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Navigating The Challenges Of Ecommerce
As the retail world continues to adapt to the new circumstance of the pandemic, ecommerce has become a major asset for many companies and consumers. Retailers who already had a robust online selling strategy are reaping the rewards, with more and more consumers shifting their in-person spending habits to the digital sphere. While this pivot has been pronounced in recent months, it’s important to remember that this was a trend already well on its way in a pre-pandemic world. And even with the growing popularity of ecommerce—and the influx of new online shoppers over the past four months—there are still important questions about the profitability of the online sales model that should be considered.
More People Are Shopping Online
The enduring growth of ecommerce spending has been clear across a lot of consumer research as of late. In a survey of 2,000 consumers, Wunderman Thompson Commerce found that 62% of purchases happened online during the lockdown—compared to just 43% before. The latest data from McKinsey affirmed this shift as well, finding that "most product categories have seen a 15% to 30% increase in online channel user growth.” It’s not just for shopping purposes either. According to data from PYMNTS, 42% of US consumers “had transitioned to using digital channels to engage in activities more often than they did before the pandemic.”
And while behavioral trends are sure to shift again as stores re-open and more information about the virus comes out, the shoppers surveyed by Wunderman Thompson Commerce reported that they expect online shopping will make up 51% of their buying moving forward. Per PYMNTS, “the digital transition appears to be fairly sticky for those who made the switch. The data indicated that the majority of those who had brought their pre-pandemic routines online plan to keep them there even after the crisis ends.”
As a result of these stark changes in buying behavior, many online brands have actually seen increased sales during the pandemic months. Casper reported a 26% year-over-year increase to its first quarter net sales this year, hitting $113 million—while Wayfair’s direct retail net revenue logged a 20% increase to hit $2.3 billion.
But higher sales does not always equal higher profits. In fact, in the first quarter, Casper’s profit loss also grew by 98% (to $35 million) and Wayfair’s by 43% (to $286 million). While these stats may seem contradictory, they underscore one of the larger concerns about the ecommerce business model: the rising costs of customer acquisition. How much does a brand have to pay in advertising in order to make one sale?
Challenges Of The Online Sales Model
Though many online DTC brands often tout the fact that they have “cut out the middleman” of the retailer in order to keep costs low, that usually doesn’t account for the increased digital spend required to connect with new customers. In the absence of retail partnerships, digital-first brands often need to invest more heavily into customer acquisition through paid digital, social and podcast advertising placements.
At the same time, the online market has also been associated with lower prices than traditional mattress offerings. This puts many companies in a bind: either find ways to lower the cost of manufacturing, or operate at a deficit in terms of profit.
As ecommerce has grown in popularity, these issues have been exacerbated. With an increasing number of online-only players, not to mention more and more traditional sellers looking to market online as well, the price of digital advertising has gone up. As the competition grows, there are simply more brands trying to vie for the same number of consumer eyeballs. So while it was once seen as the more affordable alternative to TV and print advertising, it now takes more money to make a meaningful impact through online marketing.
According to this article from RetailDive, Casper spent 33% of its total revenue on advertising in the first quarter of this year—totaling $38 million. This was an increase from its $30 million spend during Q1 of last year. Wayfair spent 12% of its direct retail net revenue during this time—accounting for $276 million, up from $244 million in 2019.
Unfortunately, for the mattress category in particular, attracting a new customer is often just the first hurdle. In order to sweeten the deal against the ever-growing list of competitors, many brands offer steep promotional discounts. This can help them effectively grab market share—but it can also make it more of a challenge to keep that customer coming back for more. Getting a consumer to make a one-time purchase does not immediately transform them into life-long customers.
"A lot of the customers they acquire are going to make one purchase and then not come back," Seth Basham, analyst for Wedbush, told RetailDive. "So you don't really make money on those customers.” This is especially true for the mattress category, which has an inherently longer purchasing cycle than most other product segments.
In recent years, many online DTC brands have turned back to brick-and-mortar retail as a solution to these challenges. Partnering with third-party channels can help lower the cost of customer acquisition, as many of chain retailers have built-in customer bases. Other companies have opted to open their own branded stores as well, which allows them to flex their experiential marketing prowess—hosting events and experiences that foster greater relationships with consumers. Of course, the realities of the pandemic have complicated both of these physical retail strategies.
So where do we go from here?
While the growth of online shopping has been vital for the retail industry during this difficult time, it is not a silver bullet that will solve all of its problems. In some ways, the migration of in-person selling to online ramps up issues that have long existed within the ecommerce space. But this shouldn’t dissuade any company from enhancing their digital sales opportunities. Rather, it should help them see a clearer picture of what needs to be done moving forward. As more retailers and brands invest in their own ecommerce infrastructure and strategy, companies will need to get more creative about attracting and retaining new customers.
Optimize Your Existing Acquisition Strategies
As more and more brands invest in ecommerce, the cost of customer acquisition will likely continue to rise—there’s no way around it. But that just means brands will need to be smarter about their online marketing. "There's room to improve their online acquisition strategies, by being more efficient on the channels in which they're spending,” Barsham told RetailDive. This includes ensuring more careful targeting on your paid placements—and optimizing your SEO to make it easier for consumers to find your webpage organically.
Diversify Your Digital Advertising
Social media advertising can be effective, but it’s not the only way to promote your products online. Rather than jockeying for visibility on Facebook and Instagram, consider more traditional digital marketing avenues. When deployed correctly, affiliate marketing partnerships, sponsored content and banner advertising can help connect you to niche audiences with higher engagement.
Give Your Customers A Reason To Come Back
Experts recommend that consumers replace their mattress every eight years or so, which can create a serious lag in sales for some retailers. Rather than constantly trying to find new customers, it is often more effective—and affordable—to engage your existing ones. Offering accessory products like sheets and pillows can help create a more steady stream of sales, as can more outside-the-box products like nightlights, candles and CBD oils. A robust digital content program can also help lure consumers back to your site more regularly, increasing the chances they may peruse your new products.
Over-Deliver When It Comes To The Online Shopping Experience
Another thing retailers can do to off-set customer acquisition costs is ensure that they’re offering the best ecommerce experience possible. By creating an online shopping process that is seamless, memorable and convenient, retailers can help build greater trust and loyalty with consumers. This includes an easy-to-navigate web page, meaningful customer support (both during the shopping experience and after) and transparency throughout the entire transaction.
"This new emphasis on innovation and service needs to extend to the digital customer experience as well,” Denise Lee Yohn explained in this article for the Harvard Business Review. “Most retailers with roots in brick-and-mortar simply try to replicate their in-store experience online, but such efforts are fruitless and misguided.”
Thankfully, there are plenty of new innovations and tools that can help retailers enhance the online shopping experience. Instant chat features make it easy to answer shoppers’ questions in real-time, while Artificial Intelligence and predictive analytics can enable more personalized product recommendations. Even simply making sure your site is optimized for mobile can do wonders for improving the online shopping experience.
Health & Safety Is Your Best Marketing Tool Right Now
Though a number of states have now allowed retail stores to re-open, many consumers are still nervous about returning to in-person shopping—at least in the way it used to be. Crowded stores and long check-out lines, meandering aisle by aisle, touching each product: habits that once seemed normal are now imbued with added risk. In these anxious times, in-store shopping has to be as efficient as possible. Health and cleanliness protocols are more than just necessary precautions; they’re also retailers’ best marketing tools right now. Simply put: if you want to get people back into your store, you first have to reassure them that it will be safe for them to do so.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has altered day-to-day life significantly. In some ways, it has required people to be more diligent about planning. The “Leaving The House Check-List” has expanded from “Keys? Phone? Wallet?” to include “Keys? Phone? Wallet? Mask? Gloves? Hand sanitizer?” This kind of consideration has extended to consumer shopping habits as well. In order to avoid crowds, people have become more thoughtful about what time of day they shop. And they want to know in advance what to expect when they arrive in a public space.
According to Denise Lee Yohn at the Harvard Business Review, the recommended health-and-safety regulations constitute a “new baseline” upon which all retail spaces must operate to survive. She explained: “This includes mask wearing, ensuring physical distancing, and controlling the number of employees and customers in stores, instituting contactless transactions, improving speed of service, and introducing more self-service options.”
The latest data on consumer behavior has revealed a true shift away from normal shopping habits. According to data from McKinsey, “73% of consumers are not comfortable going back to ‘regular’ out-of-home activities. Most consumers are waiting for milestones beyond governments lifting restrictions—they are waiting for medical authorities to voice their approval, safety measures to be put in place, and a vaccine and/or treatments to be developed.”
A survey of 2,000 consumers from Wunderman Thompson Commerce found that “online purchasing accounted for 62% of all shopping during lockdown, compared to 43% before.” This shift is, in part, due to anxiety about the virus—as 48% of respondents said they were scared of visiting stores right now.
As this fear persists—and more people continue to adapt to buying online—it will be even harder for retailers to convince consumers to return to in-store shopping. And while not everyone is experiencing the same degree of worry, it’s important for retailers to be able to accommodate the comfort level of anyone who does walk in their door.
Some shoppers may feel fine to peruse the store leisurely, if everyone is wearing a mask—while others may want to get in and out as quickly as they can, no matter what. By clearly communicating your health and safety protocols through a variety of marketing, advertising and merchandising avenues, retailers will be able to connect with a wider net of consumers.
The retailers who do not will likely have a more difficult time retaining their customer base—as the pandemic has also complicated the normal rules of brand loyalty. According to McKinsey, “more than 75% of consumers have experimented with a different shopping behavior during the crisis, including trying new brands and places to shop. Of the consumers who switched stores or brands, availability, convenience and value were the main drivers.”
For retailers looking to strengthen their relationships with their customers, it’s imperative that they make a significant investment in health and safety measures. “Looking toward reopening, there is a renewed focus on health and expectation that companies “care” about consumers,” McKinsey’s research revealed. “Consumers are actively looking for safety measures when deciding where to shop in-store, such as enhanced cleaning, masks and barriers.”
If a customer’s “go-to” store doesn’t feel like a safe environment, they’re more likely to simply pick another one right now—one that clearly offers better social distancing protocol, or more efficient curb-side pick-up, or a robust online experience.
While in some ways this is a totally unparalleled set of challenges, many retailers may be more prepared for this type of problem-solving than they think. When you think about it, this conversation around health and safety is not all that different from the questions about the “in-store shopping experience” that the industry has been contemplating for years. Even before the pandemic hit, brick-and-mortar retailers had been struggling with low foot traffic. Pre-COVID, many of the proposed solutions to this problem involved physical events—reasons for consumers to gather and interact in your space. While new safety regulations make these experiences less viable, that doesn’t mean that conversation ends there.
Rather, we must rethink what we mean by an experience. An appointment-only business model is a type of experience, one that creates a more luxury feel—while minimizing virus risk by limiting the number of people in the store at once. A live-streamed talk or class or Q&A is an entirely different type of experience, one that bridges the gap between in-store and online.
It’s not just about prioritizing your customers’ health and safety either—it matters how you are treating your own staff as well. According to McKinsey, “One-fourth of consumers believe that a company’s treatment of its employees has increased in importance as a buying criterion since the crisis started. Companies’ actions in this time, especially toward their consumers and employees, will be remembered for a long time and can lead to goodwill.”
Here’s are a few small ways you can clearly communicate to customers how your store is operating and what steps you are taking to keep both shoppers and staff safe:
A Quick E-Blast To Your Customer List
Make sure your message is brief—people are still exhausted over the previous series of COVID response messages. Ideally, a clear and straightforward checklist of what you’re doing in your store is all you need. Consider using “What To Expect Next Time You Visit Us” or something similar as a subject line so recipients know exactly what it’s about.
Update Your Website And Google Listing + Talk About It On Social Channels
Try to reach as many people as possible! Share the same checklist as the e-blast across your website and social channels. Remember, clarity is important here; if you can make it an infographic, do! Make sure your hours are correct and indicate if you are offering specific hours for the elderly, are operating appointment-only or offering other appointment options.
Put Up An Easy-To-Read Sign On Your Door
Don’t make it too small! Make sure someone who stumbles upon your location on a walk will know what to expect before they open the door.
Use Consistent Messaging Across ALL Platforms
Earlier on during the crisis, we wrote even more in-depth article about tasteful ways to engage with consumers during this particular crisis. It’s a great resource as you continue to work to be of value to shoppers while also keeping them safe.
As we continue to navigate the difficulties of this moment, clearly affirming your commitment to your employees and your customers is an essential marketing tool for all retailers.
How Plants Contribute To Wellbeing—And Why They Belong In Your Bedroom
If you’ve never dug in the dirt, maybe you don’t know what a balm the feeling of moist soil between your fingers is. For many, gardening is synonymous with spring or summer, known together as the "growing season"—and the feeling of accomplishment after planting a robust vegetable garden or even simply repotting a beloved house plant is truly incomparable. You don’t have to have a large plot of land, many tools or even that many plants to benefit from the act of tending to greenery. Repotting, seeing plants grow and thrive and even watering are all part of the plant care regimen that can have a soothing effect. Whether you live in a townhome, detached house or in a tiny studio apartment in a big city, there are ways to bring the healing power of plants and gardening into your life and, more specifically, your bedroom. We explored both the science behind why plants and gardening can make people feel good and gathered a list of some of the best indoor plants for the bedroom.
Plants And Gardening For Relaxation, Wellness And Healing
While it might be common knowledge or merely a matter of taste to say that most interior spaces seem more visually striking when they have plants in them, there are many reasons why striving to create indoor jungles isn’t simply about aesthetics. In fact, there’s scientific evidence to support both the positive effects of gardening for urban dwellers and the benefits of bringing the outdoors in with houseplants.
In a study based in Minneapolis, the emotional wellbeing (EWB) of 370 participants was measured using an app after each engaged in a variety of activities. The EWB calculations looked at multiple factors—average net affect, average happiness, average meaningfulness and frequency of experiencing peak positive emotions (meaningfulness and happiness) as a result of each activity. From this study, researchers were not only able to show that gardening results in positive feelings (it ranked in the top 5 of 15 activities measured for increasing emotional wellbeing), but they were also able to liken gardening to biking, walking and eating out in terms of emotional response.
While this study is focused more on outdoor gardening, another study from 2015 honed in on the positive impact of indoor plants. In this study, published by the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, the researchers main goal was to examine psychological and physiological benefits of interaction with indoor plants. More specifically, the researchers were looking to see the difference in psychological and physiological reaction in 24 young adult males after doing a plant-related task compared with a computer-related task. They divided the group in half, assigning some participants the project of transplanting an indoor plant and others the task of working on a computer and then the groups swapped so each participant did both activities. Researchers measured how each activity made participants feel using a semantic differential method and assessed the physical impact by measuring heart rate and blood pressure. Unsurprisingly, the transplanting activity felt different for participants than the computer task, with the majority reporting feelings of being more comfortable, soothed and natural while completing it. Interestingly, the physiological differences between the tasks were significant too. Upon completion of the indoor plant transplant activity, researchers noticed that participants' diastolic blood pressure dropped during the task as compared with the computer activity, with participants exhibiting reduced sympathetic nervous system activity.
Another study also showed why it’s beneficial to bring flowers or plants to the room of a loved one who is sick or someone recovering from surgery. In this study, plants were found to directly contribute to lower blood pressure and lower levels of reported pain, anxiety and fatigue among individuals recovering from surgery, as compared to patients recovering from the exact same surgery who did not have plants in their room.
Not only does simply being around plants result in positive physical and psychological outcomes, but the actual act of planting a garden or even just some indoor plants provides people with comfort and results in a sense of accomplishment—it feels incredible to see a new leaf or a bloom on a plant you’ve been diligently caring for.
There are also other benefits intrinsic to plants: many can help purify the air, create humidity in the winter and some even give off soothing fragrances. Don’t take our word for it though. In the 1980’s, NASA took the time to write this report on how indoor plants can contribute to pollution abatement. For these reasons and the fact that they can add style and texture to your decor, it stands to reason that plants belong in the bedroom just as much as they belong in the garden.
Plants In The Bedroom: Plants With Specific Benefits To Help You Wind Down
If you want to get started with gardening, we recommend starting with indoor plants. Low commitment and often-budget friendly, all you’ll need to tend to your indoor garden is some pots (with drainage holes), soil and of course, the plants themselves. You don’t even have to repot newly purchased plants right away. They typically come in what is referred to as a grow pot (that plastic pot it lives in at the store or nursery), and it’s totally ok to set the grow pot itself on a saucer to catch excess water for a while, or in a pot before replanting. In fact, it’s often recommended that you allow any new plant friends to get acclimated by keeping them in that grow pot for a week to two weeks before repotting them into the permanent vessel.
Another big tip to keep in mind before investing in houseplants is to consider a few key requirements: light, watering needs and hardiness. Before you buy a plant for your bedroom or anywhere in your home and garden, think about the amount of light you get—is it direct (rays through the window, you’ll see shadows on the floor and wall) or indirect (light filled, but no rays through the window)? Lighting and plant placement are critical to the health of your plant.
And, if you’re new to raising plants, do your research! Don’t start with a tricky plant—its demise could kill your enthusiasm.
Below we’ve rounded up plants with benefits that make them particularly good for the bedroom (air purifiers, nice fragrances, soothing to look at) while also including details on their care needs. Most of what we’ve included here are fairly easy plants to grow. Without further ado, here are some best plants for the bedroom plus some tips to help them thrive:
The Snake Plant
Snake plants are super hardy and do well in almost any light, but prefer not to be in direct light. These tend to thrive on neglect; you only really need to water them once a month or every other week. There are quite a few looks and variations, this article provides plenty of images to demonstrate all the different varieties. While snake plants purify the air by converting harmful substances into harmless ones, be careful about where you place them as they are toxic to pets and kids if nibbled on.
Pothos And Philodendron Varieties
Pothos and philodendron look very similar but are different types of plants. That said, we’ve lumped them together because they have so much in common. Both are super easy to grow (and propagate). They require low to bright indirect light, which is great for the bedroom if you have curtains for privacy or simply don’t get a ton of light in your home. They both really only need to be watered once a week (and their soil needs to fully dry out in between watering). Note that pothos and philodendron will grow quickly when placed in the right light conditions and will look a bit droopy when they are ready for a drink. Definitely listen to the plant when it comes to water; overwatering can be especially harmful to this plant—it needs well draining soil and doesn’t enjoy sitting in moisture.
Palms make a big statement and there are quite a few varieties, most of which can help remove toxins from the air, including xylene, formaldehyde, ammonia and more. Do your research before bringing one home—some can be super large, others on the smaller side. They generally need to be watered regularly and the light needs vary. Additionally, some palms are toxic to pets while others are not. Areca palms are an especially appealing palm because they are non-toxic to pets, are pretty large and remove benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and xylene from the air.
Peace Lilies are beautiful air purifiers, but they are toxic to pets. If you have a chewer you may not want to bring them into your home! But if you don’t, Peace Lilies make an ideal companion as they remove benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and xylene from the air and are very easy to care for. Just water them weekly and consider a slow release fertilizer in the spring. They don’t like direct light but in bright to medium indirect light they should flower and they can survive in low light but might not look as nice.
The fern family is very large, but as a whole, they love humidity and can help create it, are largely pet friendly and many of them also help purify the air. Some ferns are hardier than others though, so note that ferns like the Maidenhair are fairly temperamental. Additionally, ferns can thrive in indirect sunlight to partial shade. Boston ferns are an example of a fairly easy to grow fern that has especially strong air purifying abilities. They remove xylene and formaldehyde from the air, are pet friendly and enjoy living a few feet from a window so they can soak in some indirect rays. Plus, all ferns have such delicate and interesting leaves, they’ll add texture and style to any room. Most of them like to stay moist (so if you like to water, this one’s for you) and also tend to enjoy being misted.
Spider plants are super easy to grow and propagate. They tolerate a number of light conditions (apart from strong direct rays) and while they like to be watered about once a week, they won’t die if you forget them once in a while. Spider plants are also pet friendly which is a plus. Under the right circumstances, they will shoot off pups that can be used for propagation and sometimes even bloom.
If you have strong direct sunlight and not a lot of indirect sunlight, succulents might be your ticket. Thriving on neglect, succulents are also air purifying plants, many are pet friendly and they are more apt to do well if they receive strong rays of sunlight throughout the day than some of the other plants included in this list. (Note: if you need to filter direct rays to help your plants thrive, a translucent curtain can help.)
There are so many great plants out there and so many of them offer terrific benefits inside the home, so here are a few honorable mentions: Lavender (can be grown indoors), Aloe (so many healing properties, but also not pet friendly), purple waffle plants, rubber plants, ficus, pineapple plants, dracaena, chinese evergreen, ivy and many more!
If you remain convinced that you have a black thumb, there’s dried foliage out there that can do double duty by contributing to your soothing sleep space with relaxing scents and sprucing up the aesthetic of the room. Integrate some of these dried plants into your decor to keep your space smelling fresh: lavender, eucalyptus, chamomile and basil. You can also use these dried plants and others to make potpourri (another bedroom staple).
If you find yourself more stressed and anxious these days as we are faced with a global crisis, consider taking our advice and making your space more lush! It’s a low-cost way to create joy in your home, help you relax, boost emotional well-being and purify the air. Who knows, maybe during this time you’ll get a chance to forge a deeper connection with the earth and its leafy inhabitants. And remember, if you are nervous about killing your new plant babies or if you want to take your green thumb to the next level, there are tremendous resources across the internet, as well as plant delivery subscriptions to help you garden while also staying safe.
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