The mattress market has undergone a seismic shift in the past few years. High streets and retail parks are still full of department stores and specialist bedding shops where consumers can go and try out mattresses.
But pressure is growing on this traditional distribution model.
The growing trend for bed-in-a-box products is disrupting the market significantly. Sold online and delivered compressed and ready to burst out of their vacuum packaging once they reach their new home, bed-in-a-box mattresses are taking an increasingly substantial slice of the market.
The U.S. is leading the change. Tuft & Needle launched its first product there in 2012, and a year later Casper made its debut. Multiple others rushed in behind them.
"Casper hit the market at the right time, with the right business model and the right marketing," said Brent Limer, vice president of U.S. sales at Latexco. "The marketing spend has got so high, we are now seeing a consolidation of players who tried but are getting out because they can't keep up."
Points of differentiation are important for success.
"Purple, with its quirky marketing, has come in and been able to make a splash because their product is different, with their own polymer in the top layer to differentiate it," Limer said. "If you are going to make a Casper or Tuft & Needle knock-off you will never be able to compete on marketing. If you have something different, you can compete. Another one that is succeeding is Helix. This company offers a customized mattress, depending on answers to questions on the website. An algorithm pushes the customer towards one of its models.'
Differentiation is key
Eve is one of the big players in the United Kingdom market.
"We don't think so much about the bed-in-a-box concept, we just design a good mattress. We can optimize the logistics and costs, ship it free and make it quicker and easier. That is the route we'd like to take," said Felix Lobkowicz, Eve's chief operating officer. "But if it becomes too expensive to ship (using our normal channels) we would have to ship in a different way."
Lobkowicz added that the dissatisfaction that mattress buyers felt when choosing a new mattress traditionally opened the door to bed-in-a-box firms.
This made it possible for younger companies with strong marketing propositions around simple choices, one-product price transparency, and optimized service experience to enter the market.
"Foam had a more modern connotation than springs, and the market was ready to be disrupted," Lobkowicz said.
Purple launched its mattresses in the U.S. in January 2016, following a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.
"So many groups jumped into the space, I think there could be some kind of race to the bottom in terms of pricing when there isn't much differentiation," said Russ Whatcott, Purple's director of innovation.
"Anybody who's got some differentiation and a better system is going to have a better chance of making it through, but where there's very little differentiation, the market is too crowded to continue this way for very long. And our marketing team had done a great job of grabbing attention."