衡量一切,并致力于不惜一切代价让客户满意。就这样,这个在科奈恩家的卧室中酝酿出来的创意,已经为两位联合创始人赚得了合计超过40亿美元的净资产,而他们的智慧结晶也首次跻身《财富》美国500强榜单。

几乎以任何标准衡量,Wayfair都获得了巨大的成功。自2014年上市以来,其年收入增长了五倍,最近一季的收入达到19亿美元,年增长率为40%。Wayfair目前拥有超过1.2万名员工,遍布波士顿、柏林、爱尔兰和美国许多城市,每周都有数十名新员工加入。此外,活跃客户(意指在过去一年购买过一次的客户)的数量同比增长40%,达到1640万。Wayfair正在成为一个近乎家喻户晓的品牌。根据内部调查,它的品牌认知度(“你听说过Wayfair吗?”)约为90%。

然而,如果你对Wayfair有一个大致了解,你就知道这家公司有个污点。它深陷赤字泥沼。庞大的亏损额甚至让有些人认为,沙阿和科奈恩正在走向毁灭。尽管收入增长显著,但Wayfair去年亏损逾5亿美元,最近一季的亏损较2018年第一季度几乎翻了一番。著名的卖空者,在线投资通讯Citron Research的编辑安德鲁·莱夫特将Wayfair称为“反亚马逊”。在一篇被广泛引用的论文中,两位学者声称,该公司在基础设施、广告支出和欧洲扩张方面的巨额投资是不可持续的。质疑者认为,Wayfair没有盈利路径;被亚马逊这样的巨头收购或许是最好的可能结果,所有这些收入增长只不过是降低了这种情景出现的可能性而已。

事实证明,Wayfair的股价颇具韧性,尽管它确实在波动。根据S3 Analytics在今年2月发布的一份报告,去年做空这只股票的投资者总共损失了10.7亿美元。在Wayfair公布第一季度业绩之后,该股遭受重挫,随后又被卷入关税战引发的市场抛售潮中,但截至本期《财富》杂志付印时,该股今年迄今仍上涨了50%以上。沙阿和科奈恩似乎得到了机构买家的信任,这一点很有帮助。Wayfair的前10大股东包括富达投资、Janus、摩根大通、先锋集团和贝莱德,共计持有4200万股,约占流通股的70%。这意味着,至少就目前而言,精明的投资者愿意花钱认可Wayfair的愿景。

但《财富》美国500强榜单有两类新来者。其中一类犹如转瞬即逝的昙花,比如1995年突然出现在该榜单上的Payless Cashways,在几年后就不见踪迹。另一种是像亚马逊这样的公司。2002年,它爬到了第492位,然后稳步上升,并随着规模的增长而不断演化。

问题是,Wayfair是哪一种呢?

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?

****

这是午餐时间。在波士顿市中心的Wayfair 科普利广场自助餐厅,沙阿一边吃着鸡肉香蒜沙司三明治,一边畅谈着他对公司未来的展望。他的周围几乎都是20多岁的年轻人。沙阿解释说,在美国和欧洲,包括家具和几乎所有家居用品在内的整个潜在家庭用品市场,代表着8000亿美元的商机。Wayfair目前占据的市场份额约为1%。他想征服剩下的市场。

当被问及他打算如何实现这一目标时,他展开了一段叙述,口若悬河。所有的句子似乎都被精心排列成结构完整、条理清晰的段落。很明显他以前这样做过。也许讲述过一千次。但这丝毫没有减弱他的兴奋情绪。远非如此。这恰恰是要点所在。

典型的家庭用品购买体验往往非常糟糕。没有真正的品牌。所谓的产品发现(product discovery)是很难做到的。此外,即使消费者知道他们在寻找什么,他们也不知道怎么开口。就像时装一样,人们购买家居用品是为了反映自己的品味,通常需要帮助。相反,与他们打交道的往往是一心想挣提成,咄咄逼人的销售人员。像沙发这样的大物件通常需要很长的交货时间,而且很难运送到家。你要么雇一辆U-Haul卡车,要么支付昂贵的送货费用。对供应商来说,这也是一门糟糕的生意。零售商的日子也不好过,因为顾客往往好几年不见踪影。在线零售商面临残酷的资金压力,因为顾客不能触摸产品,这就给购买造成了障碍(他们称之为“摩擦”),但这也增加了获得高额回报的机会。

Wayfair正在解决这一困境。它致力于满足各种口味和预算,提供几乎无限的选择——来自于1.1万家供应商的1400多万种产品。该公司雇佣了2300多名工程师和数据科学家,他们寻求通过极端个性化来推动忠诚度,并减少摩擦。此外,还有3000名客服代表悉心培养客户的满意度和忠诚度。该公司拥有超过1200万平方英尺的仓储空间,其中包括十几个北美和欧洲的物流中心。Wayfair通过这些中心递送笨重的包裹,许多都是在两天内送达。沙阿说,这个不断增长的网络是实现次日送达和当日送达的关键。Wayfair还在开发新技术,以提高消费者在购买之前设计、搭建,甚至触摸家具的能力。它每年要在广告上花费10亿美元,因为千禧一代来了!

“千禧一代在线购物的倾向是我们核心客户的四到五倍。现在把这个故事前推10年,20年。到那时,所有的买家都是那些从小就使用联网手机的人。他们结了婚,有了房子和孩子。”沙阿说。“千禧一代刚刚开始步入不再在旅游和啤酒上花那么多钱的年龄。在接下来的25年,他们会开始把钱投资在家中。”

沙阿和科奈恩并不是第一批渴望主宰家庭用品的企业家。在这一领域,倒闭和垂死挣扎的企业数不胜数,从Levitz到西尔斯百货,再到Bed, Bath & Beyond,不一而足。哪怕纯粹的电商也难逃厄运。家居电商One Kings Lane筹集了1亿美元资金,最终以3000万美元的价格售出。有机会退出,算是运气好的。面向千禧一代的家居电商Dot & Bo一度备受炒作,但最终中途夭折。Wayfair很可能已经过了遭受这种命运的临界点。但它仍然有可能被亚马逊摧毁。据研究机构Digital Commerce 360估算,亚马逊2017年的家庭用品销售额为120亿美元,同比增长50%。如果杰夫·贝佐斯和他的公司曾经对这样一个经常被认为过于昂贵或难以交货的产品类别感到矛盾,那么现在显然已经不是这样了。

与西雅图巨头的另一个相似之处是:投资者迫切希望获得关于Wayfair盈利路径的信息。接受《财富》杂志专访时,他似乎并不在意外界的批评。他坚称,“从调整后息税前利润来看,在过去10个季度中,公司的美国业务有7个季度是盈利的。”在随后召开的5月份财报电话会议上,他对投资者说了同样一番话。但实际上,他似乎把这个话题当成了一种干扰。“我早期得到的最好建议是,不要试图向投资者兜售任何东西。只要告诉他们你打算做什么就行了。如果他们觉得这很有意思,也许他们就会买这只股票。”他说。“最终,你会得到你应得的投资者。”

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月中旬的马萨诸塞州,春天是一种精神状态。“现在波士顿的气温是48华氏度,正在下雨。”苹果语音助手Siri说。“今天,这种天气预计还将延续下去。”科奈恩并没有被吓倒。沙阿像是一位书生气十足的知识分子,喜欢穿牛津衫,时不时地用食指向上推动他的眼镜架。科奈恩则是一个好胜心很强,钟情于户外运动的山地自行车手。他的头发总是乱蓬蓬的,喜欢穿周末休闲装——尼龙长裤、登山靴、一件巴塔哥尼亚(Patagonia)联合品牌背心。一大早,他就邀请我去以水面肮脏著称的查尔斯河玩单桨冲浪。

天刚亮,我们在离他家几个街区远的一个下水点碰面,并开玩笑说,我们肯定会落水的,就看能撑多久了。事实证明,只花了大约10分钟。“我不会太担心。”当我从水中爬回到冲浪板上时,科奈恩不动声色地说道。“每年这个时候,河水还是相对干净的。”

当我们继续沿着田园诗般的后湾区向前滑行的时候,他开始讲述Wayfair的早期岁月。科奈恩回忆说,他和沙阿曾经多次参加在北卡罗来纳州海波因特市举行的年度家具大会。两人在展厅内来回走动,试图与制造商和分销商建立联系,学习业务,并尝试着理解他们经受的挫折。

据科奈恩介绍,他们俩在创业早期就招聘策略做出一个决定:公司将根据分析能力、战略思维能力和思维敏捷度,而不是经验来招聘包括最高管理层在内的员工团队。在波士顿的两天里,我采访了Wayfair的多位高管,其中包括拥有金融MBA学位的首席技术官,拥有物理博士学位的数据科学主管,还有一位全球人才主管。他也是MBA出身,曾经在贝恩公司从事私募股权业务,也在麦肯锡做过咨询工作,但他并没有人事管理方面的经验。(这里到处都是前咨询公司顾问。)

当这种方法出现问题时,员工们会在求职公告板上抱怨无能的经理。但采用这种方式的根本原因是,Wayfair没有真正的先例可循,所以最好的策略是招聘文化契合度高的员工,对新员工进行教育,并相信他们会迎头赶上。直到今天,只要有空,科奈恩还会在每周的入职培训会上向新员工解释他的策略。

我们擦干衣服,回到科普利广场。在那里,沙阿继续给我讲述一些关键的早期拐点。到2008年,250多个微网站的销售额达到2.5亿美元,他一边说,一边在白板上画出一个时间表。“在那时候,我们注意到我们的模型有一个巨大缺陷,那就是顾客非常高兴,但重复购买率只有10%或20%左右。”他说。“在接下来的两年里,我们专注于推动重复订单增长。”

他们把一切都整合到一个名为CSN Stores的伞形公司,设计了一个公用消息头,把所有东西都可视化地连接起来,并启动了一个电邮营销活动,以推高姐妹网站的流量。重复率增加了一倍,然后趋于平稳。现在是时候打造一个客户很容易理解的品牌了,这有助于他们建立起对跨产品类别的信任。(Wayfair这个名字并没有真正的起源故事。他们花了一大笔钱,让一家品牌公司起了这样一个名字。)2011年,他们推出Wayfair.com,并筹集了第一轮资金,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.

****

Wayfair现在仍然投入大量精力和资金打造一系列自有品牌,目前包括Wayfair.com、AllModern、Birch Lane、Joss & Main和Perigold。但这并不是一种典型的营销方式。高管们反复宣扬该公司的“打造自己”文化。营销也不例外。它没有将创意和媒体投放外包给代理商,而是雇佣内部团队来创作和处理其无处不在的电视广告、电邮营销、明信片、商品目录、杂志广告、Instagram红人营销、以及各种促销活动的附属品,比如Way Day ,后者是Wayfair版的Prime Day。A/B测试是常态。数据科学家们对每一份拷贝、调色板和植入式广告都进行了研究。没有固定的预算。Wayfair预计今年将在市场营销上投入近10亿美元——但如果回报证明增加支出是合理的,这一数字可能还会上升。“我们正在学习一门传统上非常主观的学科,并运用了大量数学和科学知识。”营销副总裁鲍勃·舍温表示。舍温负责媒体购买、测量和广告技术团队,以及130名工程师和数据科学家。毫不奇怪的是,此前任职于麦肯锡公司的他,没有任何营销经验。

Wayfair的营销团队为付费搜索创建了一个专有的竞价算法,并开发了一个机器学习程序来预测约2000万个关键词的价值。他们建立了一个动态重定向平台,分析浏览历史,并建议Wayfair广告应该如何在互联网上追踪用户。它正在被重新调整用途,以改善产品推荐。“我们学到的一件事是,利用你的相关信息总是好事一桩。每次这样做的时候,我们都能看到进步。”舍温说。“但我们的ML平台也将确定一套旨在向任何新访客展示的理想产品。从历史上看,这类工作都是基于直觉,通过手工完成的,但这是无法扩展的。”

涉及到媒体购买时,该团队使用定制算法来寻找“套利机会”。例如,他们注意到,每年1月,媒体费率就会降低。据他们推测,这是因为媒体购买机构正在与客户进行合同谈判。于是,他们蜂拥而入,以获得更高的价值。“我们像投资组合经理做股票购买决策那样进行媒体购买。”他说。“当市场表现得非理性时,我们不会追逐出价。”

丹尼尔·麦卡锡对此并不买账。他是埃默里大学营销学助理教授,也是一篇被广泛引用的论文《对上市非合约公司基于客户的估值》(Customer-Based Corporate Valuation for public Traded non-contract companies)的合著者。它探索各种旨在衡量客户长期价值的方法,并审查了包括Wayfair在内的几家公司的客户获取成本(CAC)。这篇论文很复杂,但结论是悲观的。简而言之,他指出,Wayfair的开支过高,而且情况只会变得更糟。“CAC在本季度升至新高,吸引每位新客户的成本大约为88美元。”他说。“他们做这些投资已经四年了,其利润率实际上一直在下降。上个季度是有史以来最糟糕的一个季度。”麦卡锡还质疑Wayfair是否有能力在欧洲复制其美国模式。

从舍温到沙阿,多位Wayfair高管均对CAC的简单性嗤之以鼻。“这项计算假设我们所有的营销费用都是针对新客户的,但我们更多的广告支出是面向现有的忠实客户。”舍温说。更重要的是,客户行为与季度盈利并不完全一致。他指出,尽管人们购买家居用品的频率可能非常低,但在过去12个月里,平均每位消费者购买了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.

****

Wayfair寻求让客户在未来更加频繁地返回。最有趣的措施之一是Wayfair Next。你可以把它想象成一个研发实验室,专注于在数字论坛中复制甚至改进现实的家居用品零售体验。

近些年来,这个实验室一直在运用虚拟现实(VR)和增强现实(AR)技术。在我访问期间,Wayfair Next的主管施雷尼克·萨达尔基让我在增强现实平台Magic Leap AR上尝试一款应用,它能够让用户挑选虚拟的家具,并将其置放于一个实际的房间内。用户可以拍摄她家的地毯或墙纸,然后将它以数字方式插入一套Wayfair沙发的旁边,看看它们的搭配效果。研究人员演示了一个定制的扫描器。它能够让他们创建3D打印的家具模型和一款触觉应用,后者使平板电脑的屏幕感觉像是织物的纹理。这些小发明都是中长期投资。它们最终可能像那些永远无法上市的概念车那样,仅仅是概念而已——抑或,它们将成为Wayfair在千禧一代中打造忠诚度的关键。

与此同时,Wayfair为改善物流所做的工作已经初见成效。根据该公司的说法,Wayfair已经向其物流部门CastleGate投入“数亿美元”,以帮助它能够以消费者习以为常(这当然是拜亚马逊的Amazon Prime服务所赐)的速度交付货物。Wayfair赌的是,通过处理更多的物流工作,它可以在经济上受益,并提高客户满意度。目前,该公司销售的包裹大约有3000万件,其中有“比例颇为可观,并且不断增长的一部分”是通过CastleGate网络交付的。2018年第四季度,通过CastleGate运送的小包裹的价值同比翻了一番。对于大型包裹来说,这一比例升至14%,该公司预计它还会上升。

为了理解CastleGate的运作方式,我参观了一个最新的物流中心。它位于达拉斯以南的高速公路旁,占地87.4万平方英尺。场地总监吉姆·德西蒙指出,这些货架的大小和形状都是为适应不规则物体而设计的。小包裹平均3立方英尺,30磅重。大型物品的平均重量为80磅,体积为22立方英尺。他向我介绍几十名负责搬运东西的工人。他们驾驶电动叉车疾驰而过,把产品抬到一个定制的产品搬运器上,它是专门为处理尺寸奇特的物件而设计的。这座闪闪发光的钢结构高15英尺,带有一条51英寸宽的传送带——在走完约三分之一英里之后,它会自动回圈。从远处看,这座大厦就像是县里集市上的过山车。无数包裹在一系列头顶传感器的下方穿行。这些传感器扫描条形码,并将包裹分配到特定的卡车上。一个机械臂将每个包裹沿15条通道中的一条推下,放入一个集装箱中。

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.

?
当两人还在康奈尔大学读本科的时候,沙阿和科奈恩就因为对数字的共同兴趣而成为好友。图片来源:Courtesy of Wayfair

这栋设施是Wayfair的运营理念落地的地方。如果你想象的是一个高度自动化的机器人场景,那就错了。尽管波士顿拥有先进的技术和工艺,但要交付这些形状奇特,往往很重的货物,主要还是要靠几十个人的努力。

对于这些努力,大卫·伯格曼颇为赞赏。他是家具制造商Butler Specialty的首席执行官。该公司主要设计、制造和销售像茶几、柜子、装饰性支架和橱柜这类特色家具。自从他在1998年从父亲及其合伙人手中购买了Butler Specialty以来,伯格曼一直亲自运营这家芝加哥公司。与Wayfair合作之前,他最大的销售问题来自于实体零售商。他们只有这么多展示空间,几乎没有能力预测需求。他依靠销售代表来争取新的订单和零售空间。Wayfair颠覆了这一模式——它不仅拥有无限的展示商品的能力,其衡量和调整需求的能力也是前所未有的。“他们与几乎从未在家具行业存在过的供应商建立了合作关系。这是非常不寻常的,正因如此,我们认同他们正在兜售的一切。”伯格曼说。“沙阿拥有我在职业生涯中从未见过的远见卓识。他是那种你想追随的人。”

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.”

****

在Wayfair开放式办公空间中的一间会议室里,我对两位联合创始人进行了最后一次采访。科奈恩刚刚骑自行车赶来,头发还是乱蓬蓬的。沙阿显得特别放松。“我原以为你已经厌倦跟我们谈话了。”他说。从几近破产的穷学生到一家《财富》美国500强企业的掌门人,这对搭档已经携手走过了一段长达24年的旅程。我问他们是否参加过创业者咨询。科奈恩笑着说:“没有!尽管在创业早期,我想我根本无法跟这个家伙打交道,我经常绕着查尔斯河走一圈来发泄情绪。但我们总能解决问题。”

和任何关系一样,你很难知道私下里发生了什么,但从表面上看,他们仍然很亲密。这并不是说他们会心有灵犀地帮对方说完后半句话。沙阿的说话风格不允许这样做。但他们凭直觉知道对方在想什么。“我们在95%的情况下意见一致。”沙阿说。“当我们意见不一致时,嗯,这真的很有趣。你会想,为什么会这样?一定有什么东西我没看见。”

两位联合创始人及其家人仍然拥有该公司32%的股份——以及投票权。尽管他们的银行存款一开始有点不太平衡,但从那以后就难分伯仲了。沙阿说,平等的伙伴关系是两人最重大的决定之一,因为就像婚姻一样,建立稳定的长期商业关系至关重要。“我喜欢开玩笑说我仍然落后,但我总是更善于花钱。”他笑着说。(财富中文网)

本文作者杰弗里·奥布莱恩是旧金山湾区故事工作室StoryTK的联合创始人。

本文另一版本登载于《财富》杂志2019年6月刊,标题为《一切都是为了Wayfair》。

译者: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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