Time for Traditional Mattress Brands to Call a Truce?

Sometimes embracing the enemy is a better business practice than holding a grudge. Read how traditional mattress retailers can leap into the 21st century.

By Andrea Pisani Babich

It’s time to bury the hatchet. Sure, online mattress brands like Casper and Leesa were born in response to customers’ frustrations with traditional mattress sellers. And, yes, those Internet start-ups stole 6% of total mattress sales from brick-and-mortar stores in 2014 and doubled that in just two years. So, it’s no wonder that conventional mattress shops hold a bit of a grudge against those cheeky newbies.

But that grudge prevents those conventional mattress shops from seizing a share of the success of direct-to-consumer (DTC) mattress brands that are revolutionizing the mattress industry. In a recent survey of mattress retailers, almost two-thirds reported they are not too keen on offering any of these increasingly popular online mattress brands any time soon. A whopping 44% said they’re not sure if they want to cozy up with their competitors, and 22% reported that they have no plans to carry any DTC mattress brands next year.

That’s a huge mistake for practitioners of an ailing and outdated business model. And that’s why it’s time to call a truce.

Nest Bedding Costa Mesa retail location

Traditional Brick-and-Mortar Stores Need a Facelift

Traditional mattress retailers are rapidly losing market share because of a host of problems plaguing the industry:

  • Conventional mattress showrooms are not conducive to sleep or even pretend sleep. Glaring fluorescent lights, piped in Muzak—or worse, whatever is on the sales associate’s playlist—and stark décor do little to invite shoppers to lie down, relax, and simulate sleep on a showroom mattress.
  • Shady business practices frustrate comparison shoppers. Traditional mattress brands often give different names to the same mattresses appearing in different stores, making it impossible to compare mattress prices between retailers.
  • Vendor mark-ups inflate mattress prices and appear to be arbitrary. Like holding out for a better price at the car dealership, haggling with the sales rep can help you cut into that mark-up. But haggling with a pushy sales rep working on commission is about as far from relaxing as any shopping experience can be.
  • And let’s not even talk about trying to return a mattress delivered from a conventional mattress store.

The one advantage brick-and-mortar shops have over online companies is the physical presence of the product within reach of potential customers. And for mattresses, that’s a big plus. Enough of a plus to mean that physical stores still sell almost 80% of mattresses worldwide.

But that dominance appears to be waning. Analysts estimate that this year DTC brands will take a 20% bite out of total mattress sales, and that number promises to go up as young people born into the Internet age become adults and begin buying home furnishings where they make more than half of their purchases—online.

Partnering with some of the more popular DTC brands offers a simple way for traditional retailers to cash in on the success of their online competitors. Furthermore, they can begin to rehabilitate their sketchy image by embracing the enemy and inviting them into their showrooms.

Online Brands Looking for an Offline Presence

The success of online shopping notwithstanding, consumers by and large still want to see and touch a mattress before clicking the “buy” button. Mattresses are uniquely personal consumer goods that are experienced differently by different people, so offering an opportunity to test rest a bed is just good for business. Even though most online companies offer generous trial periods, not all of them offer free returns. And many people simply want to avoid the hassle of returning a mattress (even though most companies provide haul away service for returned mattresses).

More and more native online companies are looking for ways to bring their mattresses to shoppers who may be reluctant to buy a mattress without checking it out in person. Some are opening their own stores or partnering with home stores like Target and Crate & Barrel to display their products.

Physical mattress stores have what online retailers want—physical space and customer traffic.  Tech start-ups have what traditional mattress stores need—a modern, consumer conscious business model marked by transparency, standard pricing, and fast delivery. Sounds like the beginning of a lasting relationship, no?

For the time being, brick and mortar retailers still dominate the mattress market, but their online competitors are gaining fast. And when Baby Boomers age out of the mattress market, traditional shops running business as usual will have a hard time competing. If they can’t beat the competition in this brave new world of one-click shopping, maybe they should join them.

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