Salesman with a mustache pointing at you standing in front of a bunch of sale signs that say things like huge sale, 1 day sale, & today only

Death of the Salesman

June 07, 2017

Author: Josie Sivigny

Think back to the last time you went shopping for something important. Maybe you were shopping for a car, a sofa or a phone. Now think about where you bought it. Who was there to help you?

When you go shopping for a product, especially an important one, being informed is key. Depending on what you are shopping for, and who is helping you, the flow of information can vary drastically.

A great experience is one in which the consumer knows everything about what they are shopping for.

Have you ever been shopping and began comparing two models? While looking at the more expensive model you hear the sales associate say, “You don’t need that one. This model over here is perfect for your needs.” That’s a very reassuring moment. The sales associate clearly has your best interests in mind.

But what happens when the sales associate has their best interests in mind?

I submit to you the mattress store.

Shopping in a mattress store may be the most flawed shopping experience ever created. Let’s think about the supposed benefits of such stores: you get to try various options and have an expert guide you through your experience.

The average American uses a mattress for eight hours a day. But at a typical mattress store, you try each option for only a few minutes.

How does lying on a mattress for five minutes help predict your satisfaction with a product you use for over 1.8 million minutes?

You are also guided by an “expert” who is supposed to help you make a better decision by sharing information with you. However, most people leave having experienced quite the opposite.

These sales associates don’t care about you buying the right product that will fit your needs. They care about earning their hefty commission.

Mattress store employees earn the majority of their pay only when they complete a sale. This helps to keep the operating costs of their stores low. Have you ever wondered how there can be a mattress store every mile, often the same brand… but somehow they all remain in business?

Even if your salesperson doesn’t work on commission, the mattress industry is built on lies. Not only is there no incentive for your salesperson to share information, there is actually a strong incentive for them not to.

If you knew how little it costs to make each mattress, or how little impact each special feature had on your comfort, you’d walk right out of that store.

So it’s clear that the traditional retail model of sales is broken. These stores are designed solely with profit in mind, not the customer.

What then might the future of retail look like?

It won’t be what a store sells; it will be how they don’t sell it.

When you walk into the store of the future there will be only one mandate for the employees who work there: to provide an experience so great, that everyone who visits will recommend that store to their friends.

The store of the future might actually encourage guests in their store not to buy.

Wait, what?

While a typical store will incentivize you with limited time sales and discounts (which are almost always available), the store of the future will incentivize their guests with information.

Using the mattress industry as an example, the store of the future will be designed in dramatically different ways.

Instead of having an oversized sea of beds, this store will be a space that is warm and flooded with natural light. It will be compact (cost efficient) and allow you to experience a carefully curated set of products.

Instead of commissioned sales associates, the store will be staffed with a highly trained customer experience team that cares more about the 10 years after you buy your mattress than the 30 minutes before you do.

The mattress store of the future won’t sell you a paradox of choice. It will focus on creating best-in-class products instead of a hundred mediocre ones.

In fact, our company, Tuft & Needle, only sells one product. We email our customers a reminder before the end of their 100 night return window.

If they’re unhappy with the bed for any reason, we issue them a full refund. Despite all of this, we have a return rate that is under 5%.

This begs the question of why a typical mattress store has 100 options. Do you really need 99 more beds to satisfy the remaining 5% of customers?

The store of the future won’t train team members to be pushy or put you on the spot to make a decision. This team won’t work on a commission. They will be just as happy if you leave their store having not yet made up your mind, than if you buy one of their products on the spot.

At Tuft & Needle, we are building this store. A store that is designed with our customer’s experience in mind.

Training at a typical mattress store involves covering some or all of the following topics:

• Cross-selling • Up-selling • Closing the deal • Cold calling • Bait-and-switch (surely they don’t call it this in training) • ‘The floor model’

Mattress stores require their sales people to focus on the ‘attachment’ rate. Employees are trained to sell as many high-margin accessories as they can.

After you’ve decided on your mattress, your salesperson will ask you if you are comfortable. After you reply in the affirmative, they’ll ask you: “What if I told you I could make you even more comfortable?” From there they will sell you anything ranging from an adjustable bed frame to a box spring.

Did you know a box-spring is completely unnecessary and has no impact on the comfort of your mattress? They cost about $7 to make but retail for over $100.

At Tuft & Needle, our training is a little different.

We actually take our employees to a traditional mattress store during their first week of work. We ask them to pose as a customer. After about 20 minutes (usually the most any of us can stand), we head back to our office. We ask our team to make a list of all the things they hated about that experience.

The lists are often similar—similar to each other and similar to those of our co-founders who made the first ever hate list almost four years ago.

The opening of our first store in San Francisco has special meaning to us. It’s a homecoming of sorts for our co-founders who first worked together in Palo Alto.

When we decided to build our first store, we approached it like we do all of our products. We started with the pains we’ve experienced personally. We listened to our customers. Even though we’re proud of what we built, we will never be done iterating. This is just the first step in what we believe will be the future of retail.

There’s a bit of irony at our store as well. The only thing you can walk in and buy is not designed to help you sleep: it’s a cup of coffee. It serves as a reminder of our primary goal: to help everyone wake up better.

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