A few years ago, it may have seemed inconceivable to buy any kind of big-ticket household item without so much as a glimpse of it in the store. It would have seemed even more farfetched to buy something as personal as a sofa or a mattress without spending a couple of minutes rolling around on it, albeit under glaring shop lights and the beady eye of a sales assistant.

Fast forward to today, and the £1 billion per annum UK mattress market has experienced a huge disruption. An increasing number of customers are now willing to take a chance on a new generation of retailers selling direct to consumer via streamlined, one-product websites.

The advantages are strong – competitive pricing, fast and free delivery and a generous bed-in period with the option of returning the mattress if it is not ‘the one’. However, the online purchasing proposition is still relatively new and there are plenty of customers who are not yet converted to the idea. As an early player in the market we’ve been able to develop with the consumers, and make swift iterations to our service based on feedback and demand. This has led to us establishing what we call the four pillars of customer confidence.

Customer service is key

Sleek marketing and a stylish branding will bring customers to the site, but once they arrive they may still feel trepidation about purchasing a high-value product online. By offering four direct communication channels; phone, email, social media and an instant chat feature, we are able to provide reassurance. If a customer can get a personalised and informative answer to their question within minutes they know there is a team of experts behind the website.

In fact, the more conversation we can engage the customer in the better – we are eager for every buyer to feel a personal connection to the brand, despite not having to set foot into a bricks-and-mortar store.

But transparency is key. We are open and honest with customers, for example never trying to push our medium-firm mattress if they make it clear they are searching for an extra soft sleeping surface.

Verified user reviews

Although we invest a lot of time in customer care, we often let our current customers speak for us. We discovered early on that people are really opinionated about their quality of sleep and the mattress they own, and are willing to impart their feelings in great detail. User reviews are a major contributor to the way people make online purchase decisions, with 55% of shoppers turning to them during their research. As a brand trying to change behaviour we are keenly aware of their power, and we encourage all customers to give us a review.

However, research proves it is not enough to simply add a reviews tab to the homepage as, rightly or wrongly, some skepticism exists around brand-controlled review channels. Enabling customers to submit independently verified reviews via a third party platform is a trustworthy indication of true customer opinion. There is also a secondary benefit – the volume of review-related search queries is high. Each independent review positively contributes to our Google seller rating which, in turn, improves click through rate on our PPC campaigns.

Recommend a friend

According to Nielson, 92% of customers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising. In a new and disruptive market like ours, recommendations are an important conversion driver - a significant proportion of sales come through this medium.

After spotting early on that we were benefiting from organic recommendations, we started to develop a more concerted strategy with the aim of building a community and to thank our brand advocates. We now use email marketing to encourage happy customers to recommend us, but also give those same customers a chance to give us feedback, as they feel the lines of communication are still open.

Free shipping for a risk-free home trial

When it comes to building trust, offering a home trial is a deal breaker. As customers become more accustomed to trying on their clothes, shoes and glasses in the comfort of their own home, they are starting to understand the value of having several months (rather than several minutes) to try out their new sleeping surface.

With no delivery or collection fees, customers are encouraged by the feeling that they have ‘nothing to lose’. At the same time, their sense of trust in the brand is heightened by our confidence that they will love the product and will not want to return it.

Once again the open and honest review system has a positive effect at this stage in the purchase funnel - by reading reviews written by the small percentage of customers who have returned their mattress, would-be buyers are reassured that the process is legitimate and can safely proceed to basket.

Baer is the co-founder of Bruno Sleep.