Give your customers a retail experience they’ll rave about

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It’s well known that, all things being equal, a better customer experience means higher sales, increased customer loyalty, improved word-of-mouth, higher profits and a place that’s more fun to work. What’s not so well known is how to make that happen, especially in today’s tough marketplace. As buying patterns shift, mattress marketers need to explore new ways of being relevant and valuable to customers.

The concepts in this story can help you transform the way you relate to your customers and to differentiate your store’s brand from others. My goal is to put you on the path to delivering a truly exceptional customer experience—one that your store’s customers, employees and stakeholders will rave about. But before exploring how to make the customer experience better, let’s review how customers see the mattress business right now.

In March of this year—in preparation for conducting a seminar at the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) EXPO in Charlotte, NC—I went undercover shopping at a range of  Atlanta area mattress, furniture and department stores. From bargain basements that smelled of mildew to high-end boutiques where the aroma of cappuccino met me at the door, I immersed myself in the mattress shopping experience. I paid careful attention to the ambience, signage, product presentation and store design, as well as to the way the sales associates informed and treated me.

Here’s what became apparent when I stood in the customer’s shoes—and I imagine your mattress customers are sensing the same things.

It’s all about price.
In mattress retailing, price is the loudest message. From the manufacturers’ and retailers’ print ads, billboards, radio spots, Internet banners and television ads, I learned that I could buy a mattress cheap. I was repeatedly told that price was not going to stand between me and my brand new mattress. So, before I even began my mystery shopping, that’s what was in my mind. As an aside, here’s a question for you: Are mattresses really cheaper if you buy them at a truckload sale? I don’t understand why mattress marketers believe that people who need new mattresses prefer to buy them off of a truck. It’s not an engaging image and definitely not one than instills confidence in the product. I bet that if marketers replaced copy about truckloads with copy about sleep benefits and performance, more customers would go shopping with a good night’s sleep in mind than with unrealistically low price expectations. Dumping truckload sales is one change that could mean happier customers and
richer retailers.

Sold, but not served.
Shopping for a new mattress was like shopping for a used car. I felt sold, not served. I believe that’s how most customers feel. All I wanted was a good night’s sleep at a fair price. (OK, I’m a savvy customer, so what I really wanted was 3,000 nights of restful, comfortable, wakeup-energized sleep at a fair price.) While advertising and selling on price seems to be the fashion right now, it doesn’t add to the bottom line for the long term and it hurts the industry’s ability to serve customers in the short term. It turns what could be white-hot, health related products into lukewarm commodities. Advertising on price makes it harder for RSAs to help customers evaluate their mattress purchase on the benefits and value of a better night’s sleep. Price-based ads make it harder for customers to appreciate that what they sleep on is intimate, personal and important. So they don’t respond as well to messages about value, comfort, sustainability and the useful life of a mattress. Emphasizing value over low cost would make for a better buying experience, lead to more sales and help to reduce the consumer’s confusion.

Shopping is confusing.
When customers look across most mattress showrooms, they see a sea of sameness—one white mattress after another. You may see a difference, but to the untrained eye, they all look the same (except for the branded foot protectors and pillows—which often don’t describe what they’re lying on). So the big question in my mind was, “Why is one white rectangle $300 and another $3,000?” Many RSAs still respond to the price question with, “Well, you get what you pay for”—often with a tone of condescension in their voices. That’s not an informative or helpful answer. It simply compounds the frustration shoppers feel. Did you know that most Internet-savvy consumers trust the opinions and comments of strangers more than what advertising and RSAs tell them? Comparing products, both in-store and online, was very difficult. It was even harder when I wanted to compare products from different retailers. The names and SKUs didn’t match. Neither did the information I got online, from ads, in stores and from RSAs. There were differences in the definitions of basic terms and characteristics of materials, and there was no standard for describing comfort. Even as a motivated shopper, I found it impossible to compare products on value-for-agood-night’s-sleep basis.

Can I trust you?
Too little information breeds confusion, which can lead to a lack of trust. Halfway through my undercover experience, I started to worry about being taken for a ride and to
distrust what everyone was telling me. There were times when I didn’t even believe what someone told me a mattress was made of and times when I wasn’t convinced that the mattress I was going to purchase had the same specifications as the one that would actually show up on delivery day. Without better labeling, a written assurance or a see-through side on every mattress, how can a customer really know what they are getting? I’m left with no alternative but to believe you when you say, “Trust me.” And based on my experience, I had serious questions about whether
I had any reason to.

Mattress retailers can do better.
Making the customer experience better for mattress shoppers is a business imperative. Experiences help differentiate brands. It’s important for retailers to
own their own brands and not rely solely on manufacturers’ POP and co-op ads to do the job for you. Business is tough—now is the time for retailers to take charge of mattress retailing by developing new value propositions that connect, inform and create real value in customers’ lives. In my opinion, both mattress manufacturers and retailers must rediscover how to sell better sleep. That may mean less emphasis on that white rectangle. Let me share with you a few ideas that you can put to work in your store and in your branding efforts to help create a better customer experience.

Replace selling experiences with buying experiences.
At many retail companies, attention is only paid to the customer experience if it can be proven that the new experience improves business. It either directly and immediately generates a sales lift or it improves operational efficiency. That way of thinking can work if you, the retailer, own the selling process. The problem is that this model is officially out of date. Because of tools like Google Product Search, Kudzu, eBay, RedLaser and epinions, many customers have stopped participating in retailers’ selling processes. Instead, they are developing their own ways of buying and they’re looking for vendors that sell the way they want to buy. These consumers like the confidence they feel in knowing they are getting a good value, the assurance that comes with having access to as much information as the RSA and the freedom to control the process. Becoming a part of your customer’s buying process, rather than trying to squeeze them into your selling process, is the new normal for retail. Customer experiences have to be designed around buying principles instead of selling principles. Customers are not targets to shoot offers at. Like you and me, they are human beings who prefer buying to being sold. Give them gold-standard service that helps them make the
buying decision that’s in their best interests and you’ll earn a fan who raves about you. Manipulate them, withhold information from them or waste their time and you’ll get the opposite effect.
See the people who come into your store not as wallets waiting to be emptied, but as individuals seeking your advice and guidance. These human beings need your help in getting a really good night’s sleep. They deserve an experience that informs and motivates, that simplifies their decision

The key differences between selling & buying

Selling is about

  • Telling
  • Speed
  • Closing deals
  • Control (of the customer’s behavior)
  • Keeping more

Buying is about

  • Letting people make discoveries
  • Helping people through their
    own decision-making process at
    the speed that’s right for
  • Finding opportunities to
    serve (which closes more
  • Design (improving the way an organization works based on the needs of its customers)
  • Giving more value and service (which increases sales and profits)

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