November 8, 2013 | Comments (1)

Why don’t mattress shoppers place more value on product innovation?

This post is a follow-up to a recent survey of over 1,000 active mattress shoppers, in which we learned that nearly half of consumers don’t really value mattress innovation.  To understand why this may be, we are going to look at how consumers approach purchases in other familiar categories, starting with…underwear (bear with me for a moment…)!

For most guys, underwear  is about as routine a purchase as it gets.  Whether it’s boxers or briefs, as long as it’s working, we tend to stick with what we know.  Rarely, an innovation might come along that causes us to try something new (boxer briefs, anyone?).  Otherwise, most people just look for the same thing they’ve had before.  This is why companies like Hanes and Jockey are still making underwear that looks identical to how it looked 30 years ago.


What factors make you choose the ‘latest and greatest’ over the ‘tried and true’?

Ask yourself how many other products are like this…  In other words, for what types of products — after they’ve lived a full and useful life — would you want to replace them with an exact replica of what you had before?  How about your TV?  Your golf clubs?  Your couch?

It’s not likely you’d answer ‘yes’ to any of the examples above.  That’s because for the following types of products, people tend to want the ‘latest and greatest‘:

  • Products with actively used features.  No matter how much you liked your old TV, new TV’s at the same price point have obvious functionality benefits over your old one, like a bigger screen, clearer picture, etc.  This goes for everything from computers to mountain bikes.
  • Products with actively discernible performance.  Today’s golf clubs will do a lot more for your game than your old clubs (who wouldn’t want 20 yards more distance off the tee?).  This applies to products from musical instruments to power tools.
  • Products with fashion aspects.  With your couch, your sense of style will most likely have changed by the time you’re ready to replace it.  This can be said for anything from clothing to carpeting.


With mattresses, do people want the ‘latest and greatest’ or the ‘tried and true’?

Right about now you might be wondering: what on earth does this have to do with mattresses?  Well, we were curious where mattresses fall in this paradigm.  So, we asked over 1,100 mattress shoppers this question: Would you buy a new mattress that’s an exact replica of your current one? (click the link to see the full results of the survey).  To those who answered no, we also asked a follow-up question: Why not?  This helped us identify the respondents that were dissatisfied in some way with their current mattress (either because it didn’t last long enough or it wasn’t right for them).  For purposes of this post, we are focusing on the people that were satisfied with their previous mattress.

What we found is that for people that were satisfied with their current mattress (which in most cases was purchased over 8 years ago), between 40% and 50% would want to buy an exact replica of it.  This means that nearly half of these mattress shoppers would happily forego the ‘latest and greatest’ mattress innovations in order to have something ‘tried and true.’  While this number is probably not as high as with underwear shoppers, it’s likely much larger than most product categories, including other home furnishing categories.


Why don’t more consumers value mattress innovation?

For the mattress industry, this begs an obvious question: why are there so many consumers that don’t value innovation when it comes to mattresses?  After all, mattress companies work hard on continuously improving their products — to the point where the mattress you had before probably isn’t even made anymore (unlike your favorite pair of Hanes…).

Unfortunately, this isn’t the kind of question that’s easy to ask people in a survey.  However, we can get some pretty big clues by looking at why mattresses (at least historically speaking) aren’t like some of the other product categories mentioned above:

  • Mattresses don’t tend to have actively used features (unlike TV’s, computers, and mountain bikes).  There’s an obvious reason for this: it’s a product we use primarily when we’re sleeping.
  • Mattress performance tends to be difficult to assess (unlike golf clubs, musical instruments, and power tools).  Historically, it’s been very hard for most people to gauge and appreciate how a mattress is really ‘performing’ in terms of the quality of their sleep.
  • Mattresses don’t tend to make a style statement (unlike couches, clothing, and carpeting).  The plain fact here is that mattresses are covered up most of the time.  Depending on your social habits, more people may actually see your underwear than your mattress…


What can the mattress industry do to place a higher value on innovation?

These same examples provide a road map for what the mattress industry can do to encourage consumers to place a higher value on mattress innovation in the future:

  • Give mattress products more actively used features.  The rising popularity of adjustable bases, as well as beds that have adjustable comfort or temperature settings, offers new potential for the mattress industry.  These are actively used features that people can evaluate and compare (and crave) when shopping for a mattress.
  • Encourage consumers to measure the performance of their mattress.  Numerous consumer technology companies are working on new ways to measure sleep.  By encouraging consumers to use this technology to actively discern how their new mattress is improving their sleep, the mattress industry may be able to give consumers more tangible reasons to upgrade their sleep surface.
  • Give mattresses more fashion aspects.  This path probably offers the least hope for mattresses.  Unless the industry starts coming up with unique mattress shapes that makes them recognizable when covered (or somehow does away with the convention of sheets and mattress protectors altogether), mattresses are never going to be a fashion piece.


What do you think about why consumers do or don’t value mattress innovation?  Did we miss anything?  Please share your thoughts with us.


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Michael is the founder and CEO of Revv Media, the publisher of GoodBed. Prior to starting Revv Media, Michael was a Principal of Waller Sutton Capital, a New York-based private equity firm focused on the media and marketing services industries. He is also the founder and General Partner of Westward Capital Management, a private equity investment firm based in San Francisco. Michael graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a BAS in Systems Engineering and a BSE in Finance from The Wharton School. He received his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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