Here’s how you can satisfy consumers’ need for well-being, their desire for omnichannel shopping and their demand for easy delivery and returns
After the past two years, Sleepy Savvy is reluctant to make bold predictions about mattress retailing in 2022. The supply chain problems, pandemic surges and rising inflation that were hallmarks of 2021 seem inevitable in hindsight, but it wasn’t obvious last January how persistent those issues would be or how they would affect bedding sales.
Economists and analysts looking ahead generally forecast a strong year for the U.S. economy, but they note variable headwinds and their predictions come with caveats. (See story on page 26.)
At this point, it is clear that several retail trends have accelerated since the pandemic began — and, like Covid-19, they are here to stay. So, we’re confident (fingers crossed) that three overarching trends will continue to drive retail in the year ahead.
1. Consumers seek comfort and safety
There are some early signs that consumers’ spending on their homes is slowing after a huge surge that began during initial pandemic-related shutdowns. Economists expect more spending to move away from goods of all types to services and experiences like travel and entertainment in 2022.
That said, consumers’ interest in their homes and home-based activities remains strong, and many employees still are working from their home offices — and kitchen tables and dens and bedrooms.
“During the pandemic, the at-home economy emerged, and it appears to be remaining, despite a widespread loosening of restrictions. Consumers have shifted their spending priorities into areas such as home cooking, online shopping and consuming digital products,” writes Werner Geyser in a November 2021 article for Influencer Marketing, part of the Influencer Marketing Hub media company based in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Many of the cocooning consumers also are seeking security at home — and when they’re out and about.
How can you best serve these consumers?
O Stick with the Covid-19 safety measures. “Brick-and-mortar stores have realized that they have had to redesign their spaces to keep customers separated and feeling safe. While they will undoubtedly reverse some of these once Covid-19 disappears, many will remain in place for some time yet,” Geyser says. So, keep the hand sanitizer bottle filled and invest in more disposable pillow and mattress protectors shoppers can use while rest-testing beds. Give consumers plenty of space to move around the store and don’t crowd them during sales presentations. And consider adding contactless payment options, an increasingly popular choice among consumers.
O Sell the health benefits of sleep. “Perhaps inevitably, because of the issues with Covid, health and well-being have become a significant focus in retail,” Geyser says. “Consumers devote more time and money to looking after themselves. There have been sizable increases in sales of vegan and plant-based foods, along with sales of athleisure clothing.”
Consumers are starting out 2022 stressed out. They’re tired and frazzled. They need to recharge and want to stay healthy. And we know a good night’s sleep can help with all of that. “To speak to these consumers, consumer brands need to understand the consumer headspace and their need for convenience and safety, certainly. But on a deeper level, finding ways to appeal to consumers’ self-improvement, self-actualization and need for higher-order fulfillment is key,” wrote Andrea K. Leigh, a business consultant, speaker and adviser, in an October 2021 article for Forbes.
2. Omnichannel — and always open
At the start of the pandemic, it was unclear if consumers would want to return to brick-and-mortar stores. They have.
At the same time, more consumers are shopping online, including older people who stayed home during pandemic surges and got more comfortable ordering groceries and other items to be delivered to their doorsteps.
More than ever, consumers want to shop when it is convenient for them and in the ways that are easiest for them, whether that’s online late at night when they need an item the next day or in a store on a leisurely Sunday afternoon with a friend. “Shopping patterns (have changed) to center around time of need versus specific retail store or format,” Leigh says.
In mattress retailing, we continue to see companies that started as direct-to-consumer brands accelerate their movement into brick-and-mortar retail. For instance, Purple Innovation Inc. expects its sleep products to be available through 3,500 retail doors by the end of 2022 and plans to nearly double the number of its Purple showrooms to 60 by year’s end, according to a recent earnings report. Of course, we’re seeing retailers expand their e-commerce operations. Virtually every bedding brand now offers mattresses priced and packaged for online sales and threshold delivery.
“Businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies achieve 91% greater year-over-year customer retention rates than businesses that don’t,” Geyser says. “Consumers now use an average of almost six touch points when buying an item, with nearly 50% regularly using more than four.”
Omnichannel retailing doesn’t just mean offering a physical store and an e-commerce site. The factors driving omnichannel sales — foremost, convenience — require other changes to how you do business, too.
O Be seamless. Today’s consumers go online, to the store, then back online. Rinse. Repeat. Your brand identity needs to be consistent across channels, as does your level of customer service and the quality of your products, so that consumers know what to expect from you whether they pop into your brick-and-mortar location or hop onto your e-commerce site. Integrate your data, too, advises Publicis Sapient, a Boston-based global digital consulting firm that released a trends report based on its recent consumer research in November 2021. “By seamlessly integrating data across web, mobile, storefront and inventory channels, retailers can digitally expand their physical footprint while providing the connected, personalized experiences shoppers want,” the report says.
O Become a one-stop shop. “The future winners of retail will be those that build a connected ecosystem of related services that customers can engage with through one seamless experience,” according to the Publicis Sapient research. “… Instead of bouncing from website to website, shoppers can manage multiple needs in one place, as retailers become their go-to destination for both owned products and ancillary services.”
The firm found that “39% of shoppers were more likely to buy from a marketplace that offered a wide selection of products.”
Unless you’re a retail giant like Amazon or Target, you can’t offer everything a consumer needs, but you can try to meet all of their sleep needs —or all of their home furnishings needs — by diversifying the products you offer. Partnering with vendors who drop-ship can help you extend your SKUs without significantly increasing your inventory.
O Rethink your brick-and-mortar space. “There is a trend toward retailers making shopping more than just buying a good; they provide an experience,” Geyser says. “With the increase in popularity of e-commerce, particularly big players like Amazon, smaller traditional stores need to develop a point of difference to survive. To provide the best customer experience, you need to fully understand your products, your store and your shoppers.”
Today’s retail environment doesn’t really allow for middle-of-the-road retailers. We just talked about becoming a one-stop shop and expanding your offerings. Another option is to go the opposite direction and offer a smaller, more curated selection of sleep products, building on your expertise as a mattress retailer. The message is that you’ve done the work for the consumer to narrow down options to the best products available. “Other stores focus on building communities,” Geyser says. “Some bookstores even encourage people to remain in-store and read the books they have bought.”
O Make your messages matter. “Consumers are in a constant state of passive shopping. They shop while they scroll Instagram or TikTok, they shop while reading the news online and they shop while in Zoom meetings with colleagues,” Leigh says. “In the old world, shopping was more purposeful — consumers made lists and went to physical stores for specific items.”
Passive shoppers respond to distinctive types of marketing messages, depending on the channel they’re using. “A passive shopper scrolling Instagram, for example, may respond better to an advertisement acquainting them with your brand values or showing them inspirational content,” Leigh explains. “On the other hand, a customer typing your product into a search bar needs a lower-funnel marketing message, or maybe even a coupon, to encourage activation and conversion.”
3. Deliver for your customers
This year, retailers that offer the free, fast delivery consumers have come to expect will outperform their competition.
“Consumers may be doing much more of their shopping online, yet they still want access to their purchases as soon as possible,” Geyser says. “They expect quicker deliveries than ever, and many online players, such as Amazon, have put much effort into expediting this.”
This is an area where traditional brick-and-mortar mattress retailers have excelled for years, many offering free delivery, often within a couple of days. If you can shorten your delivery window, you’ll be rewarded by consumers, especially those who have been frustrated by the recent trouble they’ve had finding and buying a host of consumer goods.
Online shoppers may be most likely to expect free delivery. “Ninety percent of consumers say they would shop online more often if given the option of free shipping,” Geyser says. Interestingly, he notes, nearly a quarter of consumers would spend more to qualify for free shipping. That’s an opportunity to sell your e-commerce customers useful sleep accessories such as mattress protectors, sheets and pillows to build a ticket that qualifies for free threshold delivery or in-home setup.
Good delivery service extends the other way, too. Consumers have gotten accustomed to hassle-free returns — or, in mattress retail language, comfort exchanges — when a product isn’t quite right.
“Returns will become the next retail competitive service differentiator. Originally seen as part of ‘boring but necessary’ operations, returns will become a hot differentiator for retailers in 2022,” say Sucharita Kodali, vice president and principal analyst, and Fiona Swerdlow, vice president and research director, for Forrester, a global market research company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The two authored “Predictions 2022: Retailers Will Compete on ‘Pre-Loved” Returns — And New Partners,” a report released in October 2021.
Kodali and Swerdlow note that, by large margins, consumers prefer free return shipping and refunds made with the original form of payment. “More fundamentally, online consumers have told us that fear of returns has outright discouraged them from buying online,” they say. “Customer-obsessed retailers and brands will invest to upgrade returns (locations, streamlined processes, refund issuance, internal returns processing).”
Traditional factory-direct retailers that offer to adjust the comfort level of a mattress if a customer is unhappy may have an edge with these consumers.
What else can you do to improve your delivery and comfort return services?
O Sell it right the first time. Savvy retailers know this is the best way to prevent exchanges or returns, and it means designing a rest-testing process that gives consumers options without overwhelming them. It also means letting shoppers leave your store without purchasing anything — gasp! You rightly fear “be backs” but today, they may be better for business in the long run than “bring backs.”
Online, you can highlight the feel of fabrics and the comfort level of mattresses and use comfort scales to help shoppers compare choices. Highlight benefits — motion-quelling and cooling components, heavy-duty constructions — that solve consumers’ problems. Testimonials that focus specifically on why a customer liked a mattress also can help educate shoppers: “My shoulders and hips ached every morning until I bought XXX.”
O Rethink warehousing. During the past year, global supply chain disruptions have taxed the just-in-time manufacturing system the mattress industry has relied upon for decades — a system that has allowed many retailers to forgo large warehouses or distribution centers. More pandemic surges and extreme weather will continue to tax supply chains. Keeping a little more inventory on hand can keep customers happy. We’ll note that mattress makers also are addressing this problem by adding warehouse capacity and opening new factories to meet demand and be closer to retail customers. “Creating delivery hubs closer to consumers reduces delivery time, miles traveled and overall costs,” according to a September 2021 blog on retail trends from the Packaging Corporation of America based in Lake Forest, Illinois.
O Keep customers informed. Consumers want to be able to track their purchases, and technology makes this easier. Use systems and partner with mattress producers to let customers track online orders, all the way from order fulfillment to threshold delivery. Similar systems can tell customers when your delivery team is leaving for their house, giving them a heads-up that their new mattress is arriving within minutes. “The next wave of tech may be inside the package, monitoring the temperature and condition of perishable items or helping plan the safest delivery route to avoid weather occurrences that could delay shipping,” according to PCA.
O Use delivery as another sales opportunity. “Technology enables delivery vehicles to carry targeted products that are frequently ordered,” the PCA blog says, “allowing customers to purchase additional items when the driver arrives at the customer’s doorstep.”
Whatever the year brings, Sleep Savvy expects it to be an interesting one for mattress retailers, and we look forward to seeing how you innovate and adapt to keep helping your customers get the good night’s sleep they need to thrive.
Julie A. Palm has covered the mattress and home furnishings industries for more than 25 years, and is a past editor in chief of BedTimes and Sleep Savvy magazines. As chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC, she specializes in writing, editing, publications management and communications consulting for a variety of clients. She can be reached at email@example.com.