How Sleeping Changed Shopping: Furniture’s Worst Nightmare

The furniture industry is bracing itself for an increase in sales during the coming years, based on the projections of housing market experts and positive real estate growth. While trends in furniture have undergone regular changes as styles and decorating tastes have evolved, shopping for furniture has changed little, until recently. The advent of online shopping and easy delivery has given consumers flexibility and empowerment during the furniture shopping process. The challenges facing furniture makers and sellers, however, have been exacerbated by a trend that has been driven, in large part, by mattress companies. Today’s savvy consumers have increased demands and higher expectations than at any point in history. Understanding how mattress companies have revolutionized the future of furniture requires a look at the development of mattresses, and an explanation of where the industry is heading in the future.

Mattress Development

mattressBetween 1960 and 1990, mattress companies revolutionized the way people sleep.     Latex was replaced by polyurethane foam, inner box springs became a staple component of manufacturing, and newly adopted regulations required companies to explore and change how mattresses were made. Government agencies were formed, adding regulations and requirements designed to protect consumers and users, while mattress companies struggled to keep costs down.

And a new type of mattress emerged: the waterbed. It offered users the feeling of being cushioned while they slept. Considered the ‘ultimate luxury’ in sleeping, consumers appreciated the new style of bed, one of the first innovations seen in the bedding industry. Concurrent to the development of the waterbed, mattress designers offered sleep-seekers air-filled mattresses, new spring formations, and for the first time, adjustable bases, which allowed users to adjust mattress positions to suit their preference.

Catering to consumer demands, developers created a no-flip mattress, eliminating the tedious twice-yearly chore. Changing materials and designs offered new choices to picky buyers, and mattress companies reaped the benefits.

The Scope of Sleep

As mattress sales continue to grow through the 1970s, the world was experiencing a time of economic turmoil. Material shortages, a burgeoning oil crisis, a looming recession, and falling job markets created an environment that gave little hope for long-term growth. Despite the economic hardships, however, the bedding industry saw enormous growth. In fact, by the mid-1970s, the bedding industry had grown to a stunning $1 billion in sales, with little signs of slowing down. It seemed that nothing could slow the growing industry down. Nothing, that is, except the Internet.

The New Sleep Industry

Consumers are obsessed with sleep. New technologies offer sleep monitoring, temperature control, snoring reduction tools, variable mattress positioning, and more, all built right into the mattress. Smartphones allow consumers to track sleep patterns and habits, giving them insight into their best sleep yet. Despite these innovative products, the newest form of mattress innovation may be the most revolutionary. In many ways, these revolutionary changes may hold lasting implications for the furniture industry.

Changing the Game

casper logoIn April 2014, a small company, called Casper, launched in New York City. This quiet and unassuming launch turned the $14 billion mattress industry on its head—and shows little sign of stopping. Within a month of opening their doors, Casper had $1 million in sales. Two years later, they’ve ratcheted up their sales to a stunning $100 million. Their premise was simple: offer consumers the best sleep of their life, and deliver it to their door in an easy, manageable way.

To accomplish this, they began searching for a mattress that met most people’s requirements. High on the list? Supportive foam. Memory foam, however, can hold heat, so the addition of a layer of latex foam adds a cooling top with the right amount of bounce. Next, they focused on making the buying process easy. They came up with compressing the mattress; this would accommodate consumers living in upstairs apartments, and it would keep shipping costs low, via UPS. In addition, shipping it directly to consumers allows them to try the mattress in their home, and a generous return policy gives customers 100 days to try, with free returns.

Along with their revolutionary new product, Casper instituted a customer service department that went above and beyond expectations. They keep track of customers’ anniversaries and the names of their pets and children, then send cards, gifts, and more on special days.

The Result

In recent weeks, Tempur Sealy’s stocks plummeted a staggering 20 percent after announcing that they expected a 1 to 2 percent decline in sales from 2015. Select Comfort Corporation experienced a stock decline as well, an indication of the greater public’s perception of the future of the bedding industry. Mattress companies are scrambling to compete with the new players in the sleep game, all vying for their piece of the billion-dollar industry.

A New Reality

Casper mattress buyers are an indication of the future for shopping: they want variety, convenience, and a hassle-free experience. For home furnishing companies, big-box retail stores and department stores are no longer the primary means of reaching consumers. Furniture makers must accommodate the shopper who wants a simple buying process, ready-to-use product, and inexpensive shipping. Instead of competing for consumers, retailers and manufacturers are competing for product evangelists. Time will tell how the furniture industry responds.