How the year 2020 changed consumer preference on Mattress Buying?

A lot has morphed when it comes to the value consumers attach to a mattress. A lot is changing about what they expect from a sleep product too.

The year 2020 has pushed the needle in a new direction. Here’s what that means for players who are ready to follow suit.

No matter what survey or pattern you track, there are three clear waves that have emerged in the storm that was 2020. As people got more time to sit and look around their homes, as they started working from not a desk but a couch or a bed – the very connotation of a mattress or asleep product underwent a big flip. Customers have started underlining this part of their lives with a new-found interest and gravity. That bodes well for those industry players who want to fulfil this fresh appetite. But also means one more caveat – cater to these demand with the new qualifiers that go with it. Just selling any mattress won’t do. So let us understand this new customer from the context of three layers.

WFH-fuelled Demand

The tendency to work from home (WFH) has swelled in huge ways in the lockdown dotted year. And the big change is not going to show any major signs of reversal too. People and employers have found the cost-advantages and flexibility-gains of the WFH model. They are going to keep tapping into this possibility. That means that the new set of needs and attributes that transpired in these environments will keep affecting consumer behavior even through 2021 and beyond. Especially for products and services that are highly-personal and comfort-defined. Like mattresses.

It was not so surprising to find that many consumers were feeling extremely vulnerable in public places and around people outside their immediate households. Indeed, 64 percent of consumers responding to the 2020 Gartner Consumer Behaviors and Attitudes Survey believed they were at risk of exposure in public places, and 77 percent said that socializing the way they did pre-pandemic is no longer comfortable (as per a September 2020 survey of the Gartner Consumer Community).

The preference for home and hesitation for outdoors echoes in many places. In an insight-packed ISPF survey done across 20 Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities in India (including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Surat, Pune, Ahmedabad, Agra, Jaipur, Kanpur, Kolkata, amongst others); it was observed that 16 percent of the respondents mentioned that their life has been impacted because of COVID. Almost 65 percent are in a WFH mode for the entire week while 18 percent have a three-day-a-week WFH schedule.

Imagine what that translates into? As many as half of the respondents accepted the fact that they have started spending a lot more time on mattresses while working from home. The pattern is similar across all kinds of cities (Bangalore: 67 percent, Agra: 50 percent, Ghaziabad and Delhi: 100 percent). Now 11 percent of respondents plan to buy specific furniture that suits their WFH lifestyle and 33 percent want to buy apt bedding here instead of a study table.

If we see an Accenture Covid 19 Consumer Pulse Research report that polled 2,500 consumers in India; we will notice that 90 percent of consumers are making lasting changes to how they live, work, and shop- and there is no going back to the pre-pandemic world for consumer brands.

Consumers are now focused on their most basic needs while cutting back on nonessentials, as the report said. Staying-at-home and working from home have turned into norms rather than exceptions. The ways in which people spend their leisure time are also changing because of the outbreak and related social distancing measures. What’s even more interesting is that these habits are likely to continue and may not vanish after the world resumes continuity.

That’s why experts are recommending ways to recognize and cater to this WFH segment. As per November 2020, KPMG report on ‘Responding to consumer trends in the new reality’ companies are advised to seek to tap into the growth of the community, the demand for localization, and new ‘essentials’ such as home-ware. They need to recognize the changing role of the home as well as flexibility on its location away from urban areas, as WFH turns mainstream. As per its survey, 20 percent want to stay at home as much as possible.

This situation presents an opportunity for customers to explore a new lifestyle, as the lines between personal and work life are blurred – states the report. That is hard to argue with, especially when we see that 37 percent of consumers claim they are working from home more than before COVID-19, and a high proportion will continue to do so in the future. Also, look at those 13 percent of consumers who declared they have moved home as a consequence of this situation.

This was noticed as more prevalent among those aged between 18 to 44 years old (23 percent). Just think about the corollary impact on activities that were sidelined before – like how net confidence in walking and cycling is +9 percent vs. pre-COVID-19, while confidence in using your own car is +25 percent. Think of how consumers trust public transport far less than before (-37 percent). Truly, routines have changed, and the road back to ‘normal’ is long.

Household spending to grow in 2021

Fitch Solutions forecast household spending in India to return to growth in 2021 after the Covid-19 pandemic led to a contraction in consumer spending in 2020. It is forecasted that household spending in the country to grow by a real rate of 6.6% y-o-y over 2021, an improvement from the -12.6% y-o-y contraction in 2020. While growth will return to positive in 2021, Fitch does note the recovery will be slower than most countries, as a result of the significant contraction over 2020.

Sleeping on an anti-bacterial mattress ensures complete well-being to a person’s health as well as skin. Due to its hypoallergenic properties and odorless, the sleeper can repose peacefully and enjoy deep sleep

If eating in (cooking in the home, treats, alcohol) stood at 26 percent, +7 percent, and house and garden improvements stood at 21 percent and three percent respectively, just think of how many positive ramifications can WFH trend have on a category like mattresses.

Health and Hygiene

The virus was a wake-up call – and a really loud one- for people who had put their health priorities on the back-burners. This phase shook them up with a brutal force and reminded them that what they should be paying attention to – as a human being and as a consumer both – is health. Now the psychographic hierarchy of almost every demographic has put health on the top plank. Customers have recognized the significance of being healthy and that’s what they would expect in a major, and unforgiving, way from the products and services they consume.

In the ISPF survey, it has also emerged that 84 percent of the respondents accept that hygiene of the mattress is very important. Comfort is also etching itself as a factor of importance now. Almost 60 percent of the respondents mentioned their mattress is comfortable. 22 percent now look for some sort of health feature like an orthopedic product for something for back-support. Even on the packaging experience side, 22 percent want safe and hygienic packing delivery. Having a “health strategy” will be a strategic differentiator for the foreseeable future – as it stresses through some numbers and their interpretations. One thing is clear – Consumers are more mindful of what they’re buying. They are not only striving to limit food waste, but they are prone to shopping more cost-consciously and buying more sustainable options. The report also advises that brands will need to make this a key part of their offer (e.g. by exploring new business models). There was 60 percent of customers who exhibited the emphasis on shopping for health consciously and were intending to continue this post-outbreak.

No wonder, the mattress industry is also rife with announcements and plans from some players who are making health and hygiene a strong attribute of their products. Health-related features or designs will not be an add-on anymore. They would shape a core point to talk about and think about when it comes to a mattress.

Sleep also plays a major role in employees’ productivity even in Work-from-home culture. A healthy sleep stabilizes the brain and increases immunity. The mattress plays a significant role in the WFH environment

Lifecycle Twist

One more interesting shift that has happened in the pandemic year is the way people perceive the lifecycle and importance of many products. Many segments like cars, apparel, and groceries have seen a tremendous reshuffle in a year where people found out new reality-checks. Owning a car, even if a small one, turned out to be helpful in a crisis-packed phase. Wardrobes and wardrobes, full of branded clothes and accessories, proved useless; but essentials like household items and groceries were accorded a new value and urgency now. While a lot of these changes will evaporate as people move on to a normal life, the deep shocks and priority-checks that they got during a tough year will, possibly, settle deep into their psyche somewhere.

Like the ISPF survey also distills, around 45 percent of respondents had last purchased a mattress more than 5 years back while 26 percent have purchased in less than a year. And 13 percent of the respondents are planning to buy a new mattress in less than a year timeframe. Plus, 50 percent of the respondents plan to buy mattresses for guests/other rooms.

New User Segment for Mattress sales

This is a big opportunity for Mattress brands to tap this new user segment. ISPF estimates that a good chunk of consumers would be going for replacing their mattresses which are 5 or more years old. In normal circumstances, Mattress is a slow-moving product where a consumer would use his mattress for over eight years before he replaces it.

What happened during the pandemic was more than a blip- consumer priorities became centered on the most basic needs, and that made demand for hygiene, cleaning and staples products soar, while non-essential categories suffered a slump. So as basic necessities of life took precedence and personal health emerged as the top priority for the consumers.

Other Trends Worth Noting

Of course, WFH and health are great levers that will drive the consumer story ahead. But there are many other adjacent areas that have to be taken into reckoning too. They span across the consumer journey – from where s/he shops, how /she shops to what impact the person leaves on the environment.

In the ISPF survey what also manifested was the fresh set of needs that customers are placing an emphasis on. Like 44 percent have picked flexibility of delivery date and time as the most desired delivery element. 33 percent want options for easy returns and 22 percent want safe and hygienic packing delivery.

This would be an important metric for brands thinking about what’s on consumers’ minds and their mental readiness in many areas.

Attitudinal differences between affluent consumers and everyone else has been accelerated and exacerbated in the pandemic. Like – lower-income consumers are much more likely to say they have cut their discretionary spending – they don’t have enough money for nonessential purchases. That may not apply to affluent consumers. But these higher-income consumers are considering their purchases with more care. They are asking “Is this the best use of my money?” They are also feeling new aspects like guilt, and caution that would be constraints that their spending patterns will see

New mindset for shopping

There is the factor of isolation too so consumers are using digital to connect, learn and play. That does not mean reduced shopping- it just means a new mindset to shop. Note that ‘Revenge shopping’ may kick the way it did in China. Also, according to Reserve Bank’s July 2020 round of Consumer Confidence Survey (CCS)- confidence has been low compared to 2019, but consumers have shown positive expectations for the next few months. Is that not a good sign for businesses – especially with a revival in demand in segments like consumer durables, electronics, and appliances?

ISPF survey indicates that there is a significant increase in the online shopping of mattresses during 2020. However, it doesn’t mean that retails sales will drop. Retail stores will do their business as usual and an additional revenue stream of e-commerce will start growing in 2021.

Mattress companies in India should rapidly adopt digital – this should be done to reduce the cost to serve and also to address customer demand for e-commerce. They must also manage cyber risk, simplify their product offering and consider how to ensure brand differentiation – this becomes vital when face-to-face brand-building opportunities are reduced.

If we analyze the ISPF survey, it is clear that Mattress brands should start endeavors to meet the safety needs of customers.

In other words, a lot has changed for sellers and marketers, especially the ‘why’ and ‘what’ consumers spend on. Brands should start making access, simplicity, frictionless experience, health, and hygiene – along with environmental consciousness- the new imperatives. This is a great time for the industry players, as well, to realign their priorities and strategies.

The post-Covid consumer is familiar with some aspects but there are a lot of changes that have taken deep roots in the last few challenging months for everyone. This customer thinks differently – about sleep, about home, about one’s impact on the world, and about the importance of health. It is a good time to invest in and strengthen.

People have woken up to health, their impact on the environment, and their real priorities of life. The snooze button would not be pressed for a long time on this awakening. So step in where the customer is and follow the sunshine.