Consumers Give Online Reviews 3 Stars

Mattress buyers are less reliant on such reviews than other shoppers but still value them, survey finds

Fewer than half of people looking for mattresses use reviews as part of their shopping journeys, according to new research from the Better Sleep Council, the consumer education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.

The survey found that only 47% of mattress shoppers had read — or planned to read — mattress reviews before making a purchase decision. The survey was conducted by Marcus Thomas LLC in late October and early November, after the broader BSC consumer survey conducted by Fluent Research that is detailed starting on page 51.

The 47% is far lower than what other studies of consumer behavior across other product categories have found. Studies conducted by research firm Qualtrics and the Spiegel Research Center at Northwestern University have reported that more than 90% of people read reviews before making a purchase decision, particularly for big-ticket items. 

“This new research by the Better Sleep Council suggests that, while reviews are important, they are not as widely used by shoppers in our industry as they are in many others,” says Mary Helen Rogers, ISPA vice president of marketing and communications. “This is true regardless of whether people buy their mattress online or in-store.” (The broader BSC research conducted in 2020 examined consumer reviews in a different way, asking consumers what type of information they seek when mattress shopping. Online reviews came in third on the list (44%), following price comparison (55%) and promotions or sales (45%). Respondents could choose more than one answer.

“This new research by the Better Sleep Council suggests that, while reviews are important, they are not as widely used by shoppers in our industry as they are in many others,” says Mary Helen Rogers, ISPA vice president of marketing and communications.

In the BSC survey focused on online reviews and related mattress shopping habits, Marcus Thomas queried 500 mattress shoppers who either had purchased a mattress in the prior two months or were planning to purchase a mattress within the next two months. Survey respondents included an equal mix of men and women, a broad range of ages, incomes and education levels. Most of the respondents were married and employed full time. Of those surveyed, 78% were white, 15% were Black and 10% were Hispanic.

The survey asked people to report on what information resources they had used or planned to use when shopping for a mattress and whether they made or planned to make their mattress purchase online or in a physical store. It also explored what factors did or would drive their purchase decisions, how far they would be willing to travel to shop at a physical store, and other aspects of their shopping experience.

Retailer websites favored

Retailer websites topped the list of most-used — or planned for use — information sources for consumers in this study, with 57% of respondents saying they used or planned to consult them when shopping for a mattress. This was followed by online search engines at 49%. Online reviews ranked third at 47%. Physical stores and recommendations from friends and family rounded out the list of most-used information sources for mattress shoppers. (When asked about sources they turn to for mattress information, respondents could choose more than one response.)

The survey also found consumers used or planned to consult a wide variety of online review sites. Reviews housed on retailers’ websites ranked first among most popular review sources, with 57% of consumers who read reviews or planned to read reviews saying they had visited or would visit those sites. Reviews on e-tailers’ sites, such as Amazon or Wayfair, and manufacturers’ websites were tied for second most popular review sources at 53%. These were followed by mattress review sites at 51% and social media reviews at 50%. Consumer review sites and general review sites were mentioned by fewer than half of those who read — or planned to read — reviews.

Reviews housed on retailers’ websites ranked first among most popular review sources, with 57% of consumers who read reviews or planned to read reviews saying they had visited or would visit those sites.

In addition, the survey asked consumers how useful various review sources were or would be in their shopping. Interestingly, while mattress purchasers made less frequent use of consumer review sites, they ranked them first in terms of usefulness in their shopping journey. Of respondents who recently purchased a mattress, 62% ranked consumer websites in the top two in terms of usefulness. Among those planning to shop for a mattress, 60% said they expected consumer review sites to be among the most useful, almost identical results to those of respondents who had already bought a mattress.

Interestingly, the results indicate consumers expect social media reviews to be more useful than they actually are. While 71% of respondents planning to shop for a mattress said they thought social media reviews would be very useful (the highest score of any review source), only 54% of respondents who had actually bought a mattress rated them first or second in terms of usefulness. 

Both respondents who had bought or planned to buy mattresses listed e-tailer reviews as second most useful at 59% and 64%, respectively. Shoppers ranked retailer reviews and mattress review sites almost identically in usefulness.

Somewhat surprisingly, given relatively low use of review sites, online reviews ranked relatively high in terms of importance in shoppers’ purchase decisions. Price ranked first overall, with 83% of respondents listing it as the first or second most important consideration. Free delivery, warranty, online reviews and easy returns were ranked equally in terms of importance to shoppers, with 73% to 76% percent of respondents giving them a top two score (which falls within the survey’s margin of error).

“Although many mattress shoppers don’t look at online reviews, those who do tend to find them useful and influential in their purchase decisions,” Rogers says. “People find retailer and e-tailer reviews particularly helpful as they shop.”

The research did note differences between those who purchased or planned to purchase their mattress online compared with those buying in-store. More than 55% of online buyers included online reviews in their journeys, while only 38% of in-store buyers did so. Also, about 80% of online purchasers ranked online reviews a top two influence, while only 65% of in-store buyers gave it a similar rank. Interestingly, in-store buyers also considered free delivery, easy returns, brand, financing, free trial and recommendations by family and friends to be much less influential in their decision than did online buyers. This suggests that online buyers are likely to have a broader range of purchase decision influences than do in-store buyers.

Omnichannel shoppers

The BSC research also found significant overlap between online shopping and in-store shopping. Almost 75% of consumers said they had shopped or planned to shop both online and in-store — regardless of where they eventually made or would make their purchase. Only 16% of respondents said they had shopped or would shop online exclusively, and only 8% said they had shopped or would shop in-store exclusively.

“Our research suggests that we no longer have in-store shoppers and online shoppers as distinct groups,” Rogers says. “Today’s mattress shoppers are shopping both online and offline, making use of a broad range of information sources.”

“Although many mattress shoppers don’t look at online reviews, those who do tend to find them useful and influential in their purchase decisions,” Rogers says.

The research found that, on average, mattress shoppers use three to four different information sources while shopping, with retailer websites, search engines and reviews being used most frequently, as noted earlier. The study also found that half or more of online and in-store buyers used retailer websites as part of their shopping journey. In fact, 90% of all shoppers used at least one online information source on their buyer journey. Online buyers made slightly more use of search engines and online reviews, while in-store buyers were more likely to visit a physical store — either a department store or specialty mattress retailer.

In-store visits were important enough to mattress shoppers that they said they were willing to travel 20 to 40 minutes to get to a retail location. In fact, 80% of shoppers said they would travel up to 40 minutes to visit a store as part of their journey. Not surprisingly, in-store buyers were somewhat more likely to travel up to 40 minutes (86%) compared with online buyers (72%).

The research also suggests that consumers who shop predominantly online don’t always make their final purchase online. In fact, one-third of consumers who reported shopping entirely online still made their purchase in a physical store. They most commonly reported wanting to test, feel or compare mattresses in the store before making the purchase as the reason they bought their mattress in a physical store.

Although most consumers shop for mattresses both online and in-store, the research suggests purchasing online has become more popular. The most recent survey found that 54% of people had bought or planned to buy their mattress online, compared with 41% who had bought or planned to buy in-store. The remainder were uncertain about where they would make their purchase.

This high percentage of online purchases is likely due in large part to concerns related to the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 60% of respondents who bought or planned to buy their mattress online cited Covid-19 concerns as their reason for buying online. The second most commonly given reason — better pricing — was cited by only 41% of online buyers.

“(Buying online) was the safest and most reliable method,” one shopper recounted. “Due to the Covid-19 crisis, I felt more comfortable purchasing online than in-store.”

Regardless of whether they bought online or in-store, for most respondents, the path to a mattress purchase was relatively short. Half of those who bought said they spent one week or less shopping for their new mattress, while only 31% said their shopping lasted more than two weeks. Those who bought in-store generally reported spending less time shopping than did those who bought online.

Regardless of whether they purchased or planned to purchase their mattress online or in-store, the vast majority of shoppers said they wanted their mattress delivered (83%) rather than having to take it home themselves (16%). However, 61% of those who bought in-store had or wanted their mattress set up for them, compared with less than a third of those who bought or planned to buy online.

The BSC research also suggests that boxed beds are no longer synonymous with buying a mattress online. Forty percent of those who bought or planned to buy a mattress in a physical store reported it was or would be delivered compressed, folded and rolled. Not surprisingly, 80% of those buying online had received or expected to receive their mattress compressed, rolled and folded.

“This new research suggests that mattress shopping today cannot be reduced to a conflict between online and in-store,” Rogers says. “Shoppers have more sophisticated paths to purchase, weaving between in-store and online resources. And the industry has responded to the change by creating new ways to package and ship mattresses for the greater convenience of its consumers.”

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