Exclusive Better Sleep Council Research
BY JULIE A. PALM
A 2016 study from the Better Sleep Council, the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, reveals changes in bedding-shopping behavior, including shorter replacement cycles, an expectation of higher ticket prices, a commitment to brick-and-mortar stores but an interest in online outlets and more.
Hear that? It’s the sound of a seemingly impenetrable barrier finally being breached. For the first time, consumers’ expectations for how long a mattress should last have dropped below 10 years.
That barrier has held firm since before the Better Sleep Council started doing major consumer research in 1996, but, according to the latest BSC research, today’s consumers now expect to keep a new mattress, on average, for 9.4 years. It’s a significant drop of about 1½ years from the 10.9 years cited by consumers the last time such research was conducted in 2007. (The BSC is the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.)
A shorter mattress replacement cycle means consumers can take better advantage of new component technologies and advancements in construction techniques—and benefit by enjoying mattresses that offer different levels of comfort and support as their bodies change and age. It’s also nice for the mattress industry, which can introduce innovations to consumers more rapidly, and for retailers, who enjoy more frequent visits from shoppers.
And there’s more good news for retailers in the latest round of research. The survey conducted in 2016 found that consumers expect their new mattress to cost more, $1,110, on average they say—a significantly higher price point than consumers have cited in past surveys.
“Since the last wave of research was done in 2007, significant economic, technological and societal trends have redefined the way we shop and relate to brands,” writes New York-based Fluent Research, which conducted the research for the BSC, in a report accompanying the latest results. “In the current study, we address how these trends—such as the emergence of millennials, the rise of social media and the technological advances in the mattress industry—have impacted consumers’ relationship to sleep and mattresses.”
Here, we’ll delve more deeply into the findings about replacement cycles and price points and examine what the BSC study shows about how consumers research, shop for and, ultimately, make final decisions about a mattress purchase.
The replacement cycle speeds up
We start with the replacement cycle. According to the BSC research, not only have consumers’ expectations for how long a mattress should last dropped, the actual mattress replacement cycle is compressing, too. In 2007, study respondents reported keeping their last mattress 10.3 years before replacing it with their current sleep set. Today, that time frame is down to a median of 8.9 years. In fact, nearly three-quarters of study respondents replaced their last mattress within 8.9 years—and only 10% reported keeping their bed set more than 16 years.
These changes in both expectations and actual replacement cycles come after efforts by manufacturers, retailers and the BSC to educate consumers about the advantages of replacing their old mattresses more frequently. And comments from survey respondents show the industry’s message is getting through to people: They increasingly understand that the best indicator of when to replace a mattress is when it no longer offers a comfortable, restful night’s sleep.
As a respondent identified as Doreen said, “One day, I mentioned to a friend I was waking up every day with a sore back. She asked how old my mattress was and when I told her it was about 10 years old, she said that was my problem. It hadn’t dawned on me till that moment that I needed a new mattress. I did research and found out my mattress was past its prime, so I bought a new one.”
The BSC encourages consumers to evaluate the condition of their sleep set—and the quality of their own sleep—every five to seven years.
The research finds interesting generational differences when it comes to how consumers view replacing their sleep sets. Most notably, younger consumers (ages 18 to 35) both expect to replace and actually do replace their mattresses in more compressed cycles than their older peers, perhaps because they are experiencing life changes (marriages, first-home purchases, etc.) more rapidly than older consumers. Younger consumers, who replace smartphones and other electronics every couple of years, also may be more attuned to the need to upgrade consumer products frequently to enjoy the benefits of technological advancements. When asked, “How many years would you expect to keep a new quality mattress?” those 18 to 35 responded 6.6 years, on average. In contrast, those 36 to 55 expect to keep a new mattress 9.1 years and those 56 and older say they hope to get 11.6 years out of a new bed.
How much would you pay?
As we mentioned earlier, when consumers go to replace their mattress today, they are expecting to pay more than ever before. When asked in the 2016 survey, “In your opinion, how much does a new quality queen-size mattress or mattress set cost?” respondents said, on average, $1,110—up $181 over the $929 price point cited in the 2007 survey. Interestingly, 2016 survey respondents reported actually paying $930, on average, for their current queen-size mattress (or set) and said they’d be “willing to pay” $955 if they “were shopping for a new mattress or mattress set” today.
Nearly half (49%) of consumers say that mattresses are fairly priced in terms of the value they provide, but another 43% say mattresses are too expensive, indicating the industry still has work to do in terms of conveying the benefits of a quality mattress. Here’s an idea about how to do that: When asked about mattress prices in a slightly different way—one that clearly ties mattresses to sleep—consumers seem to appreciate the value of a mattress more. Two-thirds of respondents said they agree with the statement: “When you consider how much time we spend sleeping, the cost of a high-quality mattress is reasonable.” Only 29% strongly disagreed.
In general, most consumers see a link between price and quality, with one in two agreeing with the statement, “In general, the more you pay for a mattress, the better the quality of the mattress.”
Comments from respondents show how they balance price concerns with other needs and desires. One respondent identified as Shelly put it this way: “Price has to play a role in my decision because I am on a budget. But I recognize that this is a purchase which is designed to last a long time so I try to plan in advance enough so that I don’t have to buy at rock-bottom prices and have some wiggle room
to get the mattress I feel is the best for my husband and me.”
It’s clear from the BSC research that the demarcation between “in-store” and “online” is increasingly fuzzy for consumers when it comes to both researching products and shopping for them. The clear takeaway for retailers: Consumers are ever-more comfortable bouncing back and forth between the two.
“Respondents rely on a range of information sources to research and shop for a new mattress,” Fluent Research writes in the report accompanying the survey results. “Some respondents start by extensively researching the mattress market, learning about different types, brands and construction materials, and then going back to a brick-and-mortar store to try out the models they like. Others start in their neighborhood stores, talk to salespeople, make their selection and then search for a better price online. Many people employ a combination of the two strategies.”
Tracing today’s researching and shopping process through the words of consumers themselves is illustrative.
“I first go online, checking out a mattress blog … . I read how they describe the beds and watch videos they had posted,” explained one respondent. “A few times I emailed questions to the blogger. I also read (on the blog) comments from people who purchased different beds. If a brand sounds interesting, I go to YouTube and watch people trying out different brands. I also saw some other mattress videos on YouTube, like how to purchase, secrets of the industry, etc. Then I visit the manufacturer’s website and look around there. If I have any questions, I email or call them. Then I search for reviews regarding specific mattresses that sound interesting. All during this process, I take notes and write out questions I have. Finally, I will visit some local stores to see what they can offer.”
Another respondent also laid out a process that flits back and forth between brick-and-mortar stores and online resources: “First, I would shop around and research the different kinds, from firm to soft, coils or foam, hypoallergenic, gel, back support, policy on trial periods, if any, and price points. After deciding what options would be best for us, I would want to lie on them to feel the difference between them and feel which is the most comfortable. I would then take this information and do some online research to see the reviews before making our final decision.”
Such comments point to the imperative for mattress retailers to adopt a robust omnichannel business model, with both physical locations and a strong online presence—not only in terms of retailers’ own information-packed, e-commerce-enabled websites, but on third-party review sites and social media.
Doing their homework
Let’s look more in-depth at how the way that consumers research mattresses is changing.
Today’s consumers are informed shoppers. Although 17% of respondents report spending only one or two days researching and shopping for a mattress before making a purchase, half of consumers say they spend between three days and two weeks gathering information and considering their options before actually buying a bed.
“I would not rush into a purchase until I felt knowledgeable of the product and comfortable that it was right for myself and my husband,” a respondent identified as Kelly said.
Think back to those respondents’ descriptions of their research and shopping process. Here’s the data that backs up the fact that those aren’t outlier anecdotes: Some 57% of consumers report they “go to stores and look around” as part of their information-gathering process but they rely heavily on web-based resources, as well. When asked, “When you want to purchase a mattress, where do you usually find the information you need?” 41% turn to internet search engines, 26% look at the Consumer Reports website (or magazine), 24% seek out retailers’ websites and 23% visit mattress manufacturers’ websites. Other sources of information include independent rating/review websites, advice from retail sales associates, online ads, and advice from family members and friends—all at 19%. (Respondents could choose more than one answer.)
Remember when your store ad budget was consumed by print and broadcast advertising? Today, only 17% of consumers rely on TV commercials for information about mattresses and only 14% turn to newspaper ads, according to the 2016 findings. How times have changed.
So, what do consumers want to learn during their information-gathering process? It’s not surprising to learn that price is top of mind. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents say they compare prices and more than half (54%) check out promotions and sales. But consumers also are keenly interested in product features, brands and constructions. Some 46% of consumers compare product features, 45% read consumer reviews, 41% look for information about mattress features, 38% search for details about different types of mattresses and 33% seek information about mattress brands. Less important to consumers doing research are store location (30%), information about bed bases (24%) and information about warranties (23%). (Respondents could choose more than one answer.)
Ready. Set. Shop!
While the latest research shows consumers are increasingly comfortable researching and, in fact, buying sleep sets online, shoppers still show a strong preference for actually purchasing mattresses in traditional brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, 85% of respondents say if they were looking for a new mattress today, they would walk into a local store and buy it. But more than a quarter (27%) of respondents said they would consider making their next mattress purchase online, either through an online-only retailer or through a traditional retailer with an e-commerce option. Other retail channels, including TV shopping channels, mail order and by phone, all drew only single-digit responses. (Respondents could choose more than one answer.)
Younger consumers, especially those “digital native” millennials, are much more comfortable buying a mattress online than older consumers: Only 15% of those 56 and older would consider purchasing their next mattress online, but 41% of those ages 18 to 35 say they would do so. Young men were most likely among all groups to say they would purchase a sleep set online (47%), according to the BSC research.
When consumers show a preference for brick-and-mortar retailers, it seems linked to their desire to rest-test a sleep set before buying it. An overwhelming 92% of consumers say it is very (66%) or somewhat (26%) important to try out a mattress before making a purchase. As a survey respondent identified as Erin said, “I probably wouldn’t shop for a mattress online unless I had already tested it in a store and knew exactly which one it was.”
Another respondent, this one identified as Susan, put it this way: “I might consider buying from Amazon, since they carry so many brand-name items at competitive prices. I say ‘might’ because I still want to be able to experience that mattress’ attributes or lack of them in real life.”
But, here again, there are important differences based on a consumer’s age. Some 73% of consumers 56 and older and 67% of consumers 36 to 55 say it is “critical” to rest-test a mattress before buying, but only 55% of consumers ages 18 to 35 agree.
Online-only and traditional retailers with e-commerce capabilities who offer generous return policies are making inroads with consumers who want to be able to rest-test a bed. “Ideally, I would like to touch and see it before I buy, but now that online stores are offering risk-free trial periods, it is no longer critical to see a mattress in a store,” the respondent identified as Doreen explained.
When consumers do buy from brick-and-mortar stores, 66% visit two or three stores before finally making their purchase. Only 13% shop only one store and buy there.
What kind of mattress retailers do consumers prefer? Specialty sleep chains are the go-to place, with 74% of shoppers saying they would buy their next mattress at that type of retailer. Survey respondents also expressed strong preferences for furniture stores (68%), local specialty stores (65%) and, to a lesser extent, department stores (55%). Other retailer preferences included direct from factory and warehouse clubs (both 45%), big discount stores (40%), home improvement stores (36%) and supermarkets (28%). An additional 31% of respondents reported they would consider buying specifically from an online retailer (“like Amazon”) and 24% would consider purchasing from an online-only mattress retailer (“like Casper”). (Respondents could choose more than one answer.)
It should be noted that when posing this question, Fluent Research didn’t assume shoppers would be visiting only the brick-and-mortar locations of traditional retailers. The query was phrased this way: “Which of the following stores would you consider buying your next mattress from, either by visiting their brick-and-mortar location, online or through other means?”
What drives the purchase?
Once consumers have done their research and shopped a few retailers, one all-important step remains: making the final decision to buy a specific mattress. And the BSC research provides retailers with fascinating insights into exactly what drives consumers to make the actual purchase.
In reporting the survey results, Fluent Research groups more than two dozen specific factors that consumers consider when making their purchasing decision into seven broad categories: (The percentages refer to the percent of respondents who rated at least one factor in each category as very important in their decision-making: 8-10 on a 10-point scale.)
- Benefits, such as comfort, that they will derive from their new mattress (91%)
- Customer service, such as free delivery (91%)
- Choice, meaning a wide selection of brands or construction types (88%)
- Retail environment, such as a store’s cleanliness (87%)
- Retail sales associates (are they knowledgeable? friendly?) (86%)
- Reputation of the store or mattress brand (84%)
- Price, including sales and available financing (82%)
It shouldn’t be surprising that, when it comes down to it, consumers prioritize the direct benefits—particularly comfort—that a new mattress will provide them.
As one respondent said: “Comfort, comfort and comfort are my three most important criteria. Then I balance things such as price, manufacturer’s reputation, country of origin, vendor location, guarantee and the experience of other consumers.”
Specific factors related to mattress benefits that were mentioned in the survey include:
- The comfort and support of the mattress (86% of respondents cited this as an important factor influencing their decision to buy—or not to buy—a mattress)
- Sleep/health benefits of mattresses (73%)
- Information about mattress construction (70%)
In news that should be especially encouraging to mattress retailers, many of the factors that ultimately drive a consumer’s decision to buy a mattress are matters that retailers can control—like customer service, the retail environment, and the attitudes and behaviors of RSAs.
Specific factors related to customer service that were mentioned in the survey include:
- Free delivery (80%)
- Easy returns (68%)
- Long-term warranty (67%)
- “White-glove” delivery (52%)
- Offer of a free trial at home (51%)
- Mattress recycling (44%)
- Delivers compressed mattress in a box (35%)
- You can avoid going to the store (29%)
Specific factors related to the retail environment—both in-store and online—that were mentioned in the survey include:
- Cleanliness/appearance of the store (74%)
- A relaxed environment (68%)
- Easy to use/shop at website or store (66%)
- Displays mattresses the way they would look in the bedroom (60%)
- Attractive website design (32%)
Specific factors related to RSAs (sometimes referred to as “salespeople” in the research) that were mentioned in the survey include:
- Nonpushy salespeople in the store (77%)
- Knowledgeable salespeople in store (71%)
- Sales associate was a good listener (54%)
And we’ll leave you with this final bit of good news: The vast majority (83%) of survey respondents who shopped for a mattress in the past five years were satisfied with the experience.
More to come
The latest consumer research from the Better Sleep Council, the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, is a treasure trove of fascinating information retailers can use to improve their operations and better meet the needs of consumers. We’ll share more details in upcoming issues of Sleep Savvy and online so you can learn what triggers consumers to shop for a new mattress, what kinds of new products they are interested in learning more about, how they shop for accessories and more. Don’t miss these articles!
Since 1996, the Better Sleep Council, the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, has conducted research to better understand and track changes in consumers’ attitudes toward sleep and health, their decision-making process with regard to mattress purchases, and their shopping preferences and habits when it comes to sleep sets and related products.
As in past rounds of research, the 2016 study used a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Specifically, the latest research was carried out by New York-based Fluent Research and included three phases:
- Phase 1: An online “bulletin board” conducted in December 2015 that included input from 35 consumers recruited from regions across the country. The bulletin board moderator was able to ask questions of the group, as well as of individuals, and the respondents in the group could reply to each other, in addition to the moderator. Respondents posted photos and videos of their bedrooms and sleep sets.
- Phase 2: Shopping ethnographies with 10 consumers who were in the market to purchase a new mattress. Each respondent visited three retailers and documented their experiences using photos and videos, answering survey questions, and participating in an open-ended discussion. A few of these shoppers ended up purchasing a mattress as a result of the experience.
- Phase 3: The final phase was an online survey of 2,000 consumers nationwide. The sample was representative of the overall U.S. population of adults (ages 18+) but was screened to include consumers who participate in decision-making when it comes to mattress purchases.