Secrets Revealed

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Undercover shoppers point out what retailers could be doing better

Sleep Savvy has sent secret shoppers to six mattress retailers — three in the Southeast and three along the Gulf Coast — so far in 2019, and whether they visited an independent furniture store or a large national sleep chain, they found similar problems. Most notable: poor pillow selections and a lack of pillow fittings, confusing sales presentations and jargon-laced components explanations.

You can read the first two Undercover features in the January/February issue of Sleep Savvy and in the July/August issue. Look for our next Undercover feature, in which a couple visits three mattress retailers in the Plains, in the September issue.

Based on the findings from the first two secret shopper outings, let’s take a look at some areas where many mattress retailers could use improvement:

* Plumping up pillows: Across the board, the stores our secret shoppers visited did a poor job with pillows. None of the retailers did a proper pillow fitting, explained the role the pillow in a sleep ensemble or displayed pillows well. One store didn’t even have pillows on the floor models for rest-testing — and she was never offered one — forcing the secret shopper to use her hands as a makeshift pillow.

These stores are failing their customers and losing sales.

What we found most discouraging is that the stores our undercover shoppers visited carried high-quality pillows, either from their mattress vendors or from specialty producers. Yet, too often, the displays were barely noticeable, tucked away at the back of the store. And the retail sales associates didn’t discuss the importance of the pillow or encourage shoppers to try pillows already arrayed on floor models to find one they liked.

It wouldn’t take much to improve. First, stores can move pillow displays to the front of the store or near mattress models used most for initial rest-testing. Next, encourage RSAs to take just a few minutes at the start of every sales conversation to discuss the importance of a quality pillow and have shoppers try a few options to find one they like to carry with them as they rest-test. Once shoppers have narrowed down their mattress options to two or three, you can swap out their pillow. For instance, if they are considering an adjustable base, offer them a lower-profile pillow, which often works best with an adjustable. Or, if they have settled on a latex mattress but have been carrying around a memory foam pillow, let them try a latex option. The idea is to give them choices without overwhelming them with too many options.

And, finally, stores need to offer disposable protectors. One store our secret shoppers visited had them in a dispenser near the door, but the RSA never mentioned them or handed the shoppers one to use. The shoppers had to discover them on their own.

* Organizing sales presentations: RSAs at a couple of the stores our secret shoppers visited did a decent job of discussing the brands and types of mattresses the stores carried. They also demonstrated how the bedding floors were laid out and explained how they would help the shoppers narrow their options to find the right mattress for them. This is basic information that shoppers need to glean as they enter your store.

But most of the RSAs’ sales presentations were much more chaotic.

Even shoppers who’ve done a good bit of online research beforehand don’t know how to choose a mattress from the dozens on your sales floor. They need guidance. That’s why they’ve come to your store.

It takes just a minute to explain what your store offers and then to lead shoppers through an orderly, logical sales presentation that includes an initial rest-testing of two or three mattresses to determine what comfort level they like.

Your presentation doesn’t have to be rote: Different shoppers will require different techniques. But in each interaction, you need to give shoppers the basic information they need so they can make informed decisions and best use their limited time.

* Eliminating jargon: At a few of the stores our secret shoppers visited, RSAs gave inaccurate information about mattress brands and components, and at all of them, the RSAs could have done a better job explaining mattress features in a way that was simpler and easier to understand.

We sympathize with RSAs who have to explain the differences between 40, 50 or even 60 mattresses, when, frankly, the differences between many of them aren’t terribly significant. But a consistent initial rest-test to determine comfort preferences and a few key questions (not “What size mattress are you looking for today?) can help an RSA narrow the selection so that shoppers only consider five or six mattresses total. And that makes it easier for RSAs to explain the real differences between them.

Based on our undercover shopping excursions, mattress retailers need to spend more time educating RSAs on component features and benefits — and remind RSAs not to make false claims. (At one store, the RSA told shoppers that no manufacturer makes two-sided mattresses anymore and that it is “illegal” to sell mattresses containing cotton.)

In sales meetings, have RSAs practice explaining the differences between the various mattress brands and constructions you carry, with an emphasis on jargon-free descriptions. Focus on the positive features and benefits of one mattress without denigrating another. And remind shoppers that, in the end, the most important thing it to find a mattress that fits their budget and that will give them a comfortable good night’s sleep.

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