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Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Retail Misinformation

Furniture World Magazine

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If you want to have more trouble-free sales, educate your customers with facts and take care that your RSAs do not spread misinformation or disinformation.

If you pay much attention to the news, you have probably heard the term misinformation. According to the dictionary definition, “misinformation is incorrect or misleading information presented as fact. Disinformation (usually a wartime tactic; i.e. George Washington used it to mislead the British) is deliberately deceptive.”

No matter what you call it, trust in our institutions is ebbing. I’m talking about institutions like government and politics, medicine, science, sports, and even retail sales.

 

Are Retailers Guilty?

Well, yes, frequently. Have you ever noticed a lot of your customers don’t want to talk to you when they come into the store? It’s as if they believe they can get the information they need to make informed buying decisions through some sort of osmosis. Why do they try to avoid salespeople? Can you blame a long history of misinformation?

Retail misinformation includes such things as inventing new facts, exaggerating existing facts or omitting important facts about products, prices or policies. Opinions and facts are two different things. An opinion is not necessarily misinformation as long as it is expressed as an opinion, not as a fact.

So, why did I introduce this subject with such a long-winded diatribe? Because it’s my opinion way too many furniture and bedding Retail Sales Associates (RSAs) and stores continue to spread misinformation about their products and services as well as those of their competitors. Too many RSAs also give their opinions when they should be sticking to the facts and letting their customers develop their own opinions.

 

What’s The Point?

The goal of every RSA should be to make every customer sales interaction as trouble-free as possible. Troublesome interactions may result when shoppers form an opinion of a product or service based on misinformation or opinions provided by an RSA or from the store’s advertising.

Customers are as ignorant of the facts about mattresses and other home furnishings items as they were before they became “internet experts.” Although there is an ocean of available information, much of it is designed to sell products, services and ideas by advancing half-truths and opinions.

"Omitting critical information is pretty much the same thing as misinformation. This happens all the time with warranties. How many RSAs actually explain to their customers how warranties work or understand the details?”

 

How Do We Inform Correctly?

How would you like it if your child’s fourth-grade math teacher did not know how to count to 100, much less do long division? There’s a similar problem in our industry by virtue of the fact that many RSAs learn on the job. Shoppers expect RSAs to be experts and they may claim that title, but many have not put in the necessary work to justify their claim.

Are Your RSAs Really Experts?

An excellent way to determine if the RSAs in your retail operation are experts is to check out the RSA self-test found in the online archives of Furniture World at www.furninfo.com/furniture-world-articles/3813. The title is Bedding & Mattress Sales Bedding Exam, but the questions can be adapted to suit any home furnishings category.
This self-test that includes over 100 questions is a starting point to see if RSAs are on their way to amassing the knowledge they need to be effective and truthful. It can form the basis for sales education programs or to craft a detailed outline for topics to review during weekly sales meetings or self-serve tutorials that RSAs can review during downtime.

You might also start by asking how well your RSAs know the ‘Five Groups of Knowledge’ as defined by John F. Lawhon in his book “Selling Retail” (available new on Amazon for about $11). If it’s been a while since your last reading of “Selling Retail,” here’s a quick review:

1. Product Knowledge: Of all the five groups of knowledge, product knowledge is the one that is most important in shielding the consumer from disinformation. Shoppers may have read some material on the internet, but once they engage with your store, your RSAs should have the wherewithal to be the ultimate source of product knowledge. If an RSA is lacking in this area their deficiency will be recognized by most shoppers pretty quickly. RSAs who are endowed with an impressive amount are better prepared to set their customers on a path to purchase, whether they’ve been exposed to misinformation from competitors, the internet or are just starting their purchase journey.

Below are suggested ways for RSAs to increase their level of product knowledge:

  • Memorize product specs on every SKU their store carries.
  • Seek out product information from manufacturer’s reps. Nobody knows more about their products and how to sell them.
  • Review information presented on websites of the manufacturers that are carried in their stores. It may be skewed to make them look good, but it is still useful.
  • Check out the websites of manufacturers that competitive stores carry as well as the websites of those stores. What are they saying about their products? Is it accurate?
  • Visit websites that discuss the construction of mattresses and furniture. Learn about the materials, good, mediocre and bad, that can be built into your products. This is a good way to learn the difference between quality and so-so products.

Customers are usually vitally interested in getting their money’s worth or more. They are afraid of making a bad decision they will regret for years. These fears are real and can only be allayed by an expert RSA who has put in the time to amass the education and skill to help make customers comfortable with their decisions.

2. Company Policies: How fluent are your company’s RSAs with your customer-oriented policies? By these, I mean:

  • Delivery policies
  • Customer pickup policies
  • Product return and refunds 
  • Warranties
  • Comfort exchanges
  • Repairs
  • Special orders, etc.

Customers make decisions based on a variety of factors. Sometimes making a deal depends on something like how quickly a customer can get a mattress delivered. If an RSA over-promises, the result will be an angry customer and possibly a lost sale. Even if the sale may be salvaged, the resulting ill feelings can last a lifetime.

Repeat customers are the best customers. Cultivate them. There are some who say there aren’t too many repeat customers for mattresses. Allow me to disagree. In my mattress stores, repeat business was a significant percentage of our revenue. There’s no better sight than seeing a happy repeat customer—a friend of the store—walk in with a smile on his, her or their face. Customers will return and refer only if they get thorough and correct information. If you bait customers with misinformation, you won’t see many repeats, or referrals, either.

What’s the best way to create repeat customers? Always give accurate and useful information. Let your sales associates know it’s better to admit they don’t know the answer and let customers know they will find it and get back to them than provide incorrect or misleading information.

"Terms like same-as-cash, lease-to-own, buy now pay later, pay-in-4, primary and secondary financing—when used—need to be second nature to RSAs to avoid the appearance of misinformation."

3. Finance Policies: Explaining finance options provides many RSAs with an unfortunate opportunity to mislead customers. While finance options have many similarities, there are differences. Each option has unique and sometimes, difficult-to-explain features.
Finance jargon can be difficult for customers to understand. Terms like same-as-cash, lease-to-own, buy now pay later, pay-in-4, primary and secondary financing—when used—need to be second nature to RSAs to avoid providing either misinformation or the appearance of misinformation.

4. Advertising: We all know that the purpose of advertising is to bring customers into stores. Low-ball prices are a standard feature of most advertising in the home furnishings business. There’s a good reason for this. The first thing most customers look for is SALE and low-ball prices. It has always been this way, and I doubt if it will ever change. I don’t have a philosophical objection to sale pricing unless it over-glorifies a low-ball SKU. And there’s no excuse for placing an alluringly priced offer next to a photo of a higher-priced SKU.

If you advertise a low-ball price, make sure the SKU is in stock. Sure, you ran the ad primarily to sell the advertised special. Even so, there will be a few customers who insist it is perfect for them and want to take it home. If you do not have it in stock, you will be accused—with justification—of bait and switch. Nobody likes bait and switch; it’s a deceptive trade practice that violates FTC regulations.

Another old-time feature of advertising I absolutely hate is the HALF OFF SALE. Everybody in the furniture retail business knows how this scam works (and it is a scam). When customers discover, to their great annoyance, that they have been flimflammed by a store, they become an enemy-for-life and they tell everybody.

5. Inventory: The last of the five groups of knowledge is Knowledge of Inventory. RSAs who are uninformed about their store’s inventory are bound to misinform the customer about the availability of the product they want to buy. Mattress store owners usually understand the need to keep everything in stock, several deep, especially their best-selling items. “Buy it today, sleep on it tonight;” will always be one of the main tenets store owners live by. But RSAs cannot always count on stock availability. It is important not to over-promise. Nothing angers a customer more than to make a purchase decision, often a laborious process, only to find out that the RSA didn’t notice that his favorite king-size mattress is out of stock. Don’t let this problem cause you to lose a sale and a customer for life.

"Anxiety, more than ever, has become endemic for our customers. It’s a major reason why it has become more difficult than ever to work in retail.”

Misinformation by Omission

Omitting critical information is pretty much the same thing as misinformation. This happens all the time with warranties. How many RSAs actually explain to their customers how warranties work; or have even taken the time to understand the details? This is especially true for the notorious pro-rated warranties.

 

Don’t Slander Your Competition

When one of your RSAs is about to lose a sale to Canard Furniture, down the street, it’s often tempting for them to try to verbally cut the competitor to pieces. This is especially true if customers have told your RSA that the salespeople at Canard have been talking ugly about your store. So, what should they do?

If your RSAs don’t defend the integrity of your store, your products, prices, policies, or financing, shoppers may assume you are guilty as charged. Failing to correct any misinformation about your store is just another act of omission. In this situation, RSAs must correct the misinformation, always tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. More details on how to do this will be the subject of a future article.

 

Summary

Anxiety, more than ever, has become endemic for our customers. It’s a major reason why it has become more difficult than ever to work in retail. Much has been written about the importance of providing the best possible customer experience. Even so, the persistent problem of spreading misinformation, either willfully or by omission, is one of the easiest ways to ruin an otherwise flawless omnichannel experience by sacrificing trust, which is the most important ingredient in any retailer-consumer relationship.

“Let your RSAs know it’s better to admit they don’t know the answer and let customers know they will find it and get back to them than provide incorrect or misleading information.”.

David Benbow, a twenty-three year veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company. Dave’s company offers mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) Dave’s many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas uniquely qualifies him as an expert in selling bedding at the retail level.

David is the author of the recently published book, “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual”. This book is the first book to systematically present a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It is a complete training course in one 292 page book. The book can be purchased on-line at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.

He also offers hands-on training classes for retailers on a variety of subjects and issues as well as on-line classes that can be downloaded from the websites mentioned above.

David can be contacted via e-mail at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or in person at 361-648-3775.