BY GARY JAMES
Technology is adding a fresh dimension to point-of-purchase displays in mattress stores as sleep product producers and retailers look for innovative ways to attract and engage consumers.
Popular tech tools being used on today’s retail floors include illuminated headboards and foot protectors, as well as embedded and freestanding video systems. Recognizing that more and more consumers shop with smartphones in hand, new applications that enable shoppers to quickly access websites at the point-of-sale for additional product details are helping engage and inform consumers.
At the same time, more traditional POP materials, such as top-of-bed dressings, wall graphics, banner displays and other in-store messaging continue to play a key role on store floors.
The goal? To make sure key brand messages and products stand out so that consumers are drawn to check out a display, test the bed and seek more information. In other words: “Attract the consumer, engage the consumer, inform the consumer,” says Don Wright, chairman and senior vice president of business development for Wright Global Graphic Solutions in Thomasville, N.C.
Because consumers are doing more online shopping and research across all product categories, they have access to much more information than they have in the past. But it’s a mistake to think that automatically means they are coming into bedding stores “armed with a boatload of information,” says Marty Walker, vice president of business development for retail environment and display solutions provider EC Retail Studio in Atlanta.
“There’s always a few geeks out there who’ve done lots of homework, but most consumers are coming into the store with very little prior knowledge,” Walker says. “The role of POP is to help steer them in the right direction by creating an awareness of key brand values like comfort, performance, quality or value.”
In addition, Walker says, POP can serve as a “prompt” for salespeople, providing a quick way for RSAs to refresh their memories of key product attributes when they show various models to consumers.
“When you have eight different brands on a floor, and dozens and dozens of models, it can be a challenge to keep all that data top of mind,” Walker says. “Well-designed POP can make the RSA’s job much easier and provide some assurance to manufacturers that their products’ key features are being communicated to consumers. At a glance, the POP should communicate exactly what a brand stands for and how their product will benefit the consumer.”
A digital world
In the past few years, a number of new digital tools have started to be integrated into the store experience to augment bed dressings, signage, display racks and other traditional POP. Applications include QR (quick-response) codes, in which shoppers swipe a barcode with their phone to access additional product information; touch-screen kiosks; and the use of iPads by salespeople. In each case, the aim is to provide shoppers with a quick way to retrieve lots of detailed information about the products in which they are interested.
“There are some cool things being done out there,” Wright says. “But unfortunately, most of the industry has trouble with the cost justification of technology. The actual implementation tends to fall short of the potential.”
Wright Global Graphic Solutions is trying to bridge that gap with its new RetailLive program, a collection of interactive sales tools that blend point-of-purchase materials with virtual content, such as videos and animation. Tools include RetailLive with NFC (Near Field Communications) technology, RetailLive Image Recognition and RetailLive QR Code technology.
After downloading the free RetailLive Image Recognition technology app, a consumer can view a company’s chosen interactive content — such as videos, product demos and mattress features — on an Android smartphone by hovering their device over key images on the POP materials.
Wright’s designers work with manufacturers and retailers to program the NFC chips with content and embed them into store displays.
“Mobile marketing is rapidly becoming one of the best sales tools in retail,” Wright says.
Since nearly every customer these days comes into stores with a smartphone in their hand or pocket, there’s an opportunity for a huge variety of technology-aided consumer interactions to take place, Wright adds.
“However, the most important component is the quality of the content,” he says. “If your content is not delivered clearly, and succinctly, you will lose the consumer’s attention.”
While Apple does not yet offer NFC compatibility, in October it announced the launch of a proximity communication product based on the Bluetooth 4.0 specification for all iPhones since the 4s model. These Bluetooth “beacons” can communicate with smartphones up to a range of 50 meters, creating a channel for retailers to send targeted messages to shoppers. Beacons, unlike NFC, do not require a shopper to be within several inches of an embedded tag to communicate.
“As you move into different zones of a store, messages will pop up on your screen relating to product features or special offers,” says Florian Vollmer, a principal with display consultant InReality in Atlanta. “This technology is inexpensive and easy to use, and runs off small emitters placed strategically in the store.”
NFC and beacon technology both offer retailers the ability to acquire new insights into shopper behavior by tracking in-store movement and engagement, Vollmer adds.
As the bedding industry seeks to reach a new generation of consumers, the interactivity of displays will become important, POP experts agree. In addition to mobile applications, in-store diagnostics that measure sleep preferences and patterns also are proving to be useful tools for creating consumer engagement and simplifying the mattress-shopping experience. These programs include Kingsdown’s bedMATCH system and King Koil’s sleep iD technology.
In-store video still holds a place in the POP arsenal.
“Done right, videos can be very effective,” says Cindy WIlliams, vice president of sales showroom solutions for Wright Global Graphic Solutions. “They need to be brief and focused.”
Williams recommends using video players with motion sensor activation so that the video engages only when a consumer walks by.
“You don’t want the video playing on a continuous loop where it never gets turned off and the consumer is bombarded with constant noise,” she explains.
Because consumers are on their feet and moving when they’re in a store, using video effectively can be a tricky proposition. At most, they have a two- to three-minute attention span, and there are situations where they may not want to be faced with a video at all.
Increasingly, video systems are embedded into displays, where brief messages about specific models are delivered, or positioned at the front of the store, for a quick overview of the store’s layout and key brand values.
Headboards light the way
One POP tool gaining popularity on bedding floors is the illuminated headboard — a vertical panel behind the top of the bed that combines LED backlighting with dramatic graphic imagery. Serta kicked off the trend toward using lighted headboards to deliver brand and lifestyle messages when it introduced its high-profile iComfort program in 2011.
“When Serta came out with that product, it inspired other producers to make a bigger investment in what is going on behind the bed,” Williams says. “Illuminated headboards can draw consumers to a bed like moths to a flame. Eye level is the perfect place for an impactful message.”
According to Mark Hobson, president of Colonial LLC in High Point, N.C., lighted headboards have proven to be a perfect match for new sleep technologies such as memory foam, latex and hybrids. He says Sealy has done a particularly good job with its lighted headboard display for the Optimum gel line.
“It conveys a sense of cutting-edge excitement,” Hobson says. “In a typical sleep shop, where there are visuals coming at the consumer from every direction, a lighted headboard can really help a model stand out from the crowd. It’s a three-dimensional approach that goes beyond a typical flat-printed graphic.”
And since mattress stores are filled with row after row of horizontally-oriented mattress surfaces, lighted headboards provide a strong vertical element that spices up product displays, he adds.
However, such headboards can be expensive for producers to develop.
“Typically, they’re used for flagship models where the return will justify the investment,” Hobson says. “And that’s a good thing, because you wouldn’t want an entire floor filled with lighted headboards.”
Smart manufacturers and retailers look at how much they have to work with on a “per slot” basis for an entire line or store and then develop a strategy to maximize the bang they get for each buck, Hobson adds.
The creative use of lighting isn’t limited to headboards. Foot protectors are another place where LED applications are adding a new dimension, Williams says.
“Lighting can be embedded into the fabric to create a pulsing light or a light that changes color,” she says. “It’s a unique, exciting application that immediately draws the eye.”
Keeping it simple
While more tools are available these days, retailers generally are taking a more minimalist approach to POP, says Gerry Morris, a Greenville, Texas-based mattress sales training expert with Furniture Training Co.
“They’re focusing more attention on the bed and being more selective about the various POP tools they use to make their stores as inviting and easy to shop as possible,” says Morris.
Lucite pedestal stands, once a popular device for delivering product information, have largely disappeared from today’s stores.
“These stands created a roadblock,” Morris says. “Instead of checking out the mattress and engaging in a conversation with the RSA, customers would come to a halt at the foot of the bed and attempt to absorb all that information. The stand actually got in the way of the sale.”
Today, key information about features, benefits and pricing that used to be displayed in these stands is now tucked away in easy-to-access slots on decorative footers and side panels. A growing number of producers and retailers also are offering quick access to additional product details via smartphones and other Web hookups. With these new tools, consumers can easily access product specs at any point during their store visit without having to navigate around clunky display stands.
Less also is often more in top-of-bed dressings. While colorful pillows, bolsters and foot protectors are valuable tools for attracting consumer attention and identifying brands, a little goes a long way in terms of the amount of accessories on each bed — and across the entire store.
“You don’t want the bed to look like a NASCAR jacket,” says Colonial’s Hobson. “It’s important that each bed be dressed in the most effective way for that particular model and brand, but the look across the entire store should be of consistent high quality.
“Also, the store’s layout should be differentiated by brand or step-ups or construction to make it easy for the consumer to shop and buy. That’s the ultimate goal.”
The ‘moment of truth’
Colonial works with manufacturers and retailers to create top-of-bed displays that differentiate individual brands and collections through the use of color, fabric, sales collateral and other methods. Drawing on consumer research (see sidebar), and in-depth discussions that begin at an early stage in product development, the company also designs displays to help RSAs communicate key messages and benefits.
“For some clients, it is all about communicating value,” Hobson says. “For others, the goal is to stand out from the rest of the products and brands on the retail floor. We take a consultative approach to determine what challenges and problems our clients face and what the best path is to achieving success.”
Colonial’s studies have shown that store displays have only three to seven seconds in which to make a positive impression with consumers. Hobson calls this “the first moment of truth,” and he says this short window of time is crucial to winning over today’s savvy, time-starved consumers.
“People rarely shop for mattresses and they are typically anxious about the entire process,” Hobson says. “When they come in the store, they face a bewildering assortment of mattresses that on the surface all look the same. They need a way to sort through all the range of choices they are being presented with, whether that’s brand, comfort or construction.”
According to Colonial’s research, the way a mattress is dressed has a direct connection with consumer’s perceptions of price, quality and overall appeal. Based on this insight, the company develops top-of-bed programs that reinforce good-better-best merchandising strategies and enable salespeople to step up consumers and raise their average unit-selling price.
Editing the assortment
While it wasn’t that long ago that the typical mattress store was a sea of white, most manufacturers today provide a full complement of pillows or bolsters and foot protectors to dress the tops of beds, as well as signage and other display materials. Since the typical sleep shop might have 45 to 50 beds on the floor, the challenge now is to selectively deploy POP so that displays tell a simple, coherent story that aids the consumer.
“We recommend that manufacturers and retailers identify one key story per brand or line that they want to communicate, and highlight that,” says Vollmer. “And retailers should take an active role in choosing which POP materials make the most sense for their stores — you don’t want to use everything that’s available on every single bed.”
According to Vollmer, it’s a common mistake in retail to crowd the floor and present the consumer with too many choices.
“Bedding retailers should ask whether they need 40 or 50 models, or could they do better with 25 or 30 beds that they merchandise really well,” he says.
He singles out the Trader Joe’s grocery chain as an example of how offering consumers a highly edited selection of merchandise can pay off.
“They offer only a fraction of what other stores offer, but consumers like that they can get in and out quickly and find items that aren’t available anywhere else,” says Vollmer.
To create more of a distinction between various brands and models, Vollmer recommends using modular walls or fabric panels. Such dividers can help delineate brand areas and add visual interest while also providing more privacy for testing beds.
“If the consumer can really relax, take down their guard and spend time with the product, closing rates go up dramatically,” Vollmer says.
Vollmer recommends that retailers look at their stores from the consumer’s perspective, and that they use POP to provide “touch points” that aid the shopping journey.
“Keep your messages simple, and focus on the execution,” he says. “Instead of having old signs plastered on every wall with curled-up edges, hang just a few high-impact graphics on the walls that connect to your store’s current messages.”
Next-to-bed banner stands and wall graphics also continue to play a key role in attracting consumer attention.
“Any POP a retailer uses has to be well-thought out and executed,” Williams says. “You can’t just slap something up. The graphic needs a good reason to be there — the imagery and message should be both inspiring and informative.”
Testrite Visual Products in Hackensack, N.J., offers a variety of POP products featuring colorful graphics printed on stretch fabric sewn together to make a “pillowcase” that fits over flexible, lightweight aluminum frames. The frames can be used to create headboard displays, large backdrops, banner stands and other graphic structures.
“Banner stands continue to work well adjacent to all types of displays,” says Ken Allen, vice president of retail development for Testrite. “Our stands come with telescopic poles that allow them to be easily adjusted for different spaces and uses.”
Demo buns also still have a place in helping to educate consumers. Having 2-by-2-foot samples of different mattress constructions within reach can be a helpful aid in explaining the differences between an innerspring, hybrid and specialty foam mattress.
“But sometimes this is taken too far and stores end up placing complicated graphics or cutaways on their walls,” says EC Retail Studio’s Walker. “Most consumers aren’t that interested in all that detail. The bun should be a tool for sales, not a driver.”
In addition to walls and bed surfaces, two other areas in the store offer platforms for POP messaging — floors and windows. Often overlooked as a POP opportunity, custom rugs can be used to reinforce branding while also providing another way to delineate store layouts. And windows, of course, offer a prime spot for reaching consumers before they walk in.
“Window wraps act like a billboard attached to the store,” says Williams. “If a retailer is in a high-traffic area, these are a great tool for drawing attention and building awareness.”
Such wraps can be designed so that shoppers inside the store can still see out, similar to window advertising on buses. Or the signage can deliver messages in both directions so that messages can be viewed from inside the store as well.
According to Wright, with so many creative tools available for jazzing up store floors, the top challenges to creating and executing effective POP are budgets, space on the showroom floor and philosophy regarding the value of POP.
“Simply stated, a good POP strategy coupled with good product can generate great results,” says Wright. “Good design and execution do not have to be expensive if you allow time for efficient development.”
Well-dressed beds have greater perceived value
Dressing a bed with attractive pillows and a stylish foot protector significantly enhances perceived value, according to a consumer study commissioned by Colonial LLC, a bedding-focused branding and display specialist based in High Point, N.C.
The study, conducted by Bellomy Research in Winston-Salem, N.C., in late 2012, found that one model, dressed with three pillows and a foot protector, was perceived by consumers to be worth $186 more, or 27% higher, than the same bed without those appointments. In addition, the consumers’ appeal rating for the dressed bed was 25% higher, while the quality perception rose by 68%.
Another bed, skillfully dressed with two pillows and a foot protector, was assessed as having a value that was 30% higher, or $209 more, than the same mattress without any adornments. This bed’s appeal rating jumped by 42%, and the quality rating rose by a whopping 79%.
“This study shows that well-designed top-of-bed displays boost the perceived value of a mattress and add to its perception of higher quality,” says Mark Hobson, Colonial’s president. “Appealing displays also encourage the consumer to stop, look and try out the bed. If the customer likes how a bed feels and discovers that the price is actually less than they had perceived, they are more likely to buy.”
At the same time, however, the study found that poorly designed top-of-bed displays can reduce the perceived value and quality perception relative to other dressed products. One sample in the study declined in perceived value by $24 and its quality score fell by 37%, says Hobson.
In this national study, a group of undressed mattresses were shown to hundreds of consumers, who then viewed the same models dressed in dozens of top-of-bed styles, colors and designs. Consumer participants were asked to rate the different models on quality, appeal and value. All logos were removed to ensure that the consumer ratings were not biased by brand perceptions.
Colonial uses the findings of this study, which Hobson believes is the first of its kind, “as part of our unique consultative approach,” he says. “This data provides guidance that will help our clients sell more mattresses.”
Calm, soothing color palettes to dominate 2014
When it comes to hot colors for interior environments and products, such as furnishings, soft goods, tabletop, paint and carpet, trend forecaster The Color Association sees three main “stories” for the mid-2014 to mid-2015 period: Talisman, Clean Slate and Rock Steady.
Talisman projects one-of-a-kind craftsmanship and individual expression, and can be seen in metal tones such as copper and vintage gold, combined with tones running from teal to gray and yellow to apricot.
Clean Slate, a salute to new starts and fresh design, highlights colors that are lighthearted and uplifting, such as textured shades of white, dusty rose, dark raspberry and neon pink, combined with “dirty” purples and greens, soft browns and brushed platinum.
Rock Steady reflects the desire for stability and tradition during times of change, and includes restrained, low-saturation tones of deep purple, navy blue, mushroom, brown and iron gray.
“For the coming season, we see less segmentation in the market in terms of the trends and influences that are driving color,” says Leslie Harrington, executive director of The Color Association in New York. “We see fewer ‘stories’ than usual but more colors within each story. In the past, when we have had a lot of ‘stories,’ things were usually in turmoil and everybody’s brain was scattered.”
The Pantone Color Institute in Carlstadt, N.J., another leading color forecaster considered a bellwether for emerging trends in interior design, identifies seven colors to watch for across both men’s and women’s fashion in 2014: Placid Blue, Paloma, Sand, Freesia, Cayenne, Celosia Orange and Dazzling Blue. Rounding out the list of hot colors are Violet Tulip, Hemlock and Radiant Orchid (for women’s fashion) and Purple Haze, Comfrey and Magenta Purple (for men’s fashion). Radiant Orchid was named Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2014.
The overall direction for next year? A calmer, more soothing palette of slightly muted brights, says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute and the head of the Eiseman Center for Color Information & Training in Bainbridge Island, Wash.
“This season, consumers are looking for a state of thoughtful, emotional and artistic equilibrium,” Eiseman says. “While this need for stability is reflected in the composition of the palette, the inherent versatility of the individual colors allows for experimentation with new looks and color combinations.”
Within the bedding arena, “I believe we are seeing a subtle shift to a warmer palette,” says Don Wright, chairman and senior vice president of business development for Wright Global Graphic Solutions in Thomasville, N.C. He adds that while color has a growing place in ticking, some producers may be overdoing things by using “overly complicated” border patterns.
“I have seen beds with four different materials sewn up in a mash-up of bad angles, crooked lines and color combinations that make no sense,” Wright says. “Just because you can sew four different things together, doesn’t mean you should.”
Wright and other POP suppliers work closely with clients so that POP materials coordinate with specific models.
“We ask them to send us ticking samples so we know exactly how our tools will work with their mattresses,” says Cindy Williams, vice president of sales showroom solutions for Wright. “We can incorporate colors in our foot protectors and headboards that complement their designs and draw the eye.”