MIDLAND, Mich.—COVID-19 has impacted so many aspects of everyday life that it's no surprise the pandemic also has affected an important part of every night.
Shopping for mattresses, traditionally, is a unique experience. From laying down in front of strangers for a test drive to figuring out how to get the purchase home, consumers make such buys few and far between.
People also do not think much about mattresses unless they are in the market. But when they are in the market, they think a lot about them.
As consumers think and make these purchasing decisions, foam mattresses have risen to constitute a significant minority of the market share.
Along with all-foam offerings, the material also is being used to varying degrees with innerspring designs to incorporate elements of both.
Regardless of what mattress is ultimately selected, a certain segment of the population has become comfortable with buying their mattresses online without ever touching them. Most of those products, often called bed-in-a-box, are all foam design. But there are some innerspring mattress makers who ship that way.
"There's a lot of things at play right now," said Ryan Trainer, president of the International Sleep Products Association. "I think, honestly, online bedding is here to stay. Box bedding is here to stay. But I think it's going to level out."
Trainer recently spoke during a Dow Chemical Co. online presentation for the company's ComfortScience brand that offers polyurethane foam to manufacturers of a variety of products, including mattresses and pillows. He also talked with Rubber & Plastics News by phone.
"I think that there's a significant amount of the market that is interested in buying a bed without ever touching it before it arrives. But I think there is a larger segment that is not comfortable with that," Trainer said.
"The whole COVID pandemic has really changed some of those assumptions because it has forced people who would never buy a bed online to break that barrier and start doing that. Is it going to be a temporary thing or not? We don't know," Trainer said.
Another big dynamic impacting the market is traditional brick-and-mortar retailers venturing online. Online sellers also are finding their way into neighborhood retail.
"They are becoming omni-channel. All of those distinctions are blurring," he said.
While COVID-19 has altered the way many people approach life, the association president cautioned about predicting what the future will hold as the economy reopens.
"It's always dangerous to forecast what the public will do after a major event like the coronavirus crisis. But certainly, the apprehension a lot of consumers have had about shopping online has dissipated with the crisis. Whether that will result in permanent changes or not is still to be determined. … We know that the consumer is buying a lot more bedding products online and it's working pretty well," Trainer said.
"Most retailers are trying to figure out how do they have a physical front door and a virtual front door. They are selling through all channels. I think that's been a good change in the industry to encourage retailers to be looking at all ways that they can help the consumer find the product that's best for them," he said.
As North America commercial vice president for Dow Polyurethanes, Alan Robinson said the challenges brought about by COVID-19 have had a positive impact on product development time to meet the needs of the market.
"As we look at the last few months of dealing with COVID, we've seen a couple things change with product innovation and the way we work," Robinson said. "If we focus on some things here at Dow internally that have been impacted by (the pandemic), we look at innovation such as face masks and face shields, gowns for medical purposes, hand sanitizers and even helping folks get set up with doing respirators and doing it rather quickly where we've seen innovation cycles shrink from one year or two years down to a matter of a month or two to get things up and running fast," he said.
"We've seen partners in the value chain really came to the table with a full transparency on performance and be able to accelerate that innovation pipeline. What we're hoping to do post-COVID is keep that muscle memory, be able to innovate rapidly with our value chain partners, keep that close partnership so we can move along faster in innovation," Robinson said.
The virus, ISPA's Trainer said, also is having a clear impact on consumer buying decisions. "We're seeing a lot of activity at retail right now, both online and in stores, because of some of the restrictions of getting into historical brick-and-mortar stores," he said. "We're finding that the close rates are really high compared to what they were pre-COVID. Consumers are here to buy, not to shop. Will that be a permanent change in consumer shopping behavior? We don't know. But certainly, there's a lot of interest in buying bedding products and the numbers are way up," he said.
"Part of that is due to pent-up demand when the brick-and-mortar retail was closed during March and April. Part of it is also a shift in demand. Many consumers have more disposable income. They are not going on vacation. They are not going out to eat as much," Trainer said.
"And they are also spending a lot more time at home and trying to figure out how do I make my home more comfortable for me. And fortunately, bedding items are one of those items that many consumers are shopping for right now," Trainer said.
Trainer indicated during the presentation that mattress replacement rates are increasing as a new generation of buyers comes into the market.
"We found that younger consumers are prone to replace their mattresses more frequently than older consumers," he said.
He told the audience ISPA is not sure if this trend is due to older consumers being more frugal or whether this is because younger buyers have a preference to purchase the "latest and greatest" products.