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Will Target/Casper Partnership Awaken Retail To Consumer Needs?

Soft, firm or foam — as long as it comes in a box, the mail-order mattress is becoming the pea that could determine a retail segment’s sensitivity. Princesses be warned.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Target’s agreement to begin selling Casper mattresses is the dominant piece of evidence. The Minneapolis-based chain will begin selling the online-only mattress maker’s pop-out-of-a-box goods on its own website in June, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Target is not the first major retailer getting into bed with the online mattress industry (Casper also sells mattresses on Amazon as well as at WestElm.com and in some West Elm stores), but the move is still likely to garner lots of peer notice. The simple reason is sales — online mattresses can demand higher coin because of the convenience they offer (and, let’s face it, the novelty). Overall mattress prices are climbing, possibly because of the growth of this industry.

However, the shift toward folded, boxed and mailed mattresses also implies a deeper consumer requirement. Namely: that the key to creating new revenue streams is to simply take the pain out of practical purchases.

Mattresses Online, Pillows In-Store

Dollar Shave Club made this realization a reality when it offered to mail razors to anyone willing to pay as little as $3 a month for a subscription.

Thanks to companies such as Casper, Tuft & Needle, Leesa and others, that logic — to slip efficiency into a necessary evil and make it attractive — is now being applied to the place where we spend a third of our lives. Even Sealy, a seller of mattresses for more than 100 years, has jumped in with its Cocoon direct-to-consumer mattress line.

Target’s deal with Casper follows its partnerships with Harry’s and Bevel, two direct-to-consumer razor retailers. Under the mattress agreement, Target will begin selling the Casper line in mid-June, and Casper will become the only mattress brand available online through Target.com (Target has for some time sold mattresses online, including those by Ashley, Simmons and Serta).

In addition, Target will sell Casper accessories in about 1,200 of its 1,800 stores, including pillows, sheets, a mattress topper and a lounger (the latter two will be exclusive to Target), according to the Star Tribune. Further, mattresses will be displayed at 35 Target stores, most likely to appeal to the needs of shoppers who like to test a mattress before purchase.

But even without the option to try them out, consumer demand for home-delivered mattresses is steadily rising, proving people are willing to pay to avoid the headache of installing their own. Anyone who’s tried to maneuver one up a flight of stairs knows standard mattresses just don’t comply with sharp angles and low ceilings. And all that follows the perplexity of navigating the sea of indistinguishable foam that describes many mattress stores today.

Sexy Business 

In fact, some consumers are apparently willing to pay more for the mattress if it comes compressed and folded into a box roughly the size of a mini fridge.

A price comparison on the website Sleep Like The Dead shows a Casper queen at $950, while a Sealy Posturepedic is priced at $500 to $670. A Leesa queen sells for $890, and a Serta Perfect Sleeper runs $350 to $1,230.

Some industry experts may contend that online-order mattresses are contributing to the rise in overall mattress prices, even if unit sales have been on a slight decline. The average selling price per mattress rose 4% in 2016 over 2015, and 4.5% in the first quarter of 2017, according to the International Sleep Products Association. And the industry’s presence is expanding.

While the online mattress market represented just 6% of the entire segment in 2014, it is believed to have now reached 10%, according to a story in USA Today. One source estimates the industry, which is essentially a startup, is at $1.5 billion.

“This is considered a really sexy, cutting-edge business,” David Perry, executive editor of Furniture Today, told USA Today.

Pea Soup

But few categories stay sexy for long.

The challenge will be maintaining appeal in a market that is crowding. If online mattress retailers are the salve for a sore shopping experience, the fly in the ointment is whether the model is sustainable and, if so, what that means for traditional mattress sellers.

Online mattress merchants have the flexibility to be more competitive because they cut out the middleman — the retailer. Target’s involvement turns the dynamic inside out, as it takes advantage of the online merchant’s flexibility to pad its own sales.

Retailers have been struggling to recapture consumer dollars that are increasingly directed toward experiences. Magical mattresses that pop out of a box could seduce those wandering dollars, and Target gets a cut. A shopper who buys a mattress is likely to linger online and buy ancillary items, such as bedside lamps, tables and linens.

What it shakes out to is a shopping experience that is pleasant rather than painful. To refer back to the fairytale, the shopper doesn’t feel peas, just peace.

But other mattress sellers, including department stores, may have an unwelcome awakening if they do not find a way to similarly take the nuisance out of the purchase experience.

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience.

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