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David Perry

McDonald's game-changing idea: Provide a more sensory experience

June 21, 2012

In our ongoing search for ideas that can help the mattress industry, we turn this week to fast food giant McDonald's. The ubiquitous chain has a person with the title of "director of sensory science."

In a recent Bloomberg Businessweek story we met that person, Barbara Booth, as she presided over the company's semiannual French Fry Evaluation, in which the company's three top French fry vendors are put to the taste test.

Needless to say, French fries are big business at McDonald's, which sells nine million pounds of them daily around the world, according to the business magazine. The French Fry Evaluation is one of the ways that the chain keeps quality high with that key product.

There are a few lessons there that could help us in Mattressville, we think. One obvious one is the power of putting our products to the test. Just as McDonald's uses a blind taste test to find the best fries, retailers could use regular blind product tests to compare comfort and feel in various mattress lines. This would keep vendors on their toes and would ensure that the retailers are keeping current with the latest mattress offerings.

We see considerable potential in paying attention to the sensory elements of the mattress shopping experience. In fact, we think it would be a great idea to add directors of sensory science to our management ranks.

The fact is, many mattress stores bomb out on the sensory experiences they provide. Too often, stores are packed with mattresses, all looking basically the same, in harsh surroundings. Oh, there might be a placard or two on the walls and there might be a box of toys for the kids, and you might be able to get a bottle of water, but let's face it: We don't usually offer a feast for the senses. And that's a big mistake.

Stop by your neighborhood Starbucks. Hear that upbeat, jazzy music playing throughout the store? Smell those wonderful aromas swirling inside those walls? See the smiling faces of happy patrons? Feel the comfort of that cozy sitting chair? Taste the delightful smooth notes of a Chai tea (my favorite)? Starbucks wins by appealing to all of our senses.

Now walk into your neighborhood mattress store. Sure, there is plenty of product to see, but it may actually be too much, and, as we noted, much of what customers see all looks alike. Where is the attractive art on the walls? Where is a lounge area for consumers? Do you hear any music?

Now I can already hear the howls of protest. Business is so tough that we can't afford to hire some fancy director of sensory experience. We can't afford nice pictures on the walls and pleasant music. We don't have the space to put in lounges. We aren't running spas here, you know.

And I would say: Shame on us. That's why our industry is losing ground to retailers who have figured out how to offer unique, fun and memorable shopping experiences. As long as consumers hate shopping for mattresses, we've got big problems.