The long terms of endearment

A study conducted for the Better Sleep Council by Michael Cohen of ARC Consulting has indicated that long mattress guarantees of ten years or more may be affected future mattress sales. The study showed that consumers tend to identify the warranty length as the expected life of the mattress, and as a result, they resist purchasing a new mattress after their mattress has begun to show signs of wear.

While lengthy twin size futon warranties may help consumers rest easier, they may also become guarantees for sleepy sales.

Offering mattress warranties that often last for 10, 15 or 20 years is one of the industrywide practices that discourage future product sales, reported Michael Cohen of New York-based ARC Consulting, who conducted consumer research last year on behalf of the Better Sleep Council.

A number of bedding retailers and manufacturers agreed that long warranties can be a cause for slow industry growth, but noted that reducing warranties alone will not automatically spur sales.

Rather than encouraging more frequent replacement of mattresses, long warranties may encourage consumers to keep mattresses longer than they should, which in turn hinders the growth of mattress sales industrywide, according to Cohen.

In his research, Cohen identified four stages of the consumer mattress purchasing cycle and the effect each stage has on subsequent phases.

The first stage is when a new-mattress purchase is made. At this point, according to Cohen, the warranties consumers see at retail define the time table for subsequent purchases.

Consumers gauge the lifespan of the mattress by the length of its warranty and expect it to maintain its full usefulness throughout that timeframe, or even longer.

The second stage of the cycle identified by Cohen begins immediately following the purchase. Most consumers are pleased with their purchase and recognize the benefits of the new mattress.

However, they quickly become accustomed to that new mattress and take for granted their improved quality of sleep.

The mattress and the purchase "disappear from their level of consciousness," reported Cohen, adding, "most industries would envy the mattress industry's high level of product satisfaction, but the paradox is that consumers are unconscious of their satisfaction."

Stage three -- when the mattress begins to show the effects of time and wear -- consumers may begin to experience sleep problems, but they associate the problems with stress, noise or other environmental factors.

Because of the mattress lifespan expectation established by warranties in stage one, consumers typically don't consider buying a new mattress at this point.

Stage four begins when the mattress has deteriorated to the point where it cannot be ignored. The need for a new mattress is obvious. "The challenge for the industry is to engender active appreciation of the product at each stage in the purchasing cycle," said Cohen, adding that more frequent communications with consumers, including advertising, might cue purchase consideration sooner rather than later.

Cohen also noted that often "the shopping experience is unpleasant" for consumers. He suggested that in addition to ongoing communication with consumers about the health and sleep benefits of their mattress, retailers and manufacturers need to make the shopping experience more "user-friendly."

The long terms of endearment

Manufacturers and retailers who responded to HFN's questions about Cohen's research agreed that lengthy warranties contribute to longer replacement cycles.

On the whole, they felt that his findings about warranties and the mattress purchase cycle, as well as his comments regarding consumer advertising and the shopping experience, reflect their own experience or opinions.

"I feel that Cohen's research and comments are an accurate description of the consumer cycle and our shortcomings as an industry," said Larry Miller, president of Sit 'N Sleep, a Culver City, Cal.-based bedding retail store.

According to Ed Scott, president of Restonic: "As an industry we fail to establish a relationship with the consumer, thereby abandoning that consumer to the influences of the market -- both good and bad. In the absence of objective criteria or understandable information, consumers are inordinately influenced by warranties,"

Reducing mattress warranties may seem the obvious response to the research, but most manufacturers and retailers agreed with Cohen that a combination of shorter warranties and consumer education are the keys to increasing overall bedding sales.

"It is the manufacturing segment that must act to reduce warranties and encourage a shorter purchase cycle," commented Restonic's Scott. "However, warranties must be accompanied by more credible, understandable communications to consumers."

Ron Passaglia, executive vice president for Simmons Co., noted: "Manufacturers should take the lead in reducing warranties to one year for a good mattress, three years for a better mattress, and five years for the best products."

Jim Nation, president of Spring Air, said, "Because a mattress is a blind purchase -- the consumer isn't really sure what it's made of -- warranties give the consumer a sense of protection."

Nation suggested that a reduction of most warranties to five years along with "a consumer early-warning system sponsored by the industry" would help shorten the mattress purchasing cycle.

Increasing national advertising was repeatedly cited by retailers and manufacturers as a way to raise awareness among consumers about the value of mattresses.

"The manufacturers should devote more of their national advertising budget to educating consumers about the relationship of their mattress to sleep quality," said Terry Corley, Levitz's bedding buyer.

Ron Jones, president of Sealy, commented: "We need to keep an active and aggressive advertising campaign going consistently on bedding, but we can't make the entire message a price issue."

"I think current Better Sleep Council programs represent the industry's best efforts, consistent with each company maintaining autonomous marketing plans," remarked Don Robb, president of Eastman House.

"You could add a dollar or two to each set or piece of bedding sold and give the Better Sleep Council a budget to effectively advertise with," noted Steve Skonning, vice president of Bed Mart.

Sales Person Seen Keying Attitudes

In the debate over the value of lengthy mattress warranties, it may be the retail sales person who holds the key.

According to some manufacturers and retailers, it is the sales person who determines how important a warranty is to the consumer.

According to Terry Corley, bedding buyer at Levitz: "The warranty is important because it helps establish in the mind of the consumer the level of quality of the product. But, while warranties influence the purchase decision, but it is not the only factor in the decision making process, if the sales associate performs his or her job properly."

Steve Skonning, vice president of Bed Mart, commented, "Most of the time a warranty is only as important as a sales person has made it -- whether that sales person is an employee of yours or not."

Don Robb, president of Eastman House, said, "The importance of warranties to consumers is relative to the emphasis placed on them by the retail sales people."

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Evelyn Coursey
 

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