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David Perry

Phoenix secret shopper study highlights industry problems

June 5, 2013

We sparked plenty of discussion at our recent Bedding Conference with the results of a secret shopper study we commissioned in Phoenix earlier this year. Our grades for a group of 20 mattress retailers, including some of the biggest names in the industry, were a decidedly mixed bag.

As far as how the group scored on various measurements, we gave out one A, two B's, two C's, a D and an F. That's not exactly a stellar showing. And that's a shame for our industry.

We admit this was just a quick snapshot of retail performance in a major and highly competitive market, but we would think the findings are broadly representative of what is happening in mattress stores.

The good news was that our secret shoppers, all women between the ages of 30 and 50 (bedding's target customers), had good or excellent overall impressions of the stores they visited (earning an A in my book), almost always asked for the mattress order and usually offered financing and delivery options (earning a B), and gave their retail sales associates many high scores (earning a B-minus).

The OK news was that most RSAs focused on the products our women were shopping for and the size of the mattress needed, but were less focused on sleep and health issues (C). And the shoppers liked the selection and cleanliness of the stores, but weren't that excited about the salespeople (C).

The bad news was that sleep accessories, with the exception of mattress protectors and encasements (offered 75% of the time), were offered just a fraction of the time to our shoppers (D). Adjustable bases and pillows were both offered just 30% of the time.

What a missed opportunity that is.

The really bad news, earning an F-minus in my grading scheme, was that mattress warranties were almost always discussed by the RSAs; 95% discussed them, our secret shoppers reported. That's more than comfort (90%), support (90%), durability (84%) and construction types (79%). Better sleep, sadly, was discussed just 20% of the time.

Our campaign against warranty-based selling is well known. And the troubling fact that RSAs almost always brought up warranties just goes to show that the industry's continuing and foolish emphasis on warranties is being echoed on retail sales floors.

Warranties should be very far down the list of features and benefits discussed by RSAs. Consumers are buying new mattresses to get a better night of sleep; warranties have almost nothing to do with the better sleep equation. Sales associates who stress warranties are completely missing the mark, and they are doing a huge disservice to their customers who want a better night of sleep. If our RSAs can't do any better than that, maybe they should try selling used cars.

Shame on our industry for continuing to play dangerous games with mattress warranties.