Today’s mattress consumers are more confused and frustrated than ever. That’s what Colonial LLC learned through its recent Mattress Shopper Study. While the research uncovered key pain points affecting the industry, the final findings were far from doom and gloom. In fact, the study reveals a wealth of opportunities for retailers willing to address customer worries.
Conducted by Americas Research Group (A.R.G), the Mattress Shopper Study explored the habits and sentiments of mattress shoppers across five major metro markets: Orange County, CA; Houston, TX; Atlanta, GA; and New York, NY. Instead of delivering the study online, which tends to skew the results towards consumers who are more digitally savvy, Colonial and A.R.G opted for live phone interviews. This approach encouraged respondents to share more nuanced information. The group dialed 33,000 random consumers, resulting in 16,000 live conversations.
“The key takeaway from the study—and the most important aspect for traditional retailers and manufacturers to consider—is the need to reduce the consumers concerns about shopping for a mattress,” said Mark Hobson, former president and current advisor of Colonial LLC.
The study found that today’s mattress shoppers are increasingly unsure of where to shop and what to shop for, overwhelmed by an endless amount of product choices and unsubstantiated marketing claims. As a result, many consumers are choosing not to buy at all. The survey found that 36% of people who researched or shopped for a new mattress in the past 12 months did not end up buying one anywhere. This problem has worsened in recent years; less than 15 years ago, fewer than 10% of mattress shoppers abandoned their purchasing journey without buying.
What is driving these trends—and what can retailers do about it?
One of the most intriguing revelations from Colonial’s study was that consumers are nervous about making a mistake when purchasing a new bed. Almost one in four (24%) respondents said that they worry about spending too much on a new mattress.
Since the mattress marketplace is awash with sales claims, it can be difficult for consumers to compare pricing from store to store. Additionally, the regularity of promotional events has made consumers hesitant to buy at full price lest they miss out on a discount. For some shoppers, this anxiety is rooted in past experiences. Almost one in five (19%) consumers reported being unhappy with a previous mattress purchase because the new bed became less comfortable over time, did not provide the same level of support or simply felt different than the one they tested in the store.
Colonial concluded that customers who believe they made a mistake in the past fear that it will happen again; either they will tire of their new mattress soon after purchase or they’ll miss the product they currently sleep on.
“When consumers fear they may make a mistake, typically two things will happen,” Hobson explained. “One: they may choose not to buy anything at all, aiding the decline in close rates. Two: they might seek out less expensive solutions to their problem, i.e. less expensive beds at the current store, less expensive beds at alternate stores or an even less expensive solution like a new mattress pad, topper, pillows or sheets to help them sleep better.”
On the bright side, the fear of making the wrong choice is often strong enough to drive consumers to the store to rest-test. Despite the growing popularity of online shopping, Colonial found that 75% of consumers still want to buy their mattress at a retail store—and 73% say they must lie on a bed before buying, regardless of the assurance promised by online return guarantees.
But the gap between potential in-store shoppers and actual buyers highlights some key problems the industry must address. In order to help assuage anxiety and regain a sense of trust, retailers need to understand consumers’ worries and deliver more meaningful solutions.
Hobson suggests that retailers try drawing more traffic into stores by emphasizing the breadth of mattresses consumers can try in one place. By rounding out traditional mattress offerings with a selection of boxed bed options in-store, retailers not only give their customers the chance to test different mattresses in person – but the opportunity to take one home with them on the spot (making a store the fastest option).
While a diverse product selection is valuable, product presentation is too. Elevating the in-store experience with clear and engaging signage, displays and sales strategies is an effective way to help minimize the frustration and confusion many consumers feel. According to Hobson, top-of-bed displays should be crafted to “differentiate between product types as well as brands and make it easy for the consumers to navigate [the store].” It is also crucial for retail salespeople to understand the challenges consumers face. Empathy facilitates a trusting relationship between the RSA and customer while helping the RSA suggest appropriate solutions.
Retailers can also minimize risk by addressing what may have gone wrong in the past. Satisfaction guarantees can help reassure customers who are nervous about choosing the wrong mattress — and offering trial periods that are competitive with online brands can help revive lost retail store traffic.
Finding and promoting the right combination of product selection, customer services and satisfaction guarantees are vital to success — not just for the immediate sale, but for future opportunities as well. Knowledgeable RSA’s who provide useful information play a major role in the consumer experience.
Contrary to popular belief, consumers are not doing all their research online. In fact, 55% of consumers surveyed did not do any research prior to going to the store. The decision to conduct virtual research or not is often based on prior experience; if a consumer found the buying process to be positive the last time they shopped, they were more likely to return to the original store. On the flip side, consumers who found the salespeople to be unhelpful or the displays confusing were more likely to head online to do their own research. The study also found that 42% of consumers researched mattresses online before or during the shopping process. Of those who did so, more than half (52%) went to manufacturer’s or retailer’s website first, looking for basic information about products, pricing and where the best place to buy might be.
With a growing number of ecommerce options available to consumers, traditional mattress retailers can’t risk any negative in-store experiences. Today, 31% of consumers say they are generally shopping at stores less and buying more online—in all categories of products, not just mattresses. Consumers are more comfortable with and confident about buying higher priced items online because the process is quicker and more convenient than ever.
“The fact that one in three consumers are buying more of everything online, not just beds, indicates that the trend is by no means done,” Hobson concluded. “This is an indication to traditional retailers that they need to get in the game, ensure they offer a competitive array of services and do what they can to simplify and elevate the shopping experience.”