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T here’s a saying that goes, “An unhappy customer is a chance to make a customer for life.” Of course, no business wants angry customers, and the first way to limit them is to offer impeccable service. Chewy—the direct-to-consumer, online retailer of pet products—has built its business by delivering best-in-class service and forging great relationships with pet owners . . . and, in some cases, even their pets.

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hewy was launched in 2011 by Ryan Cohen and Michael Day, two guys who met in an online chat room about website design and computer programming. The pair was one week away from launching an online jewelry business together when the idea for an online pet store hit Cohen while waiting at a store to buy dog food. You could say the plan was successful; in 2017, PetSmart bought Chewy.com for $3.35 billion. At the time, it was the largest-ever acquisition of an e-commerce site.

Today, Chewy has headquarters in Boston and Florida and sells pet supplies from over 2,500 brands. Leashes, treats, dog beds, or cat furniture—if your pet needs it, Chewy has it. It even includes an online pharmacy where you can buy prescription medicine for Rover or Fluffy.

Chewy’s marketing success stems from the company’s successful efforts to engage with their customers on a personal level and its understanding that a pet is a treasured member of the family. The company’s mission is “to be the most trusted and convenient destination for pet parents (and partners) everywhere.” Tails—er, tales—of the company’s actions suggest that they live that mission. Viral stories of Chewy employees going the extra mile are legendary. From sending fun, handwritten notes for the pet itself to sending flowers and letters of condolence to pet owners when their pet passes away, all of these personal touches have resulted in strong referral marketing, with customers sharing their positive Chewy experiences with their pet-owning friends and posting about them on social media.

As with most online retailers, Chewy’s website is the centerpiece to the company’s service, marketing, and, of course, sales. Chewy.com is easy to navigate, allowing pet owners to shop by the type of pet they own, by popular categories, or by brand. If your pet is sick, you can connect with a veterinarian through the website from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. eastern time every day.

The blog section (be.chewy.com) could be easier to find (it’s in the Chewy.com footer), but it houses a wealth of helpful articles for pet owners. It includes written stories and YouTube videos that deliver value on topics such as how to puppy proof your home, what foods are safe for your animal, and how to choose the best bed for your pet. Chewy’s YouTube channel features content on pet shelters, veterinarians, and dog trainers, as well as how-to videos for new cat and dog owners.

The customer-first mantra isn’t just lip service. Chewy has a 100 percent unconditional satisfaction guarantee on purchases, and their customer service team is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Chewy’s reputation for great customer service also makes its way into the company’s advertising, and why wouldn’t it? Their marketing uses customer testimonials to promote the great Chewy service that people have come to expect. Their TV commercials promise to deliver your order to your home for less than what you will pay at a store, and they make it clear just how easy it is to shop on Chewy.com and how exciting it will be for you and your pet to unbox your order.

Pet owners are so enamored that they create their own unboxing videos on YouTube, often with product reviews explaining the great deals they got from Chewy and links to the products. Some of that influencer content is repurposed on Chewy’s other platforms as well.

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oday’s twenty- and thirtysomethings see a pet as a way to prepare for the kids they intend to have later down the road, and Chewy uses this knowledge in advertising to this demographic. Through its home delivery, better pricing, and trademark customer service, the goal is to lessen the worries of those new “pet parents.” On social media, the Chewy Instagram account is dotted with photos of pets simply enjoying life, of course, but it’s also loaded with user-generated content, such as Chewy testimonials from pet owners or even galleries with tips on topics such as how to train your new pup while working a full-time job. The content seems to engage their customers; they have more than 750,000 followers.

Not everything is digital, however. Chewy also leans heavily on direct mail programs, often using personalization as well as customized offers to customers. The company reportedly sent out two million handwritten holiday cards one year, and in 2021 they mailed a holiday catalog that not only featured dozens of popular products but also included stickers for your little ones to create a paper snow globe featuring the family pet, instructions for DIY ornaments made from their boxes, and CTAs to adopt or volunteer at your local shelters and rescues or donate products directly to them through Chewy.com’s Wish List. If you make a purchase on Chewy.com, don’t be surprised if you receive a handwritten, Florida-themed postcard from a customer service representative at Chewy headquarters there, making sure that your pet liked your purchase.

Chewy is also philanthropic, giving back to the pet community that has built its business. On their website is a prominently displayed Give Back link that explains how the company does just that, along with how you can donate to a rescue or find a pet to adopt. Chewy says it has donated more than $97 million in products since 2012 to help shelter and rescue animals. The statistics are impressive: Chewy has gifted 61 million pounds of dog food, fed 93 million meals to shelter animals, donated 39.6 thousand beds and crates, and worked with 7,500 nonprofit partners in all 50 states.

Why we love Chewy.com:

  • Strong philanthropic “give back” culture
  • Clear mission statement supported by a tenacious customer-first company culture
  • Use of customer testimonials in marketing strategy
  • Personalized, data-driven direct mail campaigns
  • Personalized, handwritten direct mail pieces
  • 750,000+ social media followers providing UGC that successfully serves as unsolicited referral marketing
This article originally appeared in BEYOND PRINT as syndicated content and is subject to copyright protections. All rights reserved. Image(s) used under license from Shutterstock.