What You Can Learn from the Millennial Mattress

millennial-innovationWhen I was growing up, Casper was a friendly ghost. Today, Casper is a mattress that comes in a box.

In less than two years (Casper launched in April, 2014), the company has successfully transformed the traditional mattress industry by addressing unmet customer needs.

It would surprise me if anyone in a focus group, (a Millennial or a member of any other generation), would have said, “I’d like my mattress to come in a box,” but I could be wrong. After all, Millennials grew up when Aerobed was making the air mattress cool again, defying memories of old-fashioned air pumps and midnight encounters with a rock-hard floor.

It’s not a giant leap from an airbed that practically inflates itself to a mattress that springs into form when it’s unleashed from a cardboard box.

Industry Innovation: Less as a Business Model

While Casper’s initial sales of $1 million in its first 28 days was impressive, what’s even more telling is that the company is still here, two years later, proving it’s not a novelty. Casper also demonstrated that even the most unromantic industries can be disrupted with a little creativity.

With its streamlined product line and one-price (per size) approach, Casper has turned traditional mattress manufacturers like Sealy from leaders into followers. Sealy recently announced its competitive response: Cocoon by Sealy. The manufacturer’s new bed-in-a-box emulates Casper’s fixed price, online only business model.

What the founders of Casper realized is that people don’t always need more. Too many choices can be overwhelming, sending buyers elsewhere or causing confusion that turns “do nothing” into a viable option for buyers who might otherwise upgrade.

Convenience is Customer Experience

The traditional mattress shopping experience demands that people spend time in a store, testing various mattresses as they wade through a complex array of choices about firmness, construction, quality and materials. In the end, I’m sure many buyers give up and go for the mattress that looks nice, choosing by visual appeal even though sheets will soon cover the bed.

Others hasty to make a decision pick the wrong bed and end up regretting it for years. It’s simply too difficult to go through the process again. Stuck in their tried and true business model, mattress manufacturers work hard to overcome buying inertia with slogan’s like “If it’s over 8, it’s time to replace.” (MattressFirm)

Why not make mattress shopping easy? Taking a cue from Millennial favorites Amazon and Zappos, Casper took a dramatically different approach. Knowing its buyers value place a high value on time, embracing online shopping convenience as a conduit to a lifestyle, Casper rose to the challenge.

Convenient shopping, easy ordering, effortless returns. No delivery hassles. The magic of unboxing. Casper took all the things buyers hated about mattress shopping and transformed them into competitive advantages.

Basic Brilliance

In hindsight, Casper’s strategy doesn’t seem to require a flash of brilliance. Anyone could do it.

They didn’t.

It takes courage to break the mold of “it’s always been done that way,” especially within an established firm. It’s much easier to think counter to convention when you’re outside looking in.

Objective observers can see where buyers have trouble with the prescribed customer journey. They can identify friction points that are invisible from the inside, and opportunities that are so logical, so transparent, that the incumbents stare right through them.

Can This Work in Your Business?

I find the biggest obstacle to innovation is not lack of creativity but the presence of boundaries, real or self-imposed. Being hampered by convention can inhibit even the most inspired mind.

That’s where customers come in. Stepping back to consider what they need, even when they don’t know or can’t tell you, can help remove those constraints. Approach a problem as if you’ve never seen it before. What would you do?

One thing I admire about many Millennials (my daughters included) is that they refuse to be bound by the past. They learn what they can then reinvent, placing practicality above tradition. Pragmatic solutions are all around us, we just need the courage, like Casper, to let them out of the box.

Photo by hoodsie.

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