Lower Bedding Prices Lure Shoppers

Don Hogsett, May 7, 2007

Confirming an accelerating shift in consumer buying patterns as cash-strapped shoppers follow the lowest prices they can find — sometimes in the most unexpected places — sales of sheets and pillowcases made a surprising about-face last year, falling off at the nation's big discounters while rising at ostensibly higher-priced department and specialty stores.

Overall sales of sheets and pillowcases at the retail level slipped by 1.2% to about $2.32 billion from $2.35 billion in 2005, a drop of roughly $27.3 million. Suggesting a fundamental shift in consumer attitude toward bedding products, or where they buy them, that drop coincides with an even bigger slide of 7.0% in top of the bed products, including comforters, bed in a bag and quilts, to $3.1 billion from $3.4 billion the preceding year.

Virtually all of this drop-off, not surprisingly, stems from unrelenting price compression as retailers aggressively chopped prices to lure consumers through their doors.

But the big surprise last year was a seismic shift in business as consumers migrated in large numbers away from mass merchants and toward department stores, specialty chains, and mid-price chains when they needed to buy new sheets.

Everyday low prices can't get much lower at discounters or dollar stores, and consumers may be getting wise to that. Department stores and the big specialty chains, on the other hand, have been aggressive in slashing prices, frequently as much as 40% to 50%, or showering consumers with 20% off coupons, using ever lower prices to steal consumers away from discounters — effectively turning a decades-old business model upside down. If the biggest discounts are to be had at department stores, will the real discounters please stand up?

Illustrating that big shift in buying patterns in sheets and pillowcases, sales at the nation's big mass merchants fell about 4.9% last year, to about $1.07 billion from $1.12 billion in 2005. Sales at variety/closeout chains, like Family Dollar and Dollar General, fell even faster, by about 12.7%, to $69 million from $79 million.

But that business didn't disappear altogether, it mostly migrated elsewhere — mainly to upstairs channels. Picking up some of the slack, sales of sheets and cases grew by 2.7% at department stores, to about $116 million from $113 million in 2005. And home textiles specialty chains — for all practical purposes just three retailers, Bed Bath & Beyond, Linens 'n Things, and Anna's — grew their business by 2.2% to about $472 million. Mid-priced chains like Kohl's did even better, boosting their sales by 4.5%, to about $394 million from $377 million.

Another big winner, based exclusively on price, was warehouse clubs, where sales jumped up by 8.0%, to $23 million from $21.3 million.

Distribution Channels ($millions)
2006 sheets / pillowcases retail sales: $2.324 billiondown 1.2% from $2.351 billion in 2005

2006 2005 % change
R = Revised* Other includes interior designers, military exchanges and other channels
Discount department stores $1,065.0 $1,120.0 -4.9
Home textiles specialty chains 472.0 462.0 2.2
Mid-price chains 394.0 377.0 4.5
Department stores 116.0 113.0 2.7
Off-price chains 93.0 90.0 3.3
Variety/closeout 69.0 79.0 -12.7
Other* 46.0 45.0 2.2
Single-unit specialty stores 23.0 22.5 2.2
Direct-to-consumer 23.0 21.5 7.0
Warehouse clubs 23.0 21.3 8.0

Bedding Recap ($millions)
2006 Retail sales of all bedding products: $7.73 billiondown 2.7% from $7.95 billion in 2005

2006 2005 % change
1. Data originally published in March 12 issue's Top of Bed report.
2. Data originally published in March 26 issue's Utility Bedding & Blankets report.
R: Revised
Source: HTT Research
Sheets and pillowcases $2,324 $2,351 -1.2%
Top of bed1
Comforter sets/bedding sets $1,825 $1,985 -8.1%
Comforters 575 630 -8.7
Bedspreads/coverlets 180 175 2.9
Duvet covers 80 85 -5.9
Quilts 478 500 -4.4
Total Top of Bed $3,138 $3,375 -7.0
Utility bedding2
Blankets $535 $565 -5.3%
Mattress pads 442 435 1.6
Sleep pillows 806 750 7.5
Throws 485 470.R 3.1
Total Utility Bedding $2,268 2,220 2.1
Total bedding 2006 $7,730 $7,946 -2.7%

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See the May 2017 issue of Home & Textiles Today. In this issue, we discuss our annual Market Basket survey, which finds higher prices and more polyester at leading retailers. See details!