What’s Next for Bedding Retailers?

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Sleep Savvy outlines the top 20 retail trends to watch for in 2020 to help maintain a thriving business in the new year

Hindsight, while 20/20, isn’t all that helpful when planning ahead. So, to start the new year off, we’re giving you Foresight 2020, a look at 20 consumer, marketing and demographic trends that analysts and trendwatchers say will impact retailers in the year ahead — and beyond.

Peruse and use them to help set your strategies for success.

1. Omnichannel for all

If your brick-and-mortar and e-commerce operations aren’t seamlessly integrated, this is the year to unify them.

“People don’t just buy in-store or online anymore — everything is connected. Shoppers check prices, compare products, research reviews and consult social media before making a purchase, and if you have a limited (online) presence, it can negatively affect both the user experience and your bottom line,” according to the Retail Trends and Predictions 2020 report from San Francisco-based Vend, a provider of retail management software.

Vend notes that a recent survey of 46,000 consumers showed only 20% shop exclusively at brick-and-mortar locations and a mere 7% shop only online — but 73% use multiple channels.

“Shopping a brand needs to feel the same, regardless of channel. More than ever, a holistic shopping experience across all customer touchpoints is vital for brands. With an increasingly complex customer journey and dozens of customer touchpoints … companies need to present a seamless experience … for customers,” says Carlos Castelán in the Vend report. Castelán is managing director of The Navio Group, a Minneapolis-based retail consulting firm.

2. Going in circles

In this case, going in circles is a good thing. We’re talking about retailers being part of the circular economy, which strives to eliminate waste by reducing the use of resources in the first place, and then reusing, recycling and remanufacturing materials from consumer products. A circular economy not only aids the environment, the concept also resonates with socially and environmentally conscious consumers. Waste-reducing sustainability practices also help retailers’ bottom lines, according to the Vend report. Mattress retailers can partner with vendors that operate zero-waste manufacturing plants and incorporate sustainable components into their products. And step up your own mattress recycling efforts to keep used bed sets out of landfills.

3. Eyeing competitors

When we say “competitors,” we’re not talking about other mattress sellers, although you should keep an eye on them, too. This year, you should broaden your definition of “competitors” because the disruptions happening in other sectors are affecting how consumers view all of their commercial exchanges.

“You are no longer competing with those in your own industry. The moment a new positive experience is received, customer expectations reach new heights. If a customer can instant message with a service agent on their favorite food delivery app, they want the same experience from their bank and car dealer,” says Nalina Athyantha of Salesforce, a San Francisco-based provider of cloud-based software. Athyantha is quoted in Retail Trends 2020 and Beyond, a report from The Behaviours Agency, a Manchester, England-based behavioral marketing firm.

For example, Uber changed expectations involving the ease and speed of ordering a car service that extend beyond transportation. Similarly, Zappos conditioned consumers to return products (shoes, mattresses, whatever) easily, no questions asked.

“Disruptive upstarts don’t just impact sales and market share — they raise expectations to a whole new level and set a bar that you will no doubt be measured against by their, and your, customers,” The Behaviours Agency report says.

4. Now! Now! Now!

Speaking of expectations, Amazon accustomed consumers to two-day delivery and now is conditioning them to one-day service. So, other retailers are rushing (pardon the pun) to speed their own delivery. “Studies show that 88% of consumers are willing to pay for same-day (or faster) shipping. We can see from the rise of apps like Instacart and Shipt that people are drawn not just to the convenience of grocery delivery, but the ability to get what we need in two hours or less. Grubhub and Uber Eats have made eating out and eating in both fast and ubiquitous, while Amazon Prime Air even promises delivery in 30 minutes or less!” writes Daniel Newman in an August 2019 article for Forbes. Newman is a principal analyst for Futurum Research and chief executive officer of Broadsuite Media Group.

Obviously, e-commerce operations need to offer quick shipping because many shoppers will abandon their cart without it, but the expectation of fast delivery extends to brick-and-mortar retailers, as well. If you deliver only on certain days or have long windows, it might be time to shorten the time frame. Retailers that already offer next-day delivery might need to speed it up and switch to same-day service.

You won’t just be satisfying impatient shoppers, says Kevin Matthews, owner of Matthews Mattress, a sleep shop chain with stores in the Sacramento, California, area. The retailer has long promised “Sleep Like an Angel Tonight: Buy by 5, Sleep by 9.” “If you can close the sale and get the mattress in their home that day, you reduce the chance of people shopping somewhere else or having buyer’s remorse and changing their mind before delivery,” Matthews told Sleep Savvy in the May/June Retail Road Trip. “Until you actually deliver, that shopper’s not really done shopping.”

5. Going all in with the ’gram

When Sleep Savvy talks to mattress retailers, most say Facebook is their go-to social media platform for both advertising and connecting with consumers. In 2020, you may want to put extra effort into Facebook’s sister platform, Instagram.

“The Search Engine Journal supplies some staggering numbers: There are about 2.38 billion users on Facebook monthly, and 1 billion active users on Instagram. Social media isn’t just for the hip millennials; it’s for everyone. According to Sprout Social, 72% of people who use Instagram are between 13 and 17 years old and 40% are between 30 and 49 years old,” writes Rita Shapiro-Das in a September 2019 article for The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience, a news and analysis website.

Whatever social platform you prefer, “retailers in 2020 must use these platforms consistently — and in the correct voice on each platform — to stay relevant,” Shapiro-Das says.

6. “Clicks” moving into “bricks”

The online mattress pioneers have morphed from e-commerce-only retailers to omnichannel sellers. For instance, Casper has a strong presence in West Elm and Target stores, and in a recent earnings call, Purple touted the fact that its mattresses and accessories are available in 1,400 stores, including Bed Bath & Beyond, Bloomingdale’s, Home and Macy’s.

The move into brick-and-mortar locations will continue in 2020, retail trendwatchers say. Here’s a key reason why: “When surveyed, 38% of consumers said they would shop an online brand more frequently if the brand had physical stores,” according to the 2020 Retail Trends Report: Now, New, Next from Alliance Data, a provider of branded credit cards and data-driven insights based in Columbus, Ohio.

But e-tailers are doing it their way. “In order to drive scalable growth, these brands are looking at traditional retail’s playbook and transforming the tactics, including innovation in multichannel approaches and discovery-oriented brick and mortar,” the report says. That means embracing flagship stores and pop-up shops, and partnering with other retailers to serve as “dressing rooms” where interested consumers can “try on” mattresses before buying online.

7. The protection of private labels

With major mattress producers opening more of their own branded stores and the original e-tailers moving from online-only to omnichannel, traditional bedding retailers must do more to distinguish themselves from the competition. Private-label lines can help. The key is to work with a bedding manufacturer to create a collection aimed at your customers — a line that truly sets you apart and meets your customers’ needs, whether that’s a new feel, the latest technologies or a compelling price point.

“Why do your customers love your brand? What makes it unique in their eyes? How can you continue to best serve your customers? Answer those questions, then focus on carving out your niche in the way that aligns both to your brand and also honors your customer,” says Sarah Ferrence, founder of the retail consultancy Mod. Merchant, in the Vend report. “Through a private label, you’re offering your customer product that is personalized to their wants and needs, but also exclusive to your brick-and-mortar store.”

8. Building community

“Retailers are finding that creating a sense of community can help brands set themselves apart and build stronger relationships with their customers — which, in turn, drives sales and loyalty,” according to the Vend report. “In other words, you have to do more than just market your products. You have to build a sense of belonging among your customers, followers and target audience.” Hosting parties and events is a good way to build relationships.

A Sleep Savvy editor notes that a popular bakery and café in her hometown hosts a family-oriented summer concert series with local bands, children’s games and other activities on Sunday afternoons. Held on a closed-off street, the concerts drive business into the café but mostly build goodwill.

9. Be better

“More and more retailers have come to realize that giving back isn’t just helping to make the world a bit better, but that it’s also good for business,” according to the Vend report.

When it comes to philanthropy, many mattress retailers already are leaders. Jim McIngvale, the founder and owner of the Gallery Furniture store chain in Houston who is better known as “Mattress Mack,” has helped raise millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations and even turned his stores into shelters to aid flood victims during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Strengthen your charitable efforts by donating sleep products, hosting fundraising events or contributing a portion of your sales. Smaller retailers may want to associate themselves with a single cause or organization to do the most good. If you don’t already have a cause, pick one with a health and wellness mission that is a natural fit with sleep products or select a societal issue or local organization that you’re passionate about.

10. “Brand virtue”

Charitable giving is admirable, but many consumers will demand even more from retailers in 2020. “Built-in brand virtue” is Alliance Data’s phrase for the trend of companies acting as good corporate citizens. It may mean starting your own charity, as sleep accessories supplier Malouf did when it launched its Malouf Foundation, which has a focus on rescuing and sheltering sexually exploited and trafficked children.

But built-in brand virtue also includes operating under moral and ethical guidelines, such as carrying ethically sourced products or creating a family-friendly work environment. “Simple sponsorships or donations are not enough to create resonance with consumers,” the Alliance Data report says. “The brand needs to show the concrete steps being taken and resources being dedicated to address key issues, and the impact these efforts are having.”

Turning to the Malouf example again, the Logan, Utah-based company recently became a Certified B Corporation. “This means that as a company, we’re concerned not only with revenue, but also with our corporate social responsibility for society, workers, the community and the environment,” Malouf says on its website. “We’ve got a triple bottom line: planet, people, profits.”

This trend, however, is not without potential pitfalls because one person’s sense of doing right can be another person’s sense of doing wrong. As the Vend report cautions, “According to research, 87% (of consumers) purchased a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about, and 76% refused to purchase a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs.” Think Chick-fil-A, which has earned accolades and devoted customers for its business practices but been boycotted by others for donating to conservative charities.

11. Thinking local

Tariffs and the tit-for-tat trade war with China in 2019 cemented a manufacturing trend that will impact retailers in 2020: companies shifting more production to North America.

“Manufacturers will produce locally to win globally,” according to The 2020 Vision for U.S. Retail and Beyond report from New York-based data firm Nielsen. The push for domestic production also will come from retail customers. Nielsen notes that 48% of consumers say local ingredients, manufacturing or staff influence their decision to try new products.

“U.S. consumers will place increased pressure on manufacturers to produce locally, import fewer goods and keep costs down,” the report says. If your vendors manufacture in the United States, or better yet, in your state, be sure to tout that fact to customers.

12. There’s an app for that

“Consumers continue to shift shopping and spending activities to their mobile devices, pushing brands to develop immersive, more personalized apps,” the Alliance Data report says.

According to Alliance Data, 41% of marketers say their brands have a mobile app and use it to communicate with consumers. Dooney & Bourke, a retailer of luxury fashion accessories based in Norwalk, Connecticut, built an app after discovering that nearly two-thirds of its digital traffic came through mobile devices, the Alliance Data report says. This may be the year to create an app for your company.

13. Rise of the machines

In 2020, artificial intelligence and algorithms will continue to improve how retailers communicate with and serve customers, especially in the e-commerce arena.

“Today’s chatbots and virtual assistants are able to handle more customer service tasks than ever before to better facilitate the customer journey. As they utilize machine learning to better respond to customer requests, these interactions become even more efficient. We’re also seeing chatbots that integrate the brand personality to further streamline these online conversations and improve company results,” Omer Khan says in an October 2019 Entrepreneur article. Khan is founder and chief executive officer of VividTech, a customer service firm that targets millennials.

Other analysts point to how AI can be used to help customers virtually test products in their own homes. According to the Nielsen report, 48% of consumers say they already have or are willing to use augmented or virtual reality to try new products. Apparel, accessories and beauty companies have been among the first to use AI in this way, but in 2020, a creative retailer may find a way to make the technique applicable to mattresses.

14. The human touch

But “the rise of the machines comes at a human cost,” The Behaviours Agency report says. “We are seeing tills and assistants gradually being replaced by computerized checkouts and AI-powered interfaces that facilitate the most basic interactions we have with a store.”

Such automation makes sense for supermarkets and other retailers of low-margin, commoditized products. Yet, the report says, at higher-end retailers and for specialized products, personalized service and the human touch remain part of the experience. Thus, in 2020, mattress retailers need to emphasize their high levels of service as they offer shoppers the opportunity to rest-test and compare mattresses, bases and pillows in-store.

15. Getting healthy

In 2020, “health and wellness will permeate the various aspects of retail strategies,” according to the Vend report. Well, isn’t that good news for mattress retailers, whose products are health and wellness aids?

Challenge yourself this year to find new ways to improve the lives of your customers: Expand your sleep accessories lines, partner with health experts in your community or offer seminars on wellness topics. Have you heard of goat yoga? Maybe you can make mattress yoga trendy.

16. Storytelling: Chapter 1

Consumers increasingly see their purchasing decisions — what they buy and where they buy it — as part of their personal ethos. Think bargain shoppers who place a premium on getting a good deal or socially conscious shoppers who want to know the provenance of their purchases —and what will happen to them at the end of their useful lives. 

“As we seek meaning in our lives, we begin to interrogate all that sits within our control. We evaluate and unpack the big stuff like our work, relationships and lifestyles as we yearn to become curators of our existence,” The Behaviours Agency report says. “Whether head-on or indirectly, this curative process begins to dictate the brands that we allow into our sphere because, after all, they are a means of realizing our idealized self, right?”

To help consumers connect to brands in 2020, successful retailers will emphasize their own stories, whether that’s the origin story of the business or the tale of its mission to help shoppers sleep and live better.

17. Storytelling: Chapter 2

Storytelling is important for brands and is more important than ever on social media. “First Snapchat came out with the concept of ‘My Story,’ then Instagram and Facebook stories were introduced, and then YouTube unveiled their own story format: Reels. Now we have the emergence of TikTok, where users create videos on the spot and behind the scenes for a less polished and more authentic look,” writes Sven Lubek in a November 2019 article for Chief Marketer.

Using social media stories can help companies increase brand awareness, strengthen follower engagement, increase web traffic and reach younger audiences, Lubek says.

18. Shopping goes social

This year, social media will continue morphing into “social shopping.” “How is that different from social media marketing? While you can still use the marketing method of redirecting users to an online store through certain channels, with social shopping, you’re offering them the chance to check out directly within the network they’re using at that moment,” the Vend report says.

Instagram and Pinterest have done the most to facilitate and promote social shopping, but expect other platforms to embrace it, as well.

“Consumers love a seamless experience. That’s why technologies like visual search and social shopping are going to skyrocket,” Newman writes in the Forbes piece. “Being able to take a photo of a dress you see someone wearing on the street (or) to be able to click the purse that your favorite social media influencer is holding in her latest Instagram post, those are the things that are going to keep e-tail booking in 2020.”

19. Picking a partner

With retail changing as quickly as it does in today’s marketplace, you have to constantly innovate and look for the next opportunity,” the Vend report says. “One way to do that is through partnering and collaborating with other brands and businesses to expand your message, reach new audiences and break into a new niche.”

Vend points to a collaboration between Starbucks and Spotify that integrated Spotify’s mobile app with Starbucks’ rewards program. “When customers were in the store, they could use either app to find out what music was playing in the store and add it to their saved music in Spotify,” the report says. “The payoff for Starbucks was that the collaboration drove customers to download the app and join their customer loyalty program. As for Spotify, users who subscribed to their paid memberships got extra points for the Starbucks My Rewards program.”

20. Easy does it

When it comes to shopping, consumers want a fast, frictionless process, retail analysts say. Nielsen reports that 45% of consumers are using or are willing to use virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home to purchase items.

Look for ways throughout your entire operation to simplify the researching and buying process for consumers. Your e-commerce site needs to be responsive, well-organized and easy to navigate. This year, update your site to make product comparisons easy. Delete unnecessary webpages and steps to purchase. In your brick-and-mortar locations, streamline your rest-testing and final sales process so you don’t waste any time.

Julie Palm
Julie A. Palm

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 japalm623@gmail.com.