Boxed bed revolution moves retailers, producers to think outside the box

As you read this, I’ve just returned from sunny Florida and Furniture Today’s Bedding Conference, whose theme “Who Moved My Paradigm, Navigating a Disrupted Marketplace” reflected the dramatic changes that are reshaping the bedding industry. The bedding business is being challenged by a new wave of boxed bed direct sellers that have laser-targeted consumer pain points with the traditional shopping process to capture an estimated $1 billion from traditional bedding retailers and producers.

Less than five years ago there was skepticism about whether consumers would purchase a mattress without trying it first and whether it was possible to be a meaningful player while only offering one (or perhaps two) options, as is common among boxed bed direct sellers.

Those questions have been settled.

In fact, multiple participants on both an e-tail panel and the annual producers’ panel asserted that the boxed beds would be the primary delivery form within five to seven years and that most, if not all, mattress styles could be designed and configured for boxed delivery to consumers’ homes. The proliferation of this format is already realigning traditional mattress shopping habits, not only through the explosive growth in online mattress sales, but through the boxed format’s ability to enable self-serve retail channels such as Target, Lowe’s and others to capture a previously unattainable share of the bedding business.

Producers also cited the logistical efficiency of shipping boxed beds as one of the factors behind the recent explosion in Chinese mattress imports, which grew to 4.34 million units in 2017 up from 1.64 million, a 165% increase. Domestic bedding manufacturers haven’t needed to address the impact of lower-priced Chinese imports the way their furniture industry brethren did earlier in the century, until now.

Bedding producers readily acknowledged the impact that price-erosion resulting from the growing availability of these lower-priced alternatives is having in the marketplace, and they outlined a number of steps they either are taking, or plan to take, in an effort to reinforce the position of domestically manufactured brands.

None of this is to suggest that those on hand at the conference saw these shifts as existential threats to the bedding business or to the viability of brick-and-mortar retailers and their traditional suppliers; in fact, just the opposite. Panelists shared insights on ways that boxed beds combined with an embrace of e-commerce are helping fuel growth opportunities for traditional furniture and bedding retailers.

Correspondingly, producers expressed optimism about their ability to address this next wave of bedding industry evolution and enhance their value proposition to a changing consumer base.

It seems ironic that the industry is now thinking outside the box based on shifts caused by product reformatted to fit in one.

– Bill McLoughlin

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