BY GARY JAMES
Sleep Savvy examines the latest technologies and systems available to aid and refine the mattress-selling process
From viewing screens that enable shoppers to “try on” virtual clothing to sophisticated Bluetooth-driven “beacon” systems that deliver product-specific information and discounts to shoppers’ phones when they approach different items in a store, technology is reshaping how consumers interact with today’s physical stores. The goal is to create a more engaging in-store shopping experience that also provides shoppers with more personalized service than is available online.
Dan Wagner, founder and chief executive officer of London-based “e-commerce anywhere” enabler Powa Technologies, shared this view in advance of the NRF show: “We have seen a snippet of the change to come in 2015—the always-connected consumer knowing what they want and believing they can get it immediately when they need it. It is now the retailers who are doing the catching up to make that a reality.”
Wagner says brick-and-mortar retailers can gain a competitive edge by focusing on three technology trends—better analysis and use of Big Data, integration of Bluetooth beacons and near-field communication technology, and increased use of personalized customer-engagement tools accessed via mobile devices.
“Consumers are savvier than ever when it comes to shopping, and they are always looking for greater engagement and interaction with their favorite brands, regardless of whether it is online or offline,” Wagner says.
In the sleep products industry, all three of these technologies are beginning to be seen. In addition, in-store sleep diagnostic systems are playing an increasing role in the sales process, with a number of major retailers, including Sleep Experts and Mattress Land SleepFit, rolling out proprietary diagnostic systems to their store networks in recent months. And other exciting new technologies, including a virtual-reality application, also are being introduced to store environments.
As more and more Millennials enter the marketplace, technology will no longer be a novelty, but an expectation in every area of retail—from product to marketing, many industry leaders predict.
“Younger consumers are growing up immersed in technology,” says Martin Rawls-Meehan, president of adjustable bed and mattress maker Reverie in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. “They are used to seeing technology in everything they have and everything they do. As an industry, we need to work harder to put technology to use in our products and in the way we communicate with our customers.”
Along these lines, Reverie is in the process of testing a new mattress selector tool with key retailers that will help consumers “find the right sleep system for their needs in an easy and simple way,” Rawls-Meehan says.
1,000+ points of—insight!
To demonstrate the impact that its Reveal pressure-mapping technology can have on store floors, Calgary, Alberta-based XSENSOR Technology Corp. created the feeling of a retail environment in its new permanent showroom at the Winter Las Vegas Market Jan. 18-22 at the World Market Center. Available in both kiosk and wireless versions to fit a variety of spaces, Reveal uses a highly accurate pressure-imaging system to display a dynamic, high-resolution body pressure image that assists in making mattress recommendations.
The company also offers custom branding options to retailers and manufacturers so they can promote the unique characteristics of their systems and differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
“Reveal is changing the mattress-buying experience,” says Richard Brass, XSENSOR’s vice president of business development, sleep, for North America. “It provides customers with real-time insights and unbiased recommendations that help them be confident that they have found the right mattress.”
With 1,664 built-in sensors, Reveal yields an on-screen, pressure-point analysis that helps shoppers visualize their correct comfort levels. Based on that assessment, which takes less than five minutes, RSAs then steer the customers to specific beds in a range of price points that have been identified as being right for their body types.
“Everyone’s looking for a good night’s sleep; however, most of us don’t know how to choose the right mattress,” says Mike Allen, vice president of home furnishings for the BrandSource buying group, which recently announced the introduction of the YouSleep pressure-imaging system in partnership with XSENSOR. To deliver quality sleep, he says, the mattress top needs to be soft enough to remove peak pressure points that cause tossing and turning, while the core needs to support spinal alignment and conform to the body’s shape.
“The YouSleep program uses highly sophisticated pressure imaging, allowing BrandSource members to help each individual customer find the right mattress solution,” Allen says. “You would never leave a shoe store with a shoe that doesn’t fit, and buying a mattress shouldn’t be any different.”
The Tustin, California-based BrandSource unveiled YouSleep to its retail members in August 2014 at its annual convention in Las Vegas. The program is still in the early stages but retail placements of the system are steadily growing, according to XSENSOR’s Brass.
“YouSleep makes it easy for members to help their customers—and the positive shopping experience also builds loyalty,” Allen says. “When BrandSource stores use technology as part of their sales process, their average ticket increases, their close rate goes up and returns decline.”
In the comfort of your own home
Recognizing that a growing number of consumers like to start the shopping process from the convenience of home, Boyd Specialty Sleep is in the process of developing an online version of its Sleep Metrics diagnostic system for use on dealer websites. Based on research commissioned by Boyd Specialty Sleep, Sleep Metrics is an in-store kiosk with a diagnostic air mattress that helps RSAs determine the best level of support for specific body types and sleep styles.
“With our new online version, consumers will be able to do virtual pressure mapping from the privacy of their homes,” says Denny Boyd, president of the St. Louis-based company. “They’ll get an initial recommendation based on their height and weight, which the RSA will confirm with another reading when they come into the store.”
Boyd says having at-home access to the system will “empower consumers, because it enables them to gather more insights at their own convenience.” It also will motivate them to visit stores, because their online diagnostic session will be accompanied by a coupon they can use for a discount on purchases.
Developed in 2008, Sleep Metrics has earned two patents. Over the years, the company continually has refined the system to enhance functionality. Recent updates include a software package that delves more deeply into a consumer’s sleep habits and the launch of an Android-based touchscreen app that can be carried through the store or attached to a pedestal.
“The Sleep Metrics system is a win-win—it creates a more consultative and professional experience for the shopper and boosts the selling skills and success of the retail sales associate,” Boyd says. “By helping RSAs to more accurately identify consumers’ specific sleep concerns, it also enables RSAs to quickly find the best mattress, pillow and accessories to meet those concerns, increasing customer satisfaction and reducing or eliminating comfort returns.”
With RSA turnover an issue for many retailers, the Sleep Metrics system also provides an effective tool for initiating sales conversations, Boyd adds. “Every salesperson needs to ask probing questions to better understand the needs of the consumer. But very few salespeople, especially new hires, are able to do this quickly and effectively.”
Boyd says shopping for a sleep system can be “an overwhelming experience,” as consumers are greeted by as many as 50 to 80 mattresses when they come into a store. With Sleep Metrics, three-quarters of the models on display immediately are eliminated and shoppers are steered to a focused selection of mattresses designed to meet their individual comfort and support profile. Beds are tagged with one of four comfort index numbers, enabling consumers to easily identify models that would be a good fit for their needs.
“Studies show that buying a mattress ranks right up there with buying a used car in terms of consumer discomfort with the process,” Boyd says. “Our technology takes something that is perceived as a challenge and a chore and turns it into a positive experience. Armed with the diagnostic data, they have the information they need to make an informed, confident decision.”
Wright Global Graphics is spotlighting RetaiLive, its multiplatform system for accessing content on mobile devices, and new display techniques incorporating technology, such as electronic headboards.
“Mobile marketing and high-impact, visual advertising are the most effective ways to bring attention to product on a retail floor,” says Don Wright, senior vice president of business development and chairman of the Thomasville, North Carolina-based company.
Introduced in 2012, RetaiLive 2.0—now with more robust graphics—will roll out to a growing number of retail floors in 2015. Both Simmons Bedding Co. and Restonic have adopted the system. Restonic unveiled RetaiLive at the Winter Las Vegas Market, along with new enhancements to Brand Central—its retail “toolbox”—and a new digital publishing program that gives retailers access to a smorgasbord of content to use in their consumer-focused digital communications.
RetaiLive currently offers QR code technology (in which shoppers swipe a graphic code with their phone to access product information); image-recognition technology (information is accessed by hovering a phone over key images on a product); and near-field communication, a wireless technology. Seen as the wave of the future, NFC and other beacon technologies use a system of small, wireless transmitters that emit low-energy signals to send messages or prompts directly to smartphones or tablets within a store environment.
“RetaiLive puts everything RSAs need to educate the consumer right at their fingertips,” Wright says. “It provides a way for the salesperson to quickly access complete, accurate information about specific models of interest to the consumer.”
Retailers of all types are adopting in-store wireless technology to provide customers with product information, flash sales or deals and to speed up the checkout process, according to Wright. To use the systems, an RSA simply downloads an app.
“We opted to empower RSAs with the RetaiLive app rather than consumers because most consumers don’t want to have to download an app and opt-in to join the network when they come into a store,” Wright says. “With our approach, the RSA is set up to access the information any time it is needed so that it can be shared directly with the consumer. It gives the RSA another tool in their belt that enhances their credibility.”
Strengthening the pitch
Seeking to help RSAs simplify and streamline the selling process, Atlanta-based Simmons has created a three-part, in-store tech package as part of its SIMposium retail sales initiative. The digital tools include an online information hub called SleepSells.com; a virtual reality app called SIMulator that enables users to “see” inside Simmons mattresses; and Wright’s RetaiLive program, which provides instant access to Simmons-related content via mobile devices.
“The in-store selling process remains—industrywide—fairly low-tech,” says Jeff Willard, executive vice president of marketing for Simmons. “We’ve developed this technology package to help thread that dynamic storytelling through the in-store experience.”
SleepSells.com houses a multimedia mix of information that RSAs can leverage to strengthen their sales pitches. Content includes behind-the-scenes looks at Simmons’ emerging products and technologies, insights on industry and consumer trends relating to sleep and wellness, and updates on retail best practices. Sharing and comment features enable two-way conversation among RSAs, Simmons’ retail account specialists and company decision-makers. The site went live at the end of March.
During the Winter Las Vegas Market, Simmons previewed its SIMulator app, which will be available for download in the App Store in early April, and an Android version will be available in May. Introduced as a beta test in July 2014, the app enables consumers to learn about the key components of various Simmons’ models and the benefits they provide by “peeling away” the layers of the product.
The SIMulator was developed by Marxent Labs in St. Petersburg, Florida, and is compatible with products from all of Simmons flagship lines.
“This peek ‘behind the curtain’ is designed to increase consumers’ comfort and confidence, enabling RSAs to more easily close the sale,” Willard says.
BSC digital tool to benefit shoppers, retailers alike
The Better Sleep Council, the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, is developing a digital tool to help educate shoppers, facilitate discussions with retail sales associates and make consumers more confident about their purchase decisions.
Targeted for launch later this year, the new tool is being designed with the input of BSC committee members, ISPA members and key retailers. BSC’s strategic consultant, Cleveland-based Marcus Thomas, is contributing to the project.
“The BSC is devoted to educating the public about the importance of sleep to good health and quality of life, as well as the value of the mattress and sleep environment in pursuit of a good night’s sleep,” says Mary Helen Uusimaki, vice president of marketing and communications for ISPA. “However, the mattress-shopping experience can confuse and intimidate consumers, even those who are already in the market shopping for a new mattress and understand that a high-quality mattress can deliver better sleep.”
BSC research shows that many consumers are averse to mattress shopping because they do not know what they need, where to start or what questions to ask when they speak with an RSA. Because most shoppers have not purchased a new mattress for more than a decade, they often have a limited understanding of current offerings and are bewildered by the array of choices and variety of price points.
“The BSC has an opportunity to leverage its unbiased expertise to build consumers’ confidence in their purchase decision process,” Uusimaki says. “Prospective customers will be more confident in buying a new and better quality mattress if they increase their knowledge about their personal needs and preferences, as well as the importance of their sleep environment to satisfying them.”
The digital tool will guide shoppers in how to assess their sleep-system requirements. The tool also will provide guidelines on how to evaluate a mattress, using the BSC’s proven SLEEP test or EASE method, and offer an electronic means for shoppers to document levels of comfort and support as they rest-test mattresses in a store environment. Information sharing via social media also will be available.
Designed to be accessible to consumers throughout the entire mattress-shopping process, the new technology will be compatible for use on iPhone and Android phones, as well as desktops and tablets.
“Our goal is to make the tool a win-win for customers and retailers,” Uusimaki says. “By closing the ‘anxiety gap’ for prospective mattress buyers, we expect to create more selling opportunities for mattress retailers.”
Uusimaki adds that the tool also is expected to help support higher tickets because “shoppers spend more when they have a better understanding of why they are buying a new mattress and feel more confident about making the investment.”
Retailers, including RSAs, interested in being part of the project input team should contact Uusimaki at firstname.lastname@example.org or 571-482-5436.
Techno-tools yield big benefits
O Higher tickets and close ratios. Using diagnostics and other technology to obtain insights on sleep needs and solutions empowers consumers and gives them more confidence about their purchase decisions. If consumers are confident, they are more open to step-up features such as adjustable bases and add-on purchases of complementary products such as pillows and mattress protectors.
O Fewer returns. Technology can enhance a retail sales associate’s ability to find the right product for each individual consumer, increasing satisfaction and reducing comfort returns.
O Store differentiation. Pressure-mapping and other diagnostics still are a relatively new phenomenon at retail, which means those retailers that have invested in systems have a potential competitive advantage with which to grab consumers’ attention.
O Enhanced credibility. Staff turnover presents a problem for many stores. By incorporating technology into the sales process, retailers have a way to compensate for the lack of knowledge some RSAs have, as well as ensure that veteran salespeople are able to keep up with the constantly changing products scene.
Retailers find success with Kingsdown diagnostics
After three years of success using Mebane, North Carolina-based Kingsdown’s BedMatch system, Mattress Land, headquartered in Fresno, California, adopted a new store concept in late 2013 focused on comfort-assessment diagnostics and consumer education. Using a customized version of Kingsdown’s technology called BedFit, Mattress Land rebranded all 23 of its stores plus two new units in central California, Washington, Nevada and Idaho as Mattress Land SleepFit over the next year. The rollout of the new concept was accompanied by a marketing and advertising initiative featuring Dr. Robert Oexman, director of Kingsdown’s research arm, the Sleep To Live Institute.
“Sleep is more important to Americans than ever before, and we want to take the lead and move away from just showing a bunch of white rectangles and expecting people to guess which one is right for them,” says Mattress Land SleepFit President James Smith. “With BedFit, our customers can make an educated decision based on real information about their individual needs.”
Every bed on the stores’ floors has been tested and incorporated into the diagnostic system, which enables consumers to be fitted for the correct mattress and pillow for their body type by assessing comfort needs via a sensor-equipped test bed, questionnaires and a large database.
The new showroom spaces are more open and inviting, with 10 fewer SKUs on the floor and places for customers to sit and review their BedFit diagnostic report. Retail sales associates are trained to take a low-pressure, consultative approach, and signage is designed to further educate the consumer.
“The transition to this new approach took some time, but all of our RSAs are on board now and seeing good results,” Smith says. “The technology gives the customer more confidence in their decision, allowing them to focus on which bed is best for their needs rather than which one is prettiest or which one has the lowest price. Without those distractions, our RSAs can devote their attention to determining which bed will provide the best sleep experience.”
Another major retailer that recently adopted diagnostic technology is Sleep Experts, a Dallas-based sleep specialist with 59 stores in North and Central Texas. In October 2014, the retailer announced that it had introduced a proprietary diagnostic system called Expert Match, developed in partnership with Kingsdown’s Sleep To Live Institute.
“The Expert Match system helps eliminate the confusion that many consumers have while shopping for a mattress,” says Adam Benigni, vice president and general manager. “Expert Match is the new and better way to buy a mattress and helps support our mission to provide customers with a better buying experience in a no-pressure environment.”
Benigni views Expert Match as a “game changer.” “It takes the guesswork out of mattress buying and uses technology to narrow down the options for our customers,” he says. “We shop for mattresses when we are awake, so most things feel fairly comfortable. However, when we wake up, we may realize we’re not getting the support we need. With Expert Match, Sleep Experts is able to evaluate the support your body needs when you are asleep and pair you with the right mattress choices.”
TIPS FOR USING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
O Put it to work. Don’t let technology go idle. If you have diagnostics, use them with every customer who comes in the door. If you have near-field communication or beacon technology in-store, train your salespeople to integrate it into their sales discussions.
O Keep it simple. The easier a technology is to use, the more effective it will be. Retail sales associates should take the lead in explaining the resources that are available in-store so that information can be accessed quickly and easily.
O Give the shopper options. Some consumers will want to take the results they get from their pressure-mapping profile and explore the store on their own. Others will prefer to have an RSA walk them through their recommendations. Organize and color-code floor displays by comfort and support levels or brand so that consumers will succeed with either approach.
O Train and re-train. While most of the new in-store technologies are easy to use, RSAs need to be trained to make the most of the tools at their disposal. Keep them up-to-date with what’s available and how it’s being used successfully through regular in-store training sessions.
Gary James is a freelance writer who spent more than 20 years with Furniture/Today, serving as case goods editor and special projects editor, directing the editorial content of numerous supplements, sections and features. He also has served as managing editor for a variety of other business publications. He can be reached at email@example.com.