The Joy of Mattress Shopping

Better Sleep Council research on the buyer’s journey can help manufacturers and retailers guide consumers to a successful purchase that fits their priorities and leaves them sleeping comfortably — even during a pandemic 

family mattress shopping

People’s shopping behaviors are changing. The impact of COVID-19 and the attendant stay-at-home orders, as well as consumer safety concerns, have closed many stores (at least temporarily) and led people to delay some purchases and to make other purchases online more often. As those pandemic-related restrictions and concerns relax in the coming weeks and months, it’s unclear to what extent these temporary shopping behaviors will become permanent and what impact that will have on bedding products manufacturers and retailers.

Regardless of how people’s shopping patterns change, there are essential truths and strategies manufacturers and retailers can embrace that will improve their chances of success — even in the current dynamic landscape.

Of course, it’s important to understand how people’s attitudes and behaviors have shifted in light of the current situation. Purchases of some big-ticket items and luxury products have been on the wane. However, people are buying more health, wellness and home products. Research published by the firm Resonate in the midst of the pandemic found that home goods and furnishings are among people’s top planned purchases. People are seeking to enhance their health and safety, as well as their home environment. So, connecting a mattress purchase to health, wellness and home upgrades can help frame that purchase as a need-to-have for better health rather than just a nice-to-have. A buyer’s journey study released in May by the Better Sleep Council, the consumer education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, found that seeking an “upgrade” was among the most common reasons people began shopping for a mattress, along with problems with their existing mattress and life changes like marriage or moving.

Regardless of how people’s shopping patterns change, there are essential truths and strategies retailers can embrace that will improve their chances of success — even in the current dynamic landscape.

Regardless of how people’s shopping patterns change, there are essential truths and strategies retailers can embrace that will improve their chances of success — even in the current dynamic landscape.

And the need for better sleep is greater than ever. Another recent Better Sleep Council study found that Americans are more stressed and sleeping worse than they were a year ago. (See story on page 25.) In the March 2020 survey, 52% of respondents described their sleep as fair or poor, compared with 38% in 2019. Fewer people are getting the recommended amount of sleep, and more people describe themselves as feeling stressed this year, compared with last year. Taken together, this data suggests people need what the industry has to offer, if we can determine how to effectively engage with and help them during the current chaotic environment.

Capturing attention

But how can we effectively engage people? Several findings from the recently released BSC buyer’s journey research might provide answers. The survey explored how people shop for mattresses and bedding products, and the outcomes of those journeys. Among the more startling findings was that how people shopped — not what they eventually bought — was the stronger driver of purchase satisfaction. It also was a better predictor of how well people slept on their new mattress. Conventional wisdom suggests that marketing focused on convincing people of the benefits of your products over other products will not only encourage people to buy, but will make them more satisfied with their purchase. Instead, BSC research suggests that helping people have a more satisfactory shopping journey is the real key to their happiness and your success.

How can manufacturers and retailers affect how people shop? According to the BSC study, there are several shopper behaviors that manufacturers and retailers can help foster and some pitfalls they can help people avoid. First, and perhaps most important, remember that for most people buying a mattress is a journey. Only 16% of people said they “just made the purchase” without doing exploration and research. That means the vast majority of people take the time (generally one to four weeks, in fact) to do their research. They generally use three or four different sources of information, including websites, friends and reviews, as well as store visits, as part of their homework.

This means that most people who walk into a store either already have done some homework or they are stopping in as part of their research. They may not be ready to buy, but they are ready to learn. Focusing on answering their questions to ensure they have the information needed to make a smart decision will help them feel more comfortable with their final choice and more favorable toward your business. The BSC research found that people who were more knowledgeable about mattresses before they started shopping ended up being more satisfied with the shopping experience and the product they bought. It also found that people who felt more knowledgeable about mattresses at the moment of purchase also were more satisfied with the experience and product. The BSC survey found that people are least knowledgeable about brands, features and retail options. Filling in these information gaps is important. Further, encouraging people to do their own research will help them become happier shoppers and customers. 

Paradox of choice

Another counterintuitive finding in the research is that people who considered three or more mattresses before purchase were less satisfied with their decision than those who considered only two. Generally, we expect that people want choices and are happier with more rather than fewer choices. But, there’s a lot of research that suggests this is not true. Researchers in numerous studies have found that when presented with too many choices, people find it harder to make decisions and are less likely to be happy about the choice they eventually make. It’s called the paradox of choice. People say they want lots of choices — it’s central to our feelings of freedom and autonomy. But lots of choices cause decision-making to be more stressful and less satisfying. So, presenting shoppers with lots of choices or trying to steer them to one brand or product is equally dangerous. Neither strategy is likely to be successful, and it may undermine how consumers feel about shopping in your store, which still is where almost 60% of shoppers make their final purchase.


According to BSC research, there’s another way people sabotage themselves when they shop, especially for big-ticket items like mattresses. When someone is about to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on something, they feel a lot of pressure to make a prudent decision, a smart choice. Many people ask themselves, “Am I getting the most for my money?” or “Is this the best possible choice I could make?” Psychologists have a term for these people. They’re called maximizers.

Connecting a mattress purchase to health, wellness and home upgrades can help frame that purchase as a need-to-have for better health rather than just a nice-to-have.

These are people who come up with a long list of the features or characteristics they are seeking, research all the brands and models they can find, and then stack them up against one another. They try to decide which brand and model offers the maximum number of desired features or provides the maximum degree of benefit for those desired features. Sounds smart, right? Wrong. What really happens is that maximizers tend to set themselves an impossible task and walk away from whatever choice they make feeling disappointed and dissatisfied. The mental load on people is too great as they try to sort through all the trade-offs that are inevitable when considering so many variables. Eventually, they make a decision, but they’re likely to be frustrated and plagued by self-doubt.

Connecting a mattress purchase to health, wellness and home upgrades can help frame that purchase as a need-to-have for better health rather than just a nice-to-have.


By contrast, other people set more modest expectations for their planned purchase, the BSC research found. They’re called satisficers — yes, that’s a real word. Satisficers decide early in their shopping journey the one or two most important features or benefits they want. They then simply seek options that deliver on those one or two prioritized characteristics. This makes decision-making both easier and more satisfying. And it makes people happier with the decision they make.

What does this mean for mattress manufacturers and retailers? Help shoppers prioritize their needs and wants. Discover the single most important thing the shopper wants in a mattress. What’s the second most important thing? Then, show her the products that deliver the greatest value on those priorities. According to Resonate, the most sought-after product attributes among people shopping in the current environment for home goods and furnishings are cost-effectiveness and durability. Of course, someone walking into a store or shopping online may have other, more specific priorities based on their unique situations and needs. In any case, encourage people to focus on what’s most important to them, rather than trying to satisfy everything on their wish list. Remind them of their priorities and the importance of meeting those needs over ticking off more things on their list. They’ll be happier with their decision and will feel more satisfied with their shopping experience.

Feelin’ groovy?

Speaking of feelings — that’s another important finding from the BSC buyer’s journey research. Shopping for a major purchase — something you’ll spend a lot of money on — seems like it should be a rational, financially sound decision. But the BSC survey found that how people feel at various stages in their shopping experience is both important and effects how satisfied they are with its outcome.

The research also contradicted the image of industry critics that a mattress is a grudge purchase — something people don’t want to spend money on but feel they have to. In fact, the BSC study found that the dominant emotions many people feel as they set out on their mattress shopping journey are optimism, joy and anticipation. They’re excited about shopping for a mattress. Those and other positive emotions, like trust and serenity, tend to remain strong throughout the entire process for many people. Connecting with and reinforcing those positive feelings helps shoppers feel good about their experience doing business with you. 

Unfortunately not everyone experiences positive emotions. About 30% of people surveyed reported feeling negative emotions, most commonly feelings of being overwhelmed, apprehensive and confused. Not surprisingly, people who experienced these negative emotions also were more likely to be dissatisfied with their shopping experience and their purchase. Interestingly, these negative emotions relate to how people feel about decision-making rather than how they’re treated by retailers or manufacturers. There appears to be a natural and logical connection between these emotions and some of the psychological characteristics discussed earlier in this article. For example, if someone is faced with lots of competing priorities and options, they could very easily feel overwhelmed or confused. If they feel they lack what they consider important information, or if they feel pressured to make the most prudent decision and get the most for their money, it would not be surprising if they felt apprehensive about the decision they had to make.

Negative to positive

Tackling and converting these negative emotions to positive ones like anticipation, optimism, joy and trust will make people more confident about buying, more satisfied with their experience and happier with their purchase — and with you. Accomplishing that involves two related strategies. 

First, address the self-sabotaging psychological tendencies and behaviors mentioned earlier in this article. Those are the likely cause of many of these negative emotions. Help consumers envision buying a mattress as something they think of as positive — either a home upgrade or part of an exciting event in their lives, like moving or getting married. Connect it with the health benefits of sleep and as part of their solution for getting a better night’s sleep. In today’s environment, those health benefits and home upgrades are top of mind for many people. Encourage them to do their homework. Help them educate themselves, set priorities and narrow the number of alternatives they consider. Help them feel more knowledgeable, confident and empowered to make a smart decision.

Second, tackle those negative emotions head on. Find out how that individual shopper is feeling about buying a mattress. Learn what’s driving any negative emotions she may be experiencing. Unpacking that can help you address the underlying concern or problem causing those negative feelings.

These insights and strategies drawn from the BSC’s buyer’s journey survey can help manufacturers and retailers win with shoppers, regardless of how chaotic the current environment is. While market circumstances and social environments may change daily, people’s needs, emotions and psychological traits don’t. People have the same concerns and aspirations they’ve always had. And they especially need a good night’s sleep.

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