Case Study: What Can Mattress Retailers Learn From Personal Styling?

With Memorial Day around the corner and the impending flurry of promotions on the horizon, we got to thinking again about the promo pitfalls of mattress retail. Instead of simply gaining one-off sales from calendar-based promotions, what are alternative values that sleep stores and bedding boutiques can offer consumers to retain business and build trust? In this past story, we explored the unprofitability of promotional activity and the ways in which loyalty programs create good will and regular customers. But that’s not the only route to customer loyalty. In this story, we consider another common retail service that could easily translate into the sleep sector: personal styling.

In some ways, personal styling for sleep is already done in bedding and mattress retail. Theoretically, RSA’s should approach the mattress selection process similarly to a personal styling consultation since choosing a mattress is in many ways just as personal as selecting the perfect pair of pants. Assisting someone with picking a mattress and picking new clothes also requires similar types of information, including details about lifestyle, body type, health concerns and style.

But before we dig too deeply into what a sleep styling session might look like, here’s a little more background on personal styling in retail—and what certain stores are doing to get it right.

Personal Styling Overview: Who does it? How is it done? What does it cost?

One department store that seems to be thriving right now is Nordstrom, because Nordstrom truly puts the customer first. It not only provides super simple returns, great product selection and beautiful stores to experience, but also offers fairly comprehensive personal styling services for free. Nordstrom’s personal styling FAQ page provides some great insights into the process.

First, prior to a personal styling appointment, the Nordstrom stylist will set up a call or email with the customer. This is great because a) it helps the stylist build a rapport with the client and have a better understanding of what products to pull and suggest in the actual appointment,  b) it makes the customer feel like they are receiving special attention and support (because they are) and c) Nordstrom now has the client’s name, phone number and email address so they can reach out with personalized product suggestions and thoughtful tips down the line. It’s a win, win, win.

But, Nordstrom isn’t alone in offering these services. Banana Republic, Top Shop, Macy’s, Saks and many others also provide them—typically at no cost to the consumer. Each of these stores offer different benefits with the personal styling services that set them apart. Banana Republic’s program is actually quite smart. Customers who work with personal stylists get the standard—a call ahead of the appointment and that dedicated one-on-one time with their stylist PLUS “early access to new product arrivals and invitations to special shopping events.” At Macy’s, customers can work with stylists for more than just clothing purchases, the company offers styling support for home furnishings and gift selections. You get the idea.

Just as with any type of sale (especially one that’s as personal as clothing), the key is to make the customer feel at ease and build a meaningful relationship with that person through conversations about their style goals and challenges.

Lately, clothing retailers are touting these services more and more as brick-and-mortar apparel stores are experiencing increased competition from online retailers. And, while there are digital personal styling services out there, there’s nothing quite like feeling as though a stylist really understands you and the look you’re seeking to achieve. That’s why smart stylists lean into technology to support their work, rather than trying to compete with it.

Even back in 2016 in an interview with the Atlantic, personal stylist, Rachel Venrick, explains how technology plays a crucial role in her styling work, especially with particularly busy clients:

“Adrienne Green [interviewer]: A lot of stores report that the ability to shop online is eroding their in-store business. It sounds as though that has been more of an assistance to you than a hindrance, right?

Rachel Venrick: It's a huge assistance. If you're shopping online and you see the item and you like the color but you don't really know the fit, being able to have that one-on-one relationship with a stylist, or an employee, being able to tell you this actually fits a little big or it's running small or the color doesn't really do justice online, it's huge. That's how I've grown my business: through the technologies, our app, our website, and with text messaging. It's amazing.”

It’s not just individuals in the industry that are recognizing that technology with a human behind it is invaluable for building loyalty and creating convenience. Smart department stores—looking at you again, Nordstrom—are using technology to their advantage and understanding that in order to thrive, brands must provide customers the convenience they want and need. That’s why Nordstrom offers both in-person styling as well as email and phone styling. Giving its customers even more options, the brand also smartly acquired Trunk Club, an online personal styling subscription company, in 2014 and has now made it a part of its loyalty program.

So, what would personal styling or shopping look like in the sleep industry?

Truthfully, sleep styling wouldn’t necessarily be that different from clothing styling. At their core, both aim to build a personal relationship that keeps a customer returning to your store. And, it might not be too much different from what your store is already doing in the way of more casual, walk-in consultations. By framing the mattress store experience as something more akin to the luxury clothing retail experience, it becomes less of a chore and more of a leisurely, fun and ‘special’ activity.

Offer And Encourage Appointments

The first simple change you could make is to offer and encourage appointments if you don’t already. If both parties (the RSA and the customer) reserve time dedicated to ‘making over’ the consumer’s ‘sleep style,’ mattress shopping becomes a more important priority.

Take A Holistic Approach

Hone in holistic details like bedroom size, types of climate control, urban, suburban or rural location and night-time routine so that you can offer more complete suggestions. This could include anything from the bedding and mattress program to accessories like pillows, personalized technology, aromatherapy products and more. Instead of a style makeover, customers walk away with a sleep makeover.

This conversation and the experience you create by having a one-on-one appointment will help you as the RSA gain more personalized information about the customer (beyond sleep position). It will also help you build trust and closeness with them, hopefully solidifying you as their regular sleep consultant or stylist.

Feel free to refer to our guide to creating a bed-time routine, it’s a great resource when supporting customers.

Know Your Stuff

As an RSA, you may not be a doctor. But being able to demonstrate a strong understanding of sleep, sleep health, the role of diet and exercise in sleep, plus the ability to share your insider information on advanced sleep products will help the customer see you as a valuable resource. Essentially, your goal should be to make your specialized knowledge and positioning as a “one stop sleep info shop” more convenient and enjoyable to access than a Google search.

How would a bedding retailer benefit from channeling the personal stylist approach?

It’s A Differentiator—You Can’t Get A Sleep Stylist Online

While e-commerce websites do mimic in-person conversations with quizzes and choices and maybe even a chat option, they aren’t the same as the real thing. Especially if the real thing is relaxing, enjoyable and makes the customer feel special. So the next time a customer walks in your store, remember that as an RSA you have the power to shape their experience. Make it fun and informative. Let your personality help set the in-store experience apart

Data Collection

When you sell something to a regular customer, the hope is that if they don’t like the product, you have a solid enough relationship that they’ll come back and talk to you about it when they return. Then, ultimately, you’ll have the opportunity to offer a better solution to their needs. This “data collection” so to speak will help your store understand what is working in your inventory and also what isn’t.

Additionally, you should have access to each customer’s email or phone number which will allow you to reach out to them periodically when it’s time to replace a pillow or when an interesting new product becomes part of your inventory.

Create A Luxury Feel

Personal styling is definitely associated with luxury. Likening a mattress consultation to shopping for couture creates a feeling of sophistication and elevates the process. Shopping for sleep products should feel sumptuous and indulgent. Changing the way you sleep can change the way you live—so everyone should treat themselves to a comfortable, clean and healthy sleeping environment. As the RSA, it’s your job to help your customers do exactly that.

So, the next time you approach a conversation with a new customer, try to channel your inner personal stylist. Not only does an initial consultation make your customer feel special and fancy, but it also gives you as the RSA the opportunity to pin-point the individual’s sleep issues, understand their lifestyle and needs. By gaining a sense of trust and understanding between yourself and a customer, you also set up future opportunities to support them. Sleep is personal—and shopping for new bedding solutions should be too. 

Read more here, here, and here.

This article originally appeared in Sleep Retailer eNews on May 9, 2019.

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