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The Clientside Podcast

Why customer comfort is always key, with Michael Jervis of MattressOnline

The Clientside Podcast

36 min Michael Jervis

Andrew speaks to Michael Jervis, head of digital at e-commerce retailer Mattress Online. He leads all the company's technology implementations as well as digital marketing efforts in content marketing, product marketing, on-site promotions and traffic acquisition. In this episode they chat about about e-commerce, platforms, integrations, content, and why customer comfort is key – especially where mattresses are involved!

Listen on your smart device or read the transcript below

It's all about understanding user intent. What does the user need? – which isn't necessarily what they've asked or what they want, but it is what they need.

Michael Jervis Tweet

Podcast Transcript

Andrew: Hi. My name is Andrew Armitage and I'm the host of the Clientside podcast. Great to have you with us today, and I'm really excited to be talking with Michael Jervis today. He is the head of digital at Mattress Online, they're an e-commerce retailer, so we do talk quite a bit about e-commerce, some of the platforms that they use, the integrations they have, how they work with content to support commerce, and that overall customer experience. So it's a really fascinating conversation that I think you'll find really useful. Now, Michael describes himself as a digital leader with a strong technical background in developing Internet-based systems, including web-based enterprise systems, e-commerce platforms and everything else. And as head of digital at Mattress Online, he leads all the technology implementations as well as their digital marketing efforts in content marketing, product marketing, on-site promotions and traffic acquisition. And he says that they work at Mattress Online as a tech startup selling mattresses rather than a more traditional furniture retailer. So, Michael, welcome to the show. It's great to speak to you today.

Michael: Thanks for having me.

Andrew: So, just to kick things off, can you just introduce yourself to our listeners, please.

Michael: Yeah. I'm Michael Jervis, head of digital at Mattress Online. I've got a long background in web development since the very early days of the Web, and I've come from a very technical background, leading dev teams, and have moved into e-commerce – back into e-commerce, in fact, I was I was there in the dotcom bubble and then went into enterprise web-based solutions for a number of years before coming back into e-commerce in later years. And I'm now leading a broader team. So not just technical people, but also marketers and content writers and product administrators and all that kind of stuff to drive things forward here at Mattress Online.

Andrew: And just a little bit about Mattress Online, I suppose the clue is in the name, really?

Michael: Yeah. So we are the UK's leading online mattress vendor. We're the largest stockholder of mattresses in the UK. It's either us or Argos. It depends how big up we're feeling at the moment, but I think we're ahead of Argos at the moment. In terms of stock holding, we provide a next day delivery or day-of-your-choice delivery service, which is pretty unique in our market. Generally people go into big stores like Dreams and Bensons and then wait weeks and weeks for the mattress. But our big thing is you can get it from tomorrow or on the day of your choice. Very flexible with that – and that's that's the key thing. And we're pushing a massive expansion agenda and trying to drive our value onto the high street, open more stores and to grow our business online as well.

Andrew: And of course, that is one of the key selling points with mattresses, the sort of thing that you really need to be in to receive, isn't it? It's not something that can be left on the doorstep.

Michael: Yeah yeah, that is the big challenge – it's the logistical challenge of getting that that big, soft, white rectangle into your room when you're there to receive it. So yeah, most people you'll go and they'll tell you when you're going to get it, but we let you tell us when you want it and we'll change it if you need. So you get a lot of people who will order from us when they're moving house, and if their house-moving date changes, then we'll change your delivery date. So yeah, the 'Amazon Prime of Mattresses' is a big boast, but that's where we try to be.

Andrew: And, you know, flexibility around delivery – that last mile, if you will, of e-commerce – has always been a little bit of a stumbling block, hasn't it? And is that something that ultimately you have grown? I mean, you've obviously got to this position where you can have this huge stock holding, which makes that sort of flexibility possible for you. But is that how the company started out or is that something that you've done reacting to to customer feedback?

Michael: The company started out drop shipping. That didn't go for very long before they started stockholding and it took a lot of effort with a lot of different logistics partners over the years to get to where we are. It's not easy. We think it's working at the moment and we do a lot to make sure it stays working. But yeah, it is that challenge of being able to stock-hold that – they're big products, frankly, so they take a lot of room up and they're difficult to deliver because they're big. It's not like we're shipping USB cables where you can store them in a cupboard in the room.

Michael: So getting that logistics offering right, finding the right partners who can work with us across our product ranges and keep that delivery cost competitive has been one of the biggest challenges the business has had. But we've been going since 2004, so there's a lot of learning that's accreted over a lot of years to get us to this point, but we still view ourselves with a start-up mentality. Steve, our owner describes us as a tech startup that happens to sell mattresses, but I think that does down all of the effort that goes into the operational side of things to keep that logistics offering working.

Andrew: And your background, obviously you've been in digital for a while. Did you start out as a coder in the early days? I mean, obviously that puts you as a as a head of digital, you know, that puts you in a great position because you understand some of the complexities that come around with coding, bug hunting, all those sorts of things.

Michael: Yeah, yeah. I got hooked on computers in the sixth form a long time ago. Programming was great, so I started out as a coder. I've worked on a range of different things. I started off on back-office systems. So back in the late 90s, before Oyster was a thing, if you bought a ticket for the Tube from a newsagents, I worked on systems that did all the transaction settlement in the back end for that kind of stuff. But the Web was becoming a thing and that was where I got interested and went off and started working in that area as a developer. So I built e-commerce stores in the late 90s, early 2000, and then moved on to building enterprise systems and leading the architecture of those systems and delivery, – towards the end of that particular bit of my career before moving back into e-commerce. So yeah, a lot of years, hands-on development and leading developers gives me a lot of benefits working with our in-house dev team. I know what they're talking about, I know what their challenges are. I can muck in and help them. I can talk to code problems with them and and help them solve things.

Michael: And when we use outsource agencies for a bit of development and stuff, I know what information they need to be able to execute. We don't get stuck in that inability to translate 'what we want and we want it to work' to a technical team because we've got that in-house and we can do that. That's a big strength for us as an e-commerce business – we're e-commerce first, everything we do is digital first, so having that understanding and control over how we do things and explaining that to other people when we need to bring additional resource on is really key.

Andrew: Sure. And that phrase 'digital first' is one that I use a lot as well, actually, when I'm talking with various clients. What's your definition of that phrase, 'digital first', because it can mean a lot of things to different people.

Michael: I don't know – I haven't really thought that one through I'm afraid! We should have a technological solution first, this is the thing. The technology comes first. We look at how technology can make everything better. We've done a lot in the time I've been here to look at how we scale our processes. And that's always by not using technology as a Band-Aid, but enabling the right way of working with the technology rather than the other way around. It's always a mistake I see people make. Your process is driven by your tools. Sometimes your tools should be driven by your process, and the two should work in synergy. So we've sort of doubled the volume of mattresses we shipped through the pandemic, but we haven't doubled our dispatch team. Our dispatch teams stayed with the same number of people. What we've done is improve our tooling and our technology to support scaling their process and making it more efficient and working with them to understand where the pain points are and what they do – and going, 'right, well, we'll just take that pain away; we'll automate that process for you; we'll take that piece of manual work out' – and just really use that to enable things and scale functionality.

Andrew: So that digital-first approach really has supported that scale and growth of the company?

Michael: Yeah, yeah. It unlocks a lot. It's a way of having extra people without extra people. And what we've done is freed up our team from manual effort to enable them to add more value to the business. It's not about reducing the workforce, it's about optimising the workforce.

Andrew: You talk quite a bit about technology there. You've actually chosen to build your own in-house solution for the e-commerce platform that you sell from. What was the rationale behind that as opposed to choosing something off the shelf?

Michael: I think the day-one rationale for that was, in 2004 there wasn't an off-the-shelf right e-commerce platform that would work for selling furniture. So day one, there was no choice: you built it. You couldn't buy something off the shelf that would do it. And then we reassessed periodically, what's the best way of continuing to deliver? Because what we do is fairly unique and our industry sector is not completely unique but different. (I have a friend who set up a business selling dog treats for a bet, and he did it in a week over Christmas and it's worked very well and he's still doing it. So he's selling organic dog treats. It took him a week to set it up on a standard e-commerce platform because it's just a product you can list and sell).

Michael: But the information you need to sell a mattress – and we do divan beds and accessories, and the difference in those products and tracking stock and all that kind of stuff, we've been able to keep the edge by being in full control of our platform and being able to build stuff that other people aren't building, because it's only the furniture sector that needs it. If you're an e-commerce platform seller, then you want to build something that gets you the most value for your development effort, which means slightly niche stuff like furniture stuff is is not going to be at the front of your feature list.

Michael: You're going to be building for the people who are drop-shipping or manufacturing and selling things, you know, like T-shirts – it comes in five sizes and two colours, done, and you don't have a huge array of features. And we have to talk about the the sleep surface, the comfort layer, the support layer, all this kind of stuff, and tracking and managing our products, inventory needs, custom effort. So we stay on a custom platform. We are about to go live in the next couple of weeks with our new platform that we've been working on for the last year or so, which is going to bring us forward a bit further.

Michael: But we chose to build our own platform because there is still nothing out there that does everything that we need it to do. It would take us back and it would take some of our edge away. Now there is a trade-off on that and we're aware of the trade-off that, you know, we have a small development team and we have a budget for outsourcing to uplift that at times, particularly through the pandemic where we've been doing quite well. So we've had additional budget to invest and to really embed that growth, and give us the springboard to move forward. But the downside is that it's a small amount of capacity.

Michael: We don't have a whole dev resource that Magento or Shopify have, so keeping up with everything is challenging. So it's picking your battles and what you control. But that does mean we can do what we want. We can integrate to any logistics partner. We're not constrained by the fact that, you know, Shopify, say, integrates to certain logistics partners. We can go, 'well, we don't have to rule you out because our platform doesn't support it.' We can build that support ourselves – on the downside we have to build that support ourselves! So it's a mixed position. But for us it's worked extremely well over the years and it gives us that advantage.

Michael: Our page speed at the moment is pretty good on our new platform. It's much better and we're outperforming in terms of server execution and page speed; outperforming similar sites that are based, we know, off Magento and Standard Platform, so when Magento and so on pitched to us, it's sort of like, well, yeah, okay, but our performance is better than your performance. We can see that. So it's picking where your issues are. If you go with an off-the-shelf product, it solves some of your problems, but you get new problems if you want to really prioritise a new feature because it's key to your strategy over the next six months and it's not on their roadmap. You can't execute your strategy.

Andrew: I think from what you're saying, you'd be in a position where you'd have to write some of that custom code anyway, because you're in the industry that you're in, the sector that you're in, because, you know, as you said, those e-commerce platforms are ultimately looking for scale and therefore they're trying to build as much as they possibly can on one size fits all. And of course, the reality is, particularly as a business gets to a certain scale, it can't really be sort of cludged into a one size fits all.

Andrew: So although you've got your own dev team to manage and you've got that flexibility – the blank canvas, as you're saying there – you know, if you did switch to that off-the-shelf platform, you'd still be in that situation where you've got to then create, whether it's a custom plugin or some sort of custom integration. And I suppose that gives you the flexibility of not being restrained by a platform. You'd have to manage a dev team anyway and therefore you can set your own roadmap on agenda.

Michael: Yeah, exactly. And a lot of these people will tell you that their solution solves all of your problems, but it won't. It just changes what your problem domain is. And your problem domain becomes constraints over what you can integrate to or constraints over what you can deliver. We have constraints over the capacity of what we can deliver, but if we can get the budget for it, we can ramp that up and deliver more stuff, and we're not averse to using off-the-shelf solutions.

Michael: There's a whole ecosystem out there of brilliant digital products that will integrate. They pitch all the time – it's, 'we've got out-of-the-box integration to every major e-commerce platform; we can be live on your site in two days' – you're like, 'No, you haven't even looked at us.' There are tools out there. You can see what everyone's running on. You can see we're not running on something you can integrate to, but we can still integrate to them. They've got public APIs in most cases and we can hook up and integrate to them, but that is handing off some of the control and it's deciding where we need that control, where we need to do it in-house so we can do it slightly differently because of our sector, or so that we can – if it's significant enough – we can be there.

Michael: So with things like AI-based search and stuff, I don't think we'd build that in-house because leveraging a pre-existing, pre-trained AI search model, you know, there are people who've had large dev teams working for ten years on that kind of thing. So that's the kind of stuff that we'll bring in. But we'll be very careful over our platform selection and it will be one that has got a clear and open API, and we can see their roadmap, and it can do everything that we want already – or is flexible enough that we can adapt it and we can fill those gaps on our side to make it work with us.

Michael: So we have a roadmap ahead of us once we're live on the new platform with a number of things that we want to integrate, and we're clear on where we're buying in third-party tech and where we're building ourselves and where it's a hybrid solution. So we know what we want and how to do it.

Andrew: Yeah, I think with so many of these integrations and apps, the idea that they can be integrated in a couple of days, that's never the norm is it? It's never the reality.

Michael: A red flag for me is when your sales pitch is, 'it will be live on your site with one line of JavaScript'. It's like, great, you will be, but you haven't mentioned the six months of API development to put our product data into your back end so that one line of JavaScript works. Anyone who emails me that goes on a black list.

Andrew: Yeah. Or the performance impact of that one line of JavaScript that swipes some value off your page speed. And then you've got to start and look at how you can re-factor other elements to recover that. So yeah.

Michael: Yeah. I mean, we went through an aggressive exercise last year of tuning the page speed performance on the current website to keep running through while we wait for the new website to come out. And we switched our live-chat partner immediately, shaved the load off our page speed because the existing partner was really affecting things. We look at how we've tuned our GTM insertion of those things, so some things we don't load immediately and we lose potentially a little bit of fidelity in some of the data, but that page speed is king.

Michael: I think the page speed initiative from Google's fantastic: it's forcing people to make customers have a better experience. But we were already doing it for the customer better experience as a digital-first business and with everyone in our leadership team digital first. Steve, our CEO and the business owner, he did some of the development of the first version of the website, so he knows all this stuff. He uses everything digital first in his personal life, so he knows what it's like when he visits a website, is shopping for something personally, and the page jumps around or it's slow to load on his mobile.

Michael: So we have complete top-to-bottom investment in the fact that our users must come first. We must have something that works for them. So we were already pushing on that and Google bringing that in. So some of the shops we use personally might up their game a bit and stop driving me up the wall is great, but yeah, it really is just about that. Making it work for the users and consumers. And with the pandemic having shifted more and more people online and more less digital first people coming online, you know, those kind of things drive people up the wall and were a barrier to people coming and shopping online in the first place. So people have been forced into that position. They really need that speed and performance and common and simple and straightforward ways of working a website. It needs to be intuitive.

Andrew: Sure. Yeah. And I think there's a much greater expectation that websites work as almost like software on your own machine with the way some of the code libraries have developed to get that instant feedback, that instant reaction to to when you're using a website, that doesn't mean the page has to be refreshed and those sorts of things. And I guess you see that direct impact on things like your conversion rate and the behaviours on the site from the customers.

Michael: Yeah, absolutely. When we when we put some page-speed performance in, we saw continuation rates through various bits of the site where we'd had a slightly bigger uplift in that page speed. We saw continuation rates at those those stages pick up. You can see that people are finding it easier to use the site and they're flowing on. We have a lot of data. We pull pretty much every bit of analytics we can out of everything we can, whether or not we use it all, all of the time or get as much value as we could, but we have the data.

Michael: So particularly in things like the continuation rate and the page-speed performance, we're monitoring that all the time and we look at how that's working and we can see that with uplift. In page speed came an uplift in continuation rate and a growth in our conversion rate. Overall, it does make a big difference to people.

Andrew: Yeah, which obviously all points back to that performance side being absolutely central to your growth and that customer experience, of course, as you go forwards.

Michael: Yeah. And you have to put that into the context of our sector. You know, people don't buy mattresses for aspirational reasons. There is a shift in awareness of sleep, especially through the pandemic – the importance of rest and sleep and comfort to your physical and mental wellbeing. So there has been a bit of a shift to people more buying mattresses because of a wellbeing angle and it being a slightly more aspirational purchase. But mostly you buy a bed when you need a bed and it's one of those things I know I've got to spend some money on a thing.

And we have an industry that is rich in jargon, like many industries, but it's not an aspirational thing – you're not looking at it and going, 'I want that T-shirt because all my celebrity heroes wear that brand'. You're looking at it and going, 'I want a bed. I want to be comfortable. How do I work that out?' So you have – or we have – a barrier to get through with people if they want it to be straightforward, they want it to be simple. So everything we can do to make that funnel of, 'I need a mattress, what do I need to do', all the way through to 'I am confident buying this online and it will be the right mattress for me'. Everything we can do needs to remove as many barriers as possible because it's one of those purchases of necessity that a lot of people will resent spending the money on that stuff and the time and the effort to understand it.

Michael: So yeah, that's really key for people like ourselves, where it's that slightly more resistant sector. You know, you're not shopping for a new mobile phone and being excited by how cool it will look and all that and being interested in its functionality. You know, you don't want to be interested in pocket springs and memory foam and all this kind of stuff. You just want to know, 'will I be comfortable on that bed?'

Andrew: 'Will I get a good night's sleep?'

Michael: Yep, yep.

Andrew: Yeah. So so that's quite interesting. That perhaps plays into the importance of content on your site. You talked earlier about content and lots of these different elements around the product. Obviously you've got the very functional elements of an e-commerce site. Just how important is that content with commerce? Is it a case of having good quality blog posts? Is it a case of answering the questions? What sort of content really makes the impact that ultimately feeds into your sales?

Michael: It's all about understanding user intent. What does the user need, which isn't necessarily what they've asked or what they want, but it is what they need. And and we invest a lot of time and effort and always have done in that content. Some of it is there, frankly, to get a good SEO ranking, but a lot of it is there because we've spent many years now looking at what a user is searching, what a user is trying to understand about mattresses. What do they need when? We know what they need: they need to know that when they buy that mattress, they'll have a comfortable, restful night's sleep. So it's picking that back.

Michael: And okay, so what the users need to understand that and quite a lot of our traffic comes from people who have got further down the funnel and are now shopping on price and they know what they're after. But we also get a lot of traffic, a substantial amount from that top of funnel. We rank very highly on Google for the those: 'mattress' and 'mattresses' we're number two to Dreams; on a good day we'll take Dreams off the number-one slot – we're punching up there with Dreams. We're well ahead of Bensons and Argos and IKEA and all that kind of stuff.

Michael: And that content is why, because we have that position of understanding and authority. We think very, very carefully about the user need and the user intent and content design to match what they want, what they need, and to put that in a language a consumer can understand, and guide them through that that journey of, 'how do I understand what kind of bed I need?' So it's not as simple as, 'is memory foam or springs better?'.

Michael: It entirely depends on the way you sleep. You have your support structure – so springs, open springs, pocket springs or memory foam or something. And then you have your comfort layer, and you might have memory foam or geltex or a natural wool layer, and they've all got different benefits. And it isn't as simple as, 'this is the best and anything else is a compromise for price'. It might genuinely be because of the type of sleeper you are and the way you sleep that memory foam or geltex is a better comfort layer for you than wool.

Michael: If you sleep hot, you probably want wool because it's probably the best at dissipating the heat. But if you're a cold sleeper and an active sleeper, then different foam surfaces might actually be genuinely the much better option for you. So a lot of knowledge and a lot of information there for people to digest and understand. And without the right content designed and structured in the right way, it won't work for people. And if it doesn't work for people, they won't know what to buy.

Michael: And it goes a long way to building people's trust in making that choice. With us our key drivers that people should be able to trust us as the sleep experts to ultimately give them a comfortable night's sleep. And they should be comfortable about everything through the whole experience. One of our key drivers is making everybody who deals with us comfortable. So our suppliers, our customers and our staff should be comfortable with Mattress Online.

Andrew: Excellent. Yeah. Clearly you've got to have a really solid understanding of that end-to-end decision-making process. It's not just about, 'oh, here's a product that we know people need, therefore build it and they will come' – of course those days have long since gone, with competition and everything that goes with it. But clearly just being able to provide some of those unique benefits of high stock, high availability, choosing your own delivery date, there's a lot. You must find there's quite a lead time with quite a lot of touch points as people go through that buying process, do you?

Michael: Yeah, it's a very considered purchase and, embarrassingly, I can't remember off the top of my head, but I think two weeks is the average time people spend shopping. I might be wrong on that – okay, I probably will be wrong, now I've said it out loud! – but yeah, we do a lot of user research. We we will use tools like Hotjar, for example, to run surveys on the site. We've used agencies to run anonymous research; we've used agencies to run user tests on various versions of our website to see where people are having challenges, and and do a lot of work to understand that journey, and how people move between the phases of those journeys, and what information they need to make that adjustment a heavy investment – and a lot of knowledge in that; a lot of long serving staff.

Michael: So that's a really significant thing for us, understanding how people get started on that journey and how to travel down them. And a lot of our social media and blog stuff is about that early stuff. Making people more aware of the importance of sleep and rest and how to look after their mattress so it lasts a long time – which is slightly not in our best interest necessarily! If you had your kids bounce on it all day, every day and needed to buy one more regularly, maybe that would work better. But we want people to to know how to make sure they get the most out of that mattress and look after it and get the value out of it.

Andrew: And that's all part of the buying experience, isn't it? You want to buy from someone you feel has got your best interests at the core of what they're doing, you know? Yes okay, there's a sales aspect, but ultimately you'd rather have a happy customer than someone who feels, 'well, I only bought this mattress 12 months ago and now I'm in the situation of having to go back through and buy a replacement.'

Michael: Yeah, absolutely. And a lot of it is about that positive experience and word-of-mouth recommendation. You know, if someone has a positive experience – buys a mattress from us, brilliant night's sleep, they get that aftercare – they're going to tell other people.

Michael: We are a small player. On the scale of the UK bed industry, everybody knows Dreams and Bensons – you see them on every retail park across the country. You've probably got a local bed shop that you may or may not be aware of because you may or may not have passed it. But you only find us when you're in that space. So we need to be there in that space of being a very positive experience. We have in recent months gone over 50,000 reviews on Trustpilot, sitting at 4.8, 4.9 overall. And that experience end to end needs to be important.

Michael: We're investing at the moment, just started rolling out – we switched email platforms to Klaviyo recently and that's allowed us to put in a better aftercare programme so we can send people reminders. We're building up on that so we know what mattress you've bought – they've got different care instructions, so some mattresses need to be rotated, some need to be flipped. We can give people reminders if they opt into it, to say, 'okay, you know, you've had your mattress six months, you should now rotate it, flip it, clean it, whatever, to put that aftercare in'. So people are conscious of those kinds of things. Keep that positive information flowing and pass on, you know, sleep advice. Make sure people are well rested.

Andrew: Yeah, very good. Excellent. And yeah, platforms like Klaviyo allow you so much segmentation and personalisation and automation as well that really allows you to extend the connection with that customer, I suppose.

Michael: Yeah, yeah. And so that's a really useful thing to be able to do. We're using Klaviyo at the moment for a number of things that we couldn't have done with other platforms. It's a good example of where we haven't built our own email mailing list because that would be a really insane thing to do. But we do re-evaluate everything we use periodically and that pivot on to Klaviyo is unlocking a lot of value and then a lot of opportunity with that segmentation.

Michael: Then the amount of data that we have access to, very mature with our data use, we can pull stuff together and we can look at things. We're very good at science-based testing. We will have a theory; we will find the smallest test we can do on that theory; we'll execute that and then we'll review. Did it work? Did it not work? What have we learned from it if it didn't work? And what can we do to then take that small test and scale it? If it did work, how do we make that something that now just happens and we don't have to think about and it's an incremental growth.

Andrew: Fantastic. Yeah. Well, some fascinating insights there in terms of how you're constantly sort of revisiting things like your tech stack, your martech stack and everything that goes along with that. And obviously testing the user experience, the behaviours, using that data to make those decisions. Lots of really good stuff there.

Andrew: So we're coming up on time, Michael. I have a series of questions that I'm putting to all of our podcast guests over the months ahead, so I thought we'd dive into those before we wrap up. So tell me, what's the one app, website or piece of software, personal or professional, that you couldn't live without?

Michael: Personally, it's Strava. Okay, I'm a cyclist and I'm a data-driven, geeky techie, so if I didn't have all of those stats, there would be no point in riding my bike. Yeah. Strava and Veloviewer on top of that, there's a lot of data there. So yeah, we're data first at work and I'm obsessive about my cycling stats and data, so that's really important. Professionally, it's Trello. Okay, we use Trello for a lot of the stuff we do in-house, whether it's working in an agile process with all of the teams. So it gives us a good way of tracking all that, brainstorming, retros feedback, all that kind of stuff. So yeah, Trello is a really good productivity tool for us I think.

Andrew: Excellent. Yeah. And quite a well-known one as well of course.

Michael: Absolutely. I mean one of the things for me is, I followed Trello when it was first written, it was Fog Creek software – it was a summer intern project originally, way back in the day. So I was following that development when it went through and I've been on it since day one. I didn't use it for a few years, but yeah, it's been key to a lot of stuff that we've done over the years.

Andrew: Excellent. And what excites you in digital at the moment? You know, there's lots of talk of Web3, the metaverse, all those sorts of things. So there's lots going on in digital at the moment, but what's captured your attention?

Michael: I'm very anti-Web3. I think the blockchain technology and all that, that there's a lot of downsides to it. I think Web3 is is a bit of a red herring, personally, I think the environmental load of all the computation, I think for me genuinely it's just the consumer adoption at the moment and what that's unlocked and where that's driven by. And people have seen people go remote, work online, the driving to online. We don't need to see our suppliers in person; they don't need to trek across the country; we can do everything online – video chats, accelerated consumer adoption of e-commerce has then made lots of traditional businesses realise the value in it and invest in that, which has unlocked the cascade down to all of the suppliers.

We've now got more customers can invest more in their product and we've just accelerated how people use the internet for commerce and everything and the driving forward of that digital culture through civilisation. That's the exciting thing for me – it's the acceleration and that just cascades through so much stuff. Potentially has its downside for high-street retail, but we're on a bit of a mission to drive that digital side into high-street retail, and grow our high-street retail presence. So it's unlocking so much opportunity for so many people.

Andrew: And I think there is that opportunity for high street to work hand-in-hand with with digital. Obviously, that comes down to different retailers having a different approach to how they operate. And that's not necessarily going to be an option for for everybody, because clearly it's going to take investment. But I do think there has to be that more merging of online and offline.

Michael: Yes, yeah.

Andrew: Okay, great. What would you do if you found you had an extra hour every day?

Michael: That was a difficult one! I think maybe reading – more reading. That's maybe the thing that falls off my radar more than anything else. I like to read interesting stuff, professional development stuff, and also read for pleasure stuff. That's probably the thing that falls off my to do list easiest with all of the other things going on.

Andrew: Okay. Very good. Excellent. What's the most important personal attribute that you feel that you bring to your your role as head of digital?

Michael: I think it's, I'm open to learning. Everybody on my team has got something to offer that I won't have thought of. And being able to give everybody a voice to say what they think we should be doing – and being open to that, not having an ego about things. If I suggest we do something or other and the team have a reason we shouldn't do it, I'm not going to go, 'Yeah, but it was me that thought of it so we'll do it.' It's, 'Okay.' I'll learn from everyone in the team about things that we can do to improve stuff. And I think that kind of attitude and openness really helps with the way we drive things forward.

Andrew: Yeah. And by extension, what would you say to someone at the start of their career? What sort of advice would you give to them?

Michael: You can start in a career and you can look at the people ahead of you, and then you can fixate on the people who are ahead of you – people talk a lot about imposter syndrome and people feeling like they don't really know what they're doing, and they're going to get found out and stuff. I think the most important thing that took me a really long time to learn to do is to also turn around and look behind you and see where you've grown and where you're ahead of other people.

Michael: And then to reach back and give the people behind you a leg up and go, 'Yeah, actually, I might feel I'm not as good as that amazing industry leader that I'm trying to model myself on. But there is stuff I have to offer and I can turn around and help those people at the beginning of their career step up and go on a good journey and learn more stuff.' And, you know, I think that's really important.

Andrew: I'd agree. And it's interesting. It's so hard to get fixated on the future and everything that's shouting because there's so much noise around with technology – so much change, there's always something new. But yeah, I like that reflection point about looking at how far you've come.

Michael: I read something the other day. Someone said, 'You know, you look at other people and you think, how the hell do they find time for that? And what you have to remember is they are thinking exactly the same about you.' So you're looking at someone and going, 'Wow, they're awesome. They really know that thing. They're brilliant.' But there's probably stuff, you know, that they don't know, even if you're in the same field and the stuff that you can share. So it's remembering not to fixate just on where you want to grow and learn, but recognising where you have grown and learn and share that with other people.

Andrew: Okay. And final question, how have your working patterns changed since the pandemic? I mean, I can see you're in the office as it is. Have you adopted more of a hybrid approach or do you find that you still like to have that face-to-face contact?

Michael: I think pre-pandemic at Mattress Online we have a lot of people who work shifts – call centres on shifts, dispatches on shifts, the warehouse is on shifts and the digital team worked office hours. We've enabled the team to work in a hybrid fashion, we work flexible hours, there's that work-life balance, we can enable it. We've realised that pretty much everything we use is in the cloud anyway for us, so it doesn't matter where you are or when you're working, so long as the team can reach you. So we've enabled the team to work how and where suits them.

For me personally, it suits me a lot more to be in the office. I like the routine of coming into the office and having the space where it's in the office and that's where I'm at work, and it makes it easier for me to switch off at the end of the day. And there's quite a few people in our team who prefer to be in the office, but there are also people in the team who are in and out of the office, working from home, and we get that balance pretty well. I think it does frustrate me when I see stuff on LinkedIn with people saying, 'Everybody must go back to the office or no one will ever go back to the office'. What you have to understand is, it's really different for every person and it's enabling people to work in a way where they feel they are the most productive.

Andrew: Yeah, yeah. I couldn't agree more on that point. Well, that's about it. I mean, there's loads of other things that I'm sure we could talk about, but we're pretty much out of time. So where can people follow up with you online, Michael, If they would want to get in touch with you.

Michael: You can get hold of me at work at You can shop at if you need a mattress! I'm trying to blog a bit more myself at and I'm on LinkedIn putting some content out now and then. You can find me fairly obviously on there – not many people with my name, fortunately!

Andrew: Okay, well, look, thank you again. Hugely appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today. Some really interesting points come out of that conversation. Really appreciate your time, Michael. Thanks very much.

Michael: Thanks very much. I've enjoyed it.

Andrew: So thank you for taking the time to tune in and listen. Please do share the episode. Tell your friends, share it with your colleagues. Of course, you can find the episode on all the major podcast platforms. We'll also have details of the show, along with show notes and a full transcript, which you can find on our website at If you've got any questions, comments or feedback, then please do let me know. You can get in touch at hello@the Or you can find me over on Twitter at @aarmitage. Equally on LinkedIn as well.

Andrew: So look me up on there, do get in touch, I'd love to hear from you – it'd be great to hear your feedback. So I hope you've enjoyed the episode today. I'll be back in a couple of weeks. We've got some great guests lined up over the coming weeks and I think we'll have some really interesting conversations, which I hope you will be able to join me for. So I will look forward to seeing you and speaking to you hopefully in the next couple of weeks. Cheers.