The digital landscape of mattress shopping

What manufacturers of sleep products need to know to gain the competitive edge

BY LIN GRENSING-POPHAL

webrooming vs showroomingOnline shopping has increased significantly in recent years with two related, yet seemingly opposing concepts taking hold—“showrooming” and “webrooming.” Showrooming is the consumer practice of visiting retail stores to check out merchandise and then going online to make the actual purchase. Webrooming is the opposite—researching products online and then heading to a brick-and-mortar store to make the purchase.

The landscape continually is shifting and changing; manufacturers—and the retailers they serve—are wise to take note. These changes in consumer shopping patterns can be both positive and potentially negative for the mattress industry.

A 2014 report by Merchant Warehouse shows a prevalence in webrooming, compared with showrooming, for consumers of all ages. A key point here: Regardless of where consumers begin their purchase journey, online or in a retail outlet, there’s a good chance they eventually will find their way to your brand’s website and quite possibly to a wide range of online review sites. When consumers arrive at these review sites, what will they learn and how will that knowledge impact their ultimate purchase decision?

The online experience

Being online is, of course, a must. But more than simply being there, mattress manufacturers must present an attractive “storefront” to website visitors and make it easy for them to order online or, if they prefer, to find local retailers.

Manufacturers have moved to make online ordering possible for website visitors; in fact, some of their sites place a heavy emphasis on direct sales. That could be a smart move, says Karma Martell, president and founder of KarmaCom Inc., a New York-based marketing consultancy concentrating on interactive marketing strategy. “Consumers still overwhelmingly research online, especially for higher-priced goods,” she says. That includes mattresses.

Kenny Kline, founder of mattress review site Slumber Sage, says people are becoming more accustomed to buying mattresses online. “With companies such as Casper, Saatva, Tuft & Needle and other new market entrants that sell mattresses online only, manufacturers and retailers should realize that there is an opportunity to sell online,” Kline says.

The online experience, though, is different, and manufacturers must address these differences through the online experience they’re providing those who come to their sites. The online customer experience, branding and transparency all are critically important, Kline says. Branding is affected by the online experience and requires a strong customer-support team, he says. Transparency is a must.

“When shopping online, customers are used to getting a wealth of information. Things like an open return policy and an open breakdown of materials are essential,” he says.

And, Kline adds, “Mattress companies should run like true technology companies online, always A/B testing and optimizing the site to improve conversions.”

Using analytics

The ability to monitor and manage the online experience is a big benefit of e-commerce, but it can be an overwhelming endeavor and data analytics isn’t necessarily intuitive.

Patrick Cole, a digital consultant at Lyons Consulting Group, which works with e-commerce providers, notes there are many best practices when it comes to digital marketing, but before manufacturers can start tackling a long list of tactics to try to improve online sales, it’s important to analyze the data.

“What your analytics tell you will help give you direction and what your priorities should be, along with what your company’s pain points are and even where quick wins are,” he says.

Cole says his firm has found the following metrics to be the most important to evaluate before developing a digital strategy:

Traffic acquisition: You should know from where your customers are coming. Whether they are coming from a desktop or accessing your site through a smartphone makes a difference in how you present your site. Gaining visitors through brand awareness, via social and organic search channels, is a fast and easy way to promote your business. Look into how your competitors are gaining online traffic, and make sure you’re doing the same.

Conversion rate: Compare your conversion rate across different devices, marketing channels, and even different product list and detail pages. Is your mobile conversion rate drastically lower than desktop? Are some channels converting really well while others are much lower than you anticipated? By finding the areas where your conversion rate is the lowest and improving them by even just a percent, sales will increase drastically.

Shopping abandonment rate: Decreasing your shopping cart abandonment rates can be a quick way to increase online sales. Look into your customer’s shopping journey and see if there are large drop-offs. Perhaps you require customers to fill out long forms that lead to frustration, or maybe not enough payment methods are available. If you make customers go through multiple checkout pages, there is a higher chance they will abandon your website.

Once a baseline has been established, Cole says, “start working to improve your key performance indicators and increase sales for your online site.”

Getting social

In addition to managing consumer and customer experiences through their websites, manufacturers also need to be engaged in social media.

Like websites, social media is no longer an option for companies. The top manufacturers all have a presence online, although their success and their ability to effectively engage with their audiences varies significantly.

Again, a best practice is to go beyond simply having a presence to ensuring that you are monitoring and engaging with those who are interacting with your social media channels. That means having dedicated staff assigned to post, monitor and respond. It can take time, but that time can be worth the effort, says Mike Brooks, founder of Nuclear Chowder Marketing in Waterbury, Connecticut.

“Listen online. Being on social media is not enough,” says Brooks, adding that manufacturers “must know their audience and where they are. And they have to listen carefully in real time so they can respond fast.”

That listening should extend beyond social media channels like Twitter and Facebook. Manufacturers also must be aware of the wide range of review sites that exist where consumers increasingly share their pleasure—and often displeasure—about the products they buy.

Why online reviews matter

Whether you’re engaged in online conversations or not, your market is. And, chances are, they’re talking about you online. Consequently, it makes sense to monitor these interactions so you know what is being said, says Cara Lynn Garvock, a social marketing strategist and the owner of Nova Scotia-based Blue Boat Social Marketing.

“Google the brand name of your mattress,” she suggests. But don’t stop there. “Whatever names you can think of that might be tied to what you offer should be checked, ideally biweekly but at a minimum on a monthly basis.” Auto-alerts can make this task simpler. Tools like Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts) can be set up to automatically send you an email when certain key words or phrases are found.

According to Michael Magnuson, the founder of GoodBed.com, an independent research and shopping website for mattresses that focuses heavily on reviews, “Not only are reviews going to happen, but people are going to use them to make a choice, whether you want them to or not. This is how people make decisions now.” Consequently, manufacturers need to pay attention and be responsive.

Don’t leave these reviews to chance, Garvock advises. The first landing point for those in the market for a mattress likely will be a manufacturer’s website. Smart manufacturers, she notes, can be proactive in sharing their own endorsements and testimonials. In addition to allowing some control over these comments, she says, “That strategy would also capture the not-so-savvy social media user who just goes to the website and sees testimonials.” Not all those who venture online are knowledgeable  about reviews sites—give them the opportunity on your own site to hear what others are saying.

It’s important, Magnuson says, to make it easy for customers to write reviews. “That’s the message that we’re trying to get out to stores and brands—you can take this by the reins. You don’t have to bury your head in the sand; you can actually go out and be proactive and turn this to your advantage.”

Dan Farkas, an instructor of strategic communication at Ohio University, agrees. “I strongly encourage any business to promote online reviews if they are proud of the products provided,” he says. 

Because consumers are more likely to post negative comments, actively seeking reviews can help to turn around negative perceptions, he notes. “Terrible reviews skew the average score and hurt a brand. Promoting reviews promotes a more representative sample of scores. Even if a brand doesn’t get all 5s, the 4s and 3s minimize the harm caused by those terrible reviews.”

There’s a great deal of data supporting the need for a “positive review structure,” Farkas says. “It’s moving from nice to necessary for modern brands.”

Hayley Silver, vice president of Los Angeles-based Bizrate Insights, a division of Connexity that focuses on online buyers, says when someone places an order, Bizrate puts a code on the customer’s order confirmation page and invites him or her to provide feedback. That way the feedback is attached to a verified buyer, minimizing the chance that Internet trolls, disgruntled staff, competitors or others can post fake reviews (and, of course, also minimizing the opposite—the ability to post fake positive reviews). Consequently, from a consumer standpoint, sites like Bizrate offer confidence about the validity of the information found there.

Not all reviews will be stellar, nor should they be, Silver notes. Consumers can be suspicious when all reviews are over-the-top positive. Manufacturers can benefit from constructive criticism they receive online, she says, and should take advantage of the opportunity to reach out and engage with those whose experiences have not been so stellar.

“Follow up with those consumers who have expressed unhappiness and do right by them,” she recommends. “It’s a great opportunity to learn more.”

Stand behind your products

The bottom line for online success, just as in the brick-and-mortar world, is having a good product—and standing behind it. “If you’ve got a crappy product, no social-media marketing or digital marketing is going to help you,” Garvock says.

In the 21st century, brands can’t afford to not live up to their promises, says Collin Davis, a “digital marketing enthusiast” with SocioSquare, an Internet marketing agency.

“The advent of digital media has meant that customers have many more touch points before making a final purchase,” Davis says. “Companies that succeed in the future will be the ones that leverage conversations happening around their brands and engage with their consumers.” In addition, he notes, brands that use negative feedback to help them understand the pain points of their consumers will have a greater likelihood of succeeding.

Manufacturers today have more marketing opportunities than ever before, and through both showrooming and webrooming they have new opportunities to interact directly with consumers. The price of entry with online sales, though, is being easy to find, easy to navigate and easy to order, which all are likely to be the subject of positive chatter in online reviews.