How Casper and other mattress companies made beds into the hottest new tech product

A/B testing, delivery bikes and fun marketing isn't just for phones any more

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The Independent Tech

The new, hippest technology product comes in innovative packaging, is very expensive and comes with an advertising campaign that boasts of how its obsessive engineering makes it the best in the world. And it’s also a mattress.

Casper is the company at the forefront of a technology (and marketing) revolution that’s seeing perhaps one of the most domestic and boring of products – bedding – become this year’s must-have tech product. And that’s entirely on purpose: the company is being advertised on tech podcasts, and promotes its mattresses with the kind of fun marketing that would usually be reserved for a phone or a computer.

It hasn’t come easily, and it hasn’t been as much of a trick as it might seem. Instead, the company says that it really is a tech company – and that it has the product to prove it.

“I would be lying if we did’t get pushback from the more traditional software-only companies,” says Luke Sherwin, the company’s chief creative officer and one of its founders. But there are a range of ways that the characterisation makes sense, he says.

“The first part was when we started in developing the product, we used strategies that work well in an e-commerce environment,” he says. That involved being “laser-focused on making one great mattress and using testing – A/B testing, for instance, of the kind that usually happens with websites or apps – to distinguish between the hundreds of materials that it could use in its mattress.

And the same strategy is used in its customer service work. So, for instance, customers will receive a text in normal, natural language to tell them when their mattress is on the way.

“Is it tech if the end product is a foam mattress or a super-thin fibre pillow?” asks Mr Sherwin. “I feel like that’s a linguistic nuance.”

The value of that approach can be seen in things like the box, which is obviously much larger than your average tech packaging but just as innovative and clever as Apple's celebrated white cubes. The mattress is rolled up tightly into a big rectangle, and then expands once you open it up.

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Once it's done so, it makes for an incredibly comfy sleep that's testament to the kind of work that Casper has done to design its bedding. (It had better be, because part of Casper's approach involves only making one version of its mattress so that people don't have to try them out or choose from a confusing list of options.)

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As with its tech approach, so have come eager technology investors. It has taken funding from the kinds of investors that would normally look at tech firms — and it’s used that money to pay for a San Francisco research and development facility that helps them work on their products with the kind of design-focus and rigorousness that their investors hope will pay off.

Eventually Casper likely to move onto other things — Casper’s brand isn’t really so much about mattresses as it is about sleep. That’s allowed it to sell bedding, pillows and even a version of its mattress for dogs, and the company is interested in becoming a “more holistic sleep partner”, according to Mr Sherwin.

And the same approach will work for other traditionally boring products, too. Mr Sherwin says that Casper’s success is ready to be used in basically any product, in part because it's more about the approach than the product itself.

One thing that “transcends mattresses” is the idea of having continual communication with customers. That comes through literally being in close contact, but also through the ways that it uses cheaper products like pillows to sell people on the value of its more expensive ones.

And so the same thing could apply to the most boring things, and in some cases already is — a trip to the Tesla shop feels more like the Apple Store than a standard showroom, and companies like Dyson are opening physical stores with much the same layout, to sell vacuums. The bicycles that the mattresses arrive on in New York are similar to those that drop off food for the likes of Deliveroo.

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And in time it’s likely to spread more. Everything’s a tech product, if you think of it the right way. If that seems like a strange idea, sleep on it.

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