Chewy CEO says customer calls prompted retailer to accelerate launch of virtual vet service

Chewy CEO Sumit Singh is seen outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) ahead of the Chewy Inc. IPO in New York, June 14, 2019.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

Chewy CEO Sumit Singh said Tuesday that calls to its customer service line prompted the online pet supplies retailer to accelerate its plans to launch a virtual vet service — even though that had been years away on the company’s roadmap.

“We started to get calls in our customer service/customer experience centers where customers would be sitting at home saying ‘Hey. My dog just ate chocolate and I can’t get a hold of my veterinarian,'” Singh said, at a virtual conference hosted by the National Retail Federation.

The executive said his weekend mornings are spent reading customer reviews.

“A healthy level of anxiety is actually good because it keeps you paranoid,” he said. “It keeps you on your toes and it keeps you anticipating.”

The virtual vet service, which launched in October, is one example of how the company is trying to continue to build on the momentum it’s seen during the pandemic.

He shook off the notion that pet owners will return to buying more of their dog food, cat litter or pet toys at the store after the pandemic, saying customers have formed new habits.

“We’ve been in lockdown for 10, 11 months now, the larger part of the year,” he said. “Customers have had the opportunity to try online models not just with pet, but across a plethora of services whether it’s home delivery, food delivery, grocery shopping or pet. That, in my opinion, really provides a bit of a mental shift for customers.”

Chewy’s shares have shot up by more than 265% in the past year as more Americans adopted pets and shopped online during the pandemic. The company’s market cap is more than $44 billion.

Yet its rapid rise during the global health crisis has caused some investors and analysts to wonder if it can keep up that pace of growth and hold on to customers for the long term. UBS downgraded Chewy and Peloton to sell on Tuesday. It said the online pet supply retailer and exercise equipment company have both been Covid-19 beneficiaries and could see those tailwinds fade.

UBS did not change its $75 price target for Chewy, a nearly 30% drop from where its shares are currently trading. Shares were down about 1% Tuesday afternoon.

Sumit said it’s monitoring trends that will shape its next three to five years, including the acceleration toward more online shopping, the reliance on tools and technology to improve customer service and whether people will return to offices, work from home or do both.


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