Buyer's Journey: A Generational Shift

Recent research from the Better Sleep Council reveals now is the time to market to millennials

Editor’s note: As part of the strategic plan of the International Sleep Products Association to provide knowledge and data to members of the bedding community, the Better Sleep Council, ISPA’s consumer education arm, has recently conducted extensive research to further the industry’s understanding of consumer trends. The survey on the buyer’s journey traces the path consumers follow when considering and purchasing a mattress. Included here is the last in a three-part series. Read the first story, Insights Into the Mattress Buyer’s Journey, and the second story, The Joy of Mattress Shopping.

One of the perennial decisions marketers must make is choosing which consumer profiles or segments to focus on, given limited resources. Manufacturers and retailers have to determine what audiences make the most sense and represent the greatest opportunity for success. Within the sleep products industry, the answer to that question often has been a female baby boomer. 

But recent research by Better Sleep Council, the consumer education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, suggests the industry might be more successful if it shifts its marketing focus from boomers to millennials.

“It’s been something of a truism that the sweet spot for bedding products industry marketing is a 40ish-plus female,” said Mary Helen Rogers, vice president for marketing and communications for ISPA. “The industry has focused a lot of resources on understanding, attracting and engaging this audience. Over the years, we’ve gained much insight into the baby boomer — and to a lesser extent the Gen X — female mattress shopper.”

But, Rogers warns, BSC research released in March suggests it’s time for the bedding industry to shift emphasis — and dollars — to understanding, attracting and engaging millennials. ISPA conducted a nationwide survey of more than 2,500 adult mattress buyers, exploring how people shop for mattresses and other bedding products. About 60% of those surveyed had bought their mattresses within the past year. When researchers examined differences between the behaviors of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and millennials (born between 1980 and 1994), they uncovered a number of striking findings. 

“Some of the data make a strong case for shifting the industry’s marketing efforts more toward millennials,” Rogers said. “It found that millennials aren’t the future of the bedding products industry. They’re the present.”

The survey data suggests there are several reasons for this conclusion:

  • More millennials (43%) said sleep is very important to their health and well-being than did boomers (39%). Millennials are more likely to say they don’t get the sleep they feel they need, and hence, need mattress and sleep accessories products. Millennials also command more than $600 billion in purchasing power, according to some estimates, and increasingly are spending on products for their home, including bedding products.
  • Millennials generate a slightly faster return on shopper marketing investments because they spend much less time from starting their shopping to making their purchase. Seventy-nine percent of millennial shoppers spent a month or less shopping for a mattress, compared with 72% of baby boomers. 
  • Millennials also are more likely to be happy shoppers, and happy shoppers are, of course, easier to sell to. Millennials were more likely than baby boomers to say they experienced positive emotions while shopping, and said that they enjoyed shopping for a mattress.
  • Baby boomers are less likely to be repeat buyers than millennials. The (somewhat morbid) reasoning behind this conclusion goes like this: The average age of a baby boomer is 66. The BSC survey found baby boomers intend to keep their mattresses longer — 47% said they plan to keep it for 10 years or more. The average life expectancy in the U.S. is just less than 79 years. So, for many baby boomers, the mattress they purchase today will be the last mattress they’re likely to buy. 

“This new research isn’t telling the industry to completely abandon the baby boomer. Rather, it suggests that it’s high time to devote more attention … to … engaging millennials.”

  • In contrast, the BSC survey found that millennials (who are, of course, likely to live longer than baby boomers) plan to buy a new mattress much sooner, with only 15% saying they expect to keep a mattress for 10 years or more. The survey also found that 44% of millennial buyers were replacing a mattress that was less than 5 years old, compared with only 11% of baby boomers. This suggests millennials follow a much shorter replacement cycle than older generations, and they may represent a stronger segment for generating repeat purchases and greater lifetime customer value.
  • While millennials typically opt for less expensive mattresses than boomers, they are more likely to buy accessories. The survey found that 66% of millennials spent less than $1,000 on their mattress, while only 53% of boomers did. However, 74% of millennials also bought accessories, such as sheets, pillows and mattress pads, at the same time, compared with only 54% of baby boomers. Thus, boomers are likely to spend more on the mattress itself, while millennials are likely to buy more when they make a bedding purchase.

Don’t say bye to boomers

Of course, there still are strong arguments for not walking away from baby boomers entirely. As noted above, they’re likely to spend more on a mattress than a millennial. For a brick-and-mortar retailer, boomers may be more attractive than millennials because the former are more likely to buy at brick-and-mortar (70%) than millennials (50%). They also tend to be more reliant on store associates and displays for their shopping information than millennials.

Baby boomers, as one might expect from those with more experience buying mattresses and other bedding products, are more likely to have clear expectations about what they intend to buy and where they will buy. However, they’re less likely than millennials to say they’re knowledgeable about brands, technology and current prices. Finally, baby boomers are more likely to be satisfied with their mattress purchase — 65% describing themselves as very satisfied with their purchase — compared with just 49% of millennials. Boomers also are less likely to return their purchase. Only 6% reported returning a purchased mattress, compared with 20% of millennials.

“This new research isn’t telling the industry to completely abandon the baby boomer,” Rogers said. “Rather, it suggests that it’s high time to devote more attention and resources to understanding, attracting and engaging millennials.”

Rogers also said the research does not overturn the industry’s long-held archetypical consumer — the 40-year-old female. In fact, it re-emphasizes it.

“That 40-year-old female,” Rogers quipped, “she’s now a millennial.”

Millennials vs. boomers

Rogers also said that because the research suggests the industry should pay more attention to millennials, it’s worth noting some important differences between millennial and baby boomer shoppers. For example, the BSC survey found — not surprisingly — that millennials make more use of online resources as they shop. Compared with older generations, millennials use the most diverse array of media sources when they begin mattress exploration and use a variety of online platforms throughout the process.

“Although the study was conducted before the COVID-19 outbreak, it showed that online marketing and information channels are very important, especially in reaching millennials,” Rogers said. “If anything, the importance of effective online marketing will only continue to grow as the industry wrestles with the new normal we’re facing now.”

The BSC survey found baby boomers intend to keep their mattresses longer — 47% saying they plan to keep it for 10 years or more.

Millennials tend to be more informed than older generations about mattresses, even before they start shopping. More than 40% of millennial mattress buyers said they felt knowledgeable about mattress prices, brands, types, and new features or technologies before they actually began their shopping journey. They’re less knowledgeable about mattress sizes. 

Not only do millennial mattress shoppers feel well-informed, they also begin their shopping journey with clear expectations about certain things. The BSC survey found 59% of millennials feel highly certain about how much they’re willing to spend, 50% have made up their minds about the type of mattress they want and 42% already have selected a brand. This may be why the research also found that millennials consider only one or two mattresses when shopping for a mattress, a lower number than older shoppers. Together, these findings suggest the importance of ongoing marketing efforts to reach and engage millennials before they’re in-market, rather than focusing heavily on them while they’re in the shopping process.

“The research shows millennials are educating themselves about bedding products before they even start shopping,” Rogers said. “This makes it more important than ever that bedding products marketers be in front of potential customers continuously, building brand awareness and educating consumers. If marketers wait until people are ready to buy before trying to reach consumers, they may miss out on the chance to actually sell them anything.”

Other millennial shopping habits

As mentioned previously, millennials are committed to getting a good night’s sleep and spend money to do so. Millennials ranked a good night’s sleep at the top of their list for health and wellness, above diet and exercise. Not only do they place a high priority on sleep, almost half of those millennials who bought a mattress also said they use some type of app or device to track their sleep, compared with only 18% of baby boomers.

Millennials also seem to have applied their upgrade mentality to bedding products, according to the BSC research. Perhaps not surprisingly for a group that replaces their smartphones whenever new models become available, the number-one reason millennials gave for buying a mattress was to upgrade to a better mattress.

Millennials use the most diverse array of media sources

when they begin mattress exploration and use a variety of

online platforms throughout the process.

When it comes to choosing a mattress, size and price are the most important considerations for millennials. Free delivery and quality also are very important. Other research suggests millennials also care about sustainable materials and other innovations.

While millennials are more likely to buy a mattress online than older generations, half bought their mattress at a brick-and-mortar retailer. Other research suggests that millennials are less comfortable buying mattresses online than they are any other type of home furnishing.

As noted earlier, more millennials reported experiencing positive emotions on their shopping journey than older generations and were more satisfied with their overall shopping experience. Millennials reported experiencing optimism, anticipation, serenity and even joy. The only real strong negative emotion some reported was feeling overwhelmed as they tried to compare different products.

“This research clearly demonstrates that bedding products manufacturers and retailers should focus more heavily on today’s millennial shoppers,” Rogers said. “Not only do they represent a tremendous opportunity for the industry today, but they will determine how successful we will be for many years to come.”

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