BY JULIE A. PALM
Recent research from the Better Sleep Council indicates health, comfort, deterioration, new technologies and product choices all play a role in shoppers’ willingness to head to retail stores and websites to buy a new bed set. And many plan to take that step sooner rather than later.
Retailers get ready: Four out of five consumers plan to replace their current mattress and about one in three of those expect to do so within the next two years, according to new consumer research from the Better Sleep Council, the consumer-
education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.
As those consumers head into your stores and onto your websites, they are both keenly aware of and interested in the latest, greatest bedding technologies—so much so that some may be ready to take advantage of those new features even before their current bed set wears out.
The BSC has been conducting quantitative and qualitative consumer research since 1996. The research’s goal: better inform the communications strategy of the sleep products industry so that it can, in turn, better educate consumers about the health and wellness benefits of sleeping on a quality mattress set and the importance of regular mattress replacement. The most recent BSC research, conducted in 2016 by New York-based Fluent Research and released at the end of the year, shows the industry is making significant progress in getting those messages across to consumers.
Here we’ll look at more key results from the research, including what prompts consumers to shop for a new bed set and what they think about all the product
choices available to them today.
Time to break up with your bed
Of the 37% of consumers who intend to replace their bed within the next two years, 6% currently are shopping for a new mattress, 10% plan to do so in the next few months and 21% expect to start shopping in one to two years.
However, a significant portion of consumers are operating on a longer time frame—albeit one that fits within schedules that the BSC and mattress industry encourage in terms of mattress replacement. Some 12% of consumers reporting they’ll be in the market for a new bed in three to four years and 9% in five to seven years. These next groups, unfortunately, still need to get the message about the importance of more frequent mattress replacement: 7% expect to buy a new mattress in eight to 10 years, 2% say they might purchase a new one in 11 to 15 years and 1% see mattress shopping as a long-long-range plan more than 15 years in the future.
Consumers, the research shows, don’t simply rise one morning and think, “Hey, let’s go mattress shopping.” (Ah, if only they did!) Instead, their decision to replace their current bed set appears triggered most often by a host of factors clustered around three broad causes—health/comfort (with 73% of survey respondents mentioning at least one factor in this category as a trigger), mattress deterioration (72%) and mattress improvement (61%). For instance, a respondent identified as Doreen replaced her bed after experiencing back pain over a period of time and realizing she’d been sleeping on her current bed—which had likely begun to deteriorate in terms of support and comfort—for more than a decade.
“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,” Doreen said. “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 fact that so many consumers see the strong link between their mattress and their health is one of the many delightful informational nuggets found in the BSC research. It confirms the success of the industry’s efforts to get consumers to understand that the quality and condition of their mattress directly impacts their sleep and overall wellness.
Several factors go into the broader category of health/comfort. Specific issues mentioned in the survey include:
- When your mattress does not provide a good night’s sleep (83% of respondents cited this as a very important reason for mattress replacement)
- When you wake up with a sore back or stiff muscles (73%)
- When your current mattress is too soft (not firm) (63%)
- When your doctor recommends it (51%)
- When your body changes (for example, gaining weight) (45%)
- When your current mattress is too firm (42%)
The BSC encourages consumers to evaluate the condition of their mattress every five to seven years and consumers appear to recognize changes in their beds that should prompt replacement. Specific factors mentioned in the survey related to mattress deterioration include:
- When your current mattress sags in the middle (81% rated this as a very important reason to purchase a new mattress)
- When the coils/springs of your current mattress are uncomfortable (76%)
- When the mattress becomes too noisy or squeaky (61%)
- When there are many stains on the mattress (54%)
We would expect (or at least hope) that an aching back or a visibly lumpy mattress would send a consumer out shopping for a new one, but the most recent survey shows something intriguing: Many consumers are willing to buy a mattress just to take advantage of bedding innovations, such as new materials, constructions and technologies. In other words, consumers would buy a new bed because they want to rather than because they have to. Specific mattress improvements mentioned in the survey include:
- When you want to upgrade to a better mattress (64% say this is a very important reason to purchase a new mattress)
- When you want a bigger mattress (51%)
- When you want to try a new mattress technology (42%)
- After you have experienced a better mattress in a hotel (41%)
Slightly less important overall to respondents in terms of triggering a replacement decision were factors related to home improvement, such as moving to a new home, and time frame, such as reaching the end of the mattress warranty.
Adjusting to the idea of adjustables
One technology consumers seem interested in is adjustable bed bases—a product specifically included in the BSC survey for the first time. According to the 2016 results, 9% of consumers own an adjustable base and another 33% say they are familiar with the product and would consider buying one.
“I am aware of the adjustable bed frames,” said a respondent identified as Kelly. “I think it is good if you watch TV in your bedroom to sit up, or for people with breathing or other issues that need the bed adjusted.”
And there’s room for growth in the category, the research shows: 12% of respondents say they aren’t familiar with adjustable bases but would like to learn more about them. Other consumers, alas, may be harder to reach: 26% say although they are familiar with adjustable foundations, they have no interest in purchasing one, while another 9% say they are neither familiar with nor interested in such a base.
Consumer interest in adjustable bed bases—which not only help alleviate health issues like snoring and back pain but make it easier for people to read, watch TV and even work in bed as respondent Kelly indicated—makes sense when we look how survey respondents view their bedrooms. Some 48% look at their bedroom as a utilitarian space, describing it as “just a place to sleep.” But the majority of people see their bedroom quite differently. A respondent identified as Rosanna represents the 25% of people who call their bedroom a “sanctuary”—a concept promoted by the BSC for optimal rest and relaxation. As Rosanna said about her space: “My favorite room in the house! I keep my bedroom very minimal and free of distractions. My bedroom is for sleeping and I’ve designed it in a way that promotes that. The room is in a very neutral color, lots of comfy pillows and I splurge on 750-thread-count sheets. No TVs or electronics. I keep books around my nightstand, a candle for relaxation and some artwork.”
Another 19% of consumers describe their bedroom as “an all-purpose room where I sleep, work, go online” and 7% use their bedroom as a family room where everyone gathers.
Retail marketing of adjustable bases—with their vast array of features, from head-and-foot tilt to massage options to charging ports—could be tweaked to appeal to each of these groups. For instance, consumers who see their bedrooms “just for sleep” might appreciate things like anti-snore settings.
When consumers shop for a new mattress, what are they seeking? Or, to put it another way, how do they define a quality product they’d want to buy? As with their replacement decision, consumers consider a constellation of factors, according to the BSC research. Not surprisingly, they rated aspects connected to comfort/support highest, followed not far behind by features tied to construction/materials and size/thickness. (The survey asked, “How important are the following features for you in a mattress on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 = not at all important and 10 = extremely important?”)
Specific factors related to mattress comfort/support that were mentioned in the survey include:
- Comfortable (89% of consumers rate this as a very important quality or feature in a mattress)
- Supports your back (81%)
- No sinking (73%)
- No noise (63%)
- Stays cool (60%)
- Firm (60%)
- Contours to your body (56%)
- Firm edges (51%)
- Motion isolation (doesn’t move) (47%)
- Pillow-top (47%)
- Soft (43%)
Consumers rated the following features related to mattress construction/materials as very important:
- Quality cover fabric (60%)
- No need to flip (51%)
- Allergen control (48%)
- Quilted fabric on top (45%)
- Contains foam (such as latex, memory or gel) (42%)
- Has handles (38%)
- Number of coils (the more coils the better) (37%)
- Made with coils or springs (36%)
- Made without coils or springs (36%)
- Hypoallergenic (23%)
Specific factors related to mattress size/thickness that were mentioned in the survey include:
- Size (76%)
- Thick or high (50%)
Respondents to the survey also considered items such as a mattress brand’s reputation, warranty, customization options, and technology/innovation.
When it comes to mattress types, consumers voice a preference for pillow-tops, but not by wide margins as several other constructions also find favor. When asked, “In your opinion, which technology is best suited for a good mattress today?” 33% of respondents cited pillow-top mattresses. But 23% prefer foam-only mattresses and 21% favor hybrids. Another 14% say a “spring mattress” is the best sleeping surface and 10% picked adjustable air chamber. Earning responses in the single digits were waterbeds (5%), sleeper sofas (4%) and futons (4%). (Respondents could choose more than one answer.)
Among consumers who prefer foam (either foam-only or hybrid mattresses with foam and springs), memory foam is most popular, with 62% saying it is “best suited for a good mattress.” Another 18% favor gel and 15% prefer latex. This isn’t surprising given that memory foam defined the category early on and remains a staple foam offering from most mattress manufacturers and retailers.
So many choices
To recap: A significant portion of consumers are now or soon will be in the market for a new mattress set, many are interested in new technologies available to them (including adjustable bases) and they are fairly clear about what they want in terms of quality and comfort. Now they just need to look at the mattresses available and pick one—from the dozens, even hundreds that may be readily available to them depending on where they live and how they like to shop.
Consumers, the BSC research shows, are aware of and appreciate the fact that they have more choice in mattress constructions and types than ever before. (Yay!) In fact, 85% of respondents said they agree (50% strongly agree) with the statement, “Today, there is a great variety of mattresses available for every taste.”
As one respondent said, “Yes, there is a lot more to choose from now as new materials and styles are invented. It gives you a wide range to choose from. It affects my decision making by always wanting the latest and greatest.”
But all that choice comes with drawbacks as some consumers report being baffled by all the choices.
As one respondent put it, “While the selections have increased, so has the confusion. Every store has a cutaway and theirs is the best. Even the same manufacturer has made the same product with different names for different stores and outlets so you can’t really do a head-to-head comparison like you can with a car.”
Another respondent explained how the increased choice is changing prepurchase behavior: “Absolutely, we have more choices than even not too long ago. … The impact this has had on my shopping has been that I want to look at all types before I decide on a new mattress, and the research takes a lot longer than it used to. A bed is a huge investment, not only in money, but also in quality of life since we spend so much time on it. I want to make sure I make a good decision, and that’s not an easy task with all the choices out there.”
Such comments point to a need for retailers to find better ways to clearly differentiate features and benefits of bed sets in a way that consumers can quickly understand. Doing so both in-store and online can help speed up their research and decision-making processes, getting consumers into the right mattress and on their way to a better night’s sleep sooner.
For the mattress industry, some of the most encouraging news found in the latest consumer research from the Better Sleep Council is that people generally like their mattresses. About eight in 10 report that they are satisfied with their current mattress (43% are “very satisfied”; 38% “somewhat satisfied”). The flipside also is heartening: Just 14% of survey respondents report being dissatisfied with their current bed (7% “somewhat dissatisfied”; 4% “very dissatisfied”). The remaining 8% report “neutral” feelings about their current sleep set.
Some of that satisfaction may come from the fact that nearly half of respondents are sleeping on relatively new mattresses, with 49% having bought a mattress for themselves in the past four years. Another 32% are sleeping on a mattress that’s five to 10 years old, with just 15% sleeping on a bed they’ve had for more than 11 years.
For its own continued success, the bedding industry should strive for continual improvement. But these results indicate, that, for the most part, manufacturers are making and retailers are selling good, quality products that are meeting consumers’ needs.
Julie A. Palm is chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has 25 years of experience as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines and as a publications director. She is a past editor in chief of both Sleep Savvy and BedTimes magazines. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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.