Mattress-buying – a multi-hundred-million-dollar industry and a hotbed for dirty deals, snake oil, law suits and intrigue

Who can you trust these days? In an era of ‘fake news’ and everyone’s opinions masquerading as facts, it’s a relevant question.

I just read a great Fast Company article on the dodgy world of mattress-recommendation sites and it made me think that trust should be a key differentiator for all kinds of enterprises, whether they’re in the recommendation business or supplying products and services that someone else is recommending. The problem is all too often it is not

You snooze, you (don’t) lose

‘The War to Sell You a Mattress’ is a long-ish piece so if you’re time-poor, or would rather spend the time having a nap, here’s the gist:

  • There’s quite a few websites that provide reviews of mattresses. If you’re looking, then the article mentions Sleepopolis, Mattress NerdSleep Sherpa, Mattress Clarity and Slumber Sage – particularly concentrating on those available from online-only suppliers.
  • Apparently they are a good source of free mattresses, since the reviewers get sent them by suppliers and the reviewers in turn pass them on to others (which is how the author got wind of the story)
  • The article reveals some dirty dealings or should I say cosy relationships with suppliers (in case we end up on the long list of companies getting sued). For the record these include Casper, Leesa, Tuft & Needle and GhostBed – where payments were alleged to have been made for favourable reviews
  • None of this seemed to be a problem for the owners of Sleepopolis – the main focus of the article – who sold their site to another company for an undisclosed sum.

So what? Leaving aside my faint astonishment that the world of mattress-reviewing was big enough or interesting enough to warrant so many competitors, this tale holds a lesson that applies to many industries – for both customers and those companies they forge a relationship with.

From a customer’s viewpoint the key question is

  • What do I trust this company to do for me?

The second key question is

  • How is that trust demonstrated?

In the mattress recommendation world and almost any other world where customers buy products which they only need to replace occasionally, the customers have an important need but also a significant weakness that all too often gets exploited.

Visitors to any review sites would reasonably expect the reviewers to provide an independent, objective, unbiased and informed view of the products they are reviewing. People mostly understand that like other forms of review (arts, restaurants etc), the preferences of the reviewer will influence their opinion. That’s OK as long as the reviewer has been diligent, informed etc and given a fair view.

My problem is this does not seem to have been the case.

Trust me, I’m a banker

For any provider of goods and services, establishing trust takes place even before anyone considers becoming a customer or even trying to understand real value.

Look at how you behave when you want to buy a new product but don’t have a lot of information about the alternatives. Scouring the web for opinions on companies you might want to buy from is now the precursor to even exploring capability, let alone buying their products. Most people trust what a customer has to say over what any marketing department will claim. That is not to say great entrepreneurial marketing is not important – it’s hugely important and highly beneficial when done well. It’s just very hard when we operate in a world when everybody claims they can build Rome in a day!

I had a good and instructive experience recently whilst looking for a new business bank account. Whilst looking at the options available, I came across an article that covered the main options in the country I wanted to set up the account in. The article was on TransferWise’s site. The article mentioned their Borderless account, but also covered the main operators, apparently in an entirely objective way. In my eyes this established their brand as open and honest – a similar approach is taken to their charges. I had quickly achieved something which others had not even though on paper they claimed more.

It was trust. 

I am now more likely to open an account with them rather than their competitors. In this case, ‘recommending’ a competitor’s products paid off, since I trust TransferWise to manage my money in a transparent and honest way. They gained my trust by acknowledging that other products were available and acknowledged that those may suit some customers better.

Are you brave enough to be honest to your customers about your company’s or your products foibles? Try it – you might end up doing much better.

Trust is that intangible commodity that is difficult to gain, easy to lose and all too often overlooked when companies strike up a relationship with their customers.

Watch this space

Now for a thoroughly biased recommendation… the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect in May 2018. My sense is that not enough companies are prepared and therefore the likelihood of non-compliance is high. Non-compliance means that customers asking the trust questions above might end up getting answers they don’t like and their relationship with that company will suffer.

I’d recommend talking to NextTen about this, but in an article dealing with bias in recommendation sites that would hardly be appropriate.

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