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Online Mattress Reviews - Where Do We Go From Here?
When Fast Company published an article titled “The War To Sell You A Mattress Is An Internet Nightmare” last month, the Internet was buzzing about the surprising story. While details of the bitter legal dispute were alluring, the article also illuminated troubling trends plaguing the marketplace. More than simply exposing these issues to a wider audience, the Fast Company piece shed light on some of the most pressing challenges bedding retailers are grappling with—and hinted towards opportunities to overcome them.
In case you missed it, here’s a quick summary of the article:
In the Fast Company article, author David Zax examines online reviewing in the mattress industry, specifically honing in on the increasing influence of professional review sites. He begins by explaining the salacious lawsuit Casper launched against Sleepopolis last year. The lawsuit claimed Sleepopolis “downgraded” its review of Casper products, costing the brand millions of dollars in potential sales through a combination of savvy search engine optimization and unfair business arrangements with other mattress manufacturers. Sleepopolis responded with a counterclaim, alleging that Casper had retaliated against its lowered ranking with a “negative SEO” attack after terminating business relationships with the site’s former owners. After an eventual settlement, Casper provided another company with a loan so that they could acquire Sleepopolis from its previous owners. The new version of the site features an updated Casper review that was much more positive—and a number of coupon codes and affiliate links readers could use to purchase the mattresses.
Unlike consumer-generated reviews, professional review sites often include unique affiliate links – which allow brands to track how many sales a reviewer has influenced. For each mattress sold, the reviewer receives a pre-determined commission – usually roughly 5% of the final sale price. This affiliate marketing model is used across a wide range of different product segments and publishing platforms, with everyone from individual bloggers to well-established news publications earning additional revenue through these unique links.
The adoption of affiliate partnerships within the bedding segment undermines the idea that online brands have wholly reinvented the wheel when it comes to selling mattresses. Many of the online disrupters have built themselves around the idea that traditional mattress retail is nefarious and not to be trusted, posing direct-to-consumer selling as the honest option. But the sort of affiliate marketing partnerships Casper and Sleepopolis relied on are not much of a departure from the standard salesperson strategy—with online reviewers simply replacing the RSA. The key difference is that reviewers are positioned as an objective third-party. Since reviewers are not expressly employed by any one store or manufacturer, they are seen as having the freedom to really tell it like it is. But even the most honest review is still inherently subjective. Perhaps more troubling, though, is the behind-the-scenes nature of affiliate commissions. Even though reviewers are required to disclose their partnerships, it’s hard to know how much influence a commission may have on the content they publish.
While the jury is out on what the long-term effects of this story will be, there are some key take-away’s that retailers should consider moving forward:
1. It’s Time To Start Rebuilding Trust With Consumers
The online review eco-system has grown so significantly in recent years because consumers have been taught to be skeptical of official brand messaging and traditional sales practices. While reversing that way of thinking may be a long-term endeavor, it’s clear that retailers need to prioritize rebuilding trust with consumers. Is the product you’re selling going to keep the promises you’re communicating? What are you doing to make sure it will? If you are confident in your responses, how are you articulating that to consumers?
2. Don’t Underestimate The Power of SEO
On a practical level, the article also underscores just how important search engine optimization has become. In its lawsuit, Casper claimed that Sleepopolis’ aggressive use of SEO meant that consumers searching for its products were first directed to the site’s less-than-glowing review – a reality that cost them millions in potential sales. Sleepopolis claimed that Casper retaliated by inundating the site with traffic from faulty web source, which lowered its SEO score. Regardless of the “he said, she said” nature of the lawsuit, both claims show how powerful SEO can be to your company’s bottom line.
There’s no doubt that the Internet has shifted the retail landscape - not just in terms of distribution avenues, but informational resources too. For many consumers, online research is the first step to any purchasing decision. So how can you be sure that customers are finding the right information about your store and the brands you carry? If you are not actively optimizing your website, then you’re at the mercy of outside forces—be it competition or online reviews.
Mattress Firm Regains Its Footing
Mattress Firm has made many changes this year. After announcing Droga5 as its new creative partner back in May during the unveiling of its “Technology to Power Off” campaign, the retailer recently named Spark Foundry as its new US media agency of record, tasked with handling media planning and buying strategy for TV, radio, print and “out-of-home” platforms. According to Kantar Media, the retailer has invested nearly $117 million in measured media in the first half of 2017 – but it has also been steadily investing in unmeasured media marketing strategies as well, from its expanded partnership with Serta Simmons to its newly launched Tulo boxed bed brand. As a whole, this news indicates that Mattress Firm may be regaining its footing within today’s challenging marketplace.
Following its purchase of Sleepy’s in 2015 and its acquisition by Steinhoff International Holdings NV in 2016, Mattress Firm has faced lackluster operating margins. But over the course of the past year, the retailer has been slowly working to rebuild its stores and brands around new partnerships. After terminating its dealings with Tempur-Sealy in January, the retailer expanded its relationship with Serta-Simmons. The two companies have invested heavily in the partnership, teaming up on big consumer-facing marketing events and prioritizing new RSA training.
Additionally, Mattress Firm is making a concerted effort to fight back against the growing bed-in-a-box craze. The retailer recently launched Tulo, its own boxed bed brand that was designed to bridge the brick-and-mortar and online retail worlds. Mattress Firm will introduce Tulo to its New York store locations first, expanding nationwide by the end of the year and internationally in 2018. Beyond product offerings, Mattress Firm is also battling its online competition on unfair advertising practices as well. In particular, the retailer is taking Tuft & Needle to task, claiming the online brand is utilizing “false, unfair and disparaging advertising” strategies – both in its billboard ads and paid online search tactics.
Mattress Firm’s recent re-boot of its marketing efforts and dedication to staying relevant with the new bed-in-a-box brand signify progress for the retailer. “As the media landscape continues to evolve,” explained CMO Sicily Dickenson, “it’s important we uncover new ways to introduce and reinforce our brand to millions of Americans.”
How Old-Fashioned Observation Can Improve Marketing and Customer Service
While high-tech analytics are all the rage right now for improving business, not all retailers have the budget to invest in the data collection technologies needed to better understand their consumers. A recent study conducted by MIT student researchers Lennart Baarman and Tamar Cohen, under the guidance of Prof. Georgia Perakis, examined how more traditional methods of observing and collecting data on consumer trends can help retailers increase sales. Their study looked at two distinctive factor groups that impact customer buying habits: timing, price and promotion and consumer-to-consumer influences.
By paying attention to the timing of purchases, the locations where purchases are made and the types of customers making the purchases, the researchers were able to create profiles for consumers who demonstrated similar behavioral patterns. Once the researchers developed these profiles, they were able to study what or who influenced each profile’s buying habits.
The study revealed that geographic influences play a serious role in how people make purchasing decisions. For example, the researchers had initially assumed that their product should be promoted in larger cities first. Their thinking: buyers in a highly metropolitan area would have the strongest influence on buyers in surrounding areas. Focusing on Ohio as a test subject, Cleveland served as their “larger city.” However, the conclusion that emerged from the study results was that a smaller city, Columbus, that influenced another city, Dayton South, actually had a significant impact on buying patterns in Cleveland. By promoting their product to buyers in Columbus, researchers influenced buyers in both Cleveland and Dayton South.
If retailers can observe, even through traditional data (i.e. what they see and hear in their stores as well as data collected through sales records), they can determine both how to get the right product in the right hand at the right time and who influences their buyers. By leveraging this information, retailers can reach buyers with promotions at ideal times or cut costs by reaching influencers first.
Listening and observing can not only help determine the best way to promote a product, but it can also anticipate the needs of customers. A recent Fast Company article highlighted the small, often low-cost adjustments business owners can make to improve their customer experience based on simple observations made by really hearing their customers.
The moral of both these stories is that data-driven strategies don’t always need advanced – and expensive – technologies. By critically observing your customers, then taking steps to use the data you’ve collected, you can improve the customer experience and generate more revenue for your store.
Why You Really Do Need Your Beauty Sleep
We all know that a crummy night’s sleep can leave us feeling cranky and irritated. No doubt, you’ve looked in the mirror after getting the less-than-suggested 8 hours of shuteye and winced at the dark circles and puffy eyelids. A small group of scientists in Sweden have actually done a study that quantifies just how much poor sleep can affect a person’s “attractiveness score.”
Despite the fact that we humans tend to think of ourselves as advanced, there are still a lot of evolutionary instincts at play in our daily lives– one of which is how we react to appearances. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm recruited 25 college students to be their beauty sleep guinea pigs, using specialized equipment to track their sleep. For the first two nights, the paid volunteers were allowed a healthy eight hours of sleep. A week later, the students were restricted to two consecutive nights of only four hours of sleep. After each period of sleep, subjects were photographed in the same manner (same clothing, same hairstyle, no make up or jewelry) by a photographer blind to the experiment. Scientists then invited 122 men and women in the Stockholm area to view the photos and rate the participants’ attractiveness, health, sleepiness and trustworthiness, as well as answer whether or not they would like to socialize with those they perceived as tired.
Researchers learned that their small study corroborates the findings of earlier studies regarding how sleeplessness affects attractiveness. The strangers were able to quite accurately pick out those photos that correlated to the sleep deprived subjects. These same photos also received lower marks for attractiveness as well as a lower interest in social interaction. Scientists attribute this reaction to an inherent preference for healthy-looking people. The pale, haggard faces of sleeplessness can be interpreted as a sign of ill health, kicking in disease-avoidance predispositions. Researchers theorize that the resulting social exclusion in turn negatively impacts the sleep-deprived individual leading to decreased social interaction and increased aggression. Meaning that sleep is inherently tied to both mental and social health.
While more in-depth research is needed to further explore how these variables perform in true-to-life settings, these findings demonstrate an unmistakable relationship between restricted sleep and diminished attractiveness and perceived health. In the end, this study further emphasizes how healthy sleep influences all aspects of our lives. Bottom line: make an effort to get solid sleep and your social life will thank you.
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