follow us

Brand Names Core of Differentiation in White Goods

Jill Rowen -- Home Textiles Today, December 10, 2011

A look at the white goods department at six major retailers showed clearly that brands were at the core of the assortments.
     Whether private label, or store exclusives with a dash of national brands thrown in, top retailers seem to be banking on customers recognizing and trusting the brand names on the shelves. The products themselves - pillows, mattress pads and toppers, and white goods comforters - were very similar across the board, so price and name were being touted as differentiating factors.
     HTT visited white goods departments at six of the top retailers in the category, shopping stores in the Long Island communities of Massapequa, West Babylon and Bayshore, N.Y. What follows is a snapshot of what consumers are seeing when they walk in the stores of Bed, Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Kohl's, Macy's, Target and Walmart.

Customer Service, Anyone?

     HTT wanted to focus on assortment and product, but it was obvious from report results that it had to be about customer service, too. Every store had empty shelves in the department. Save for BB&B and Kmart, every store had missing or mismatched shelf-pricing. Three products at Target required a price check; four products required one at Wal-Mart.

At Kohl's, any shelf price tags were replaced with a sign noting that all pillows and pads were buy one get one. Though most of Kohl's items had prices on the products themselves, it was unwieldy looking for a price on the bottom of a box containing a king size memory foam mattress topper.
     The bright spots: At Macy's two different clerks asked if we needed help; and one did so at BB&B. In fact, during HTT's visit to BB&B, a manager training a new employee was overheard saying, "Ask them how they typically sleep; show them how this bounces back." Granted, that kind of attention is more easily found in a specialty store, but more of that spirit needs to trickle down to the masses.
     Then there was the issue of samples. Wal-Mart had none. Target's samples were dirty and not labeled. Macy's had good, clearly marked samples, but product was not always easily found nearby. Kohl's and Macy's were the only stores with full bed samples. Again, as a specialty store, BB&B was the most consistent in providing samples in the right locations.
     Consumers have to wade through that kind of visual chaos to even begin to decide what they want to buy.

Store Strategy on Display

The white goods departments are a microcosm of each retailer's overall strategy, both in assortments and pricing.
     Wal-Mart had the lowest prices and the smallest selection - right in line with its lean and mean strategy. It focused on its Mainstays and Canopy lines supplemented by some Beautyrest brand items.
     BB&B stayed true to its specialty positioning with the largest assortment and more clearly defined features for its products through shelf cards and samples.
     Kmart relied heavily on the Cannon brand across the categories, with mostly a good/better assortment as far as prices went.
     Target was more targeted and showcased its products through its tier of store brands, mostly RE and @Home. Kmart and Target had matching opening price points, no doubt watching each other's every move.
     Kohl's used its Simply Vera Wang as its top end designer name, usually the highest price point option.
     Finally, Macy's "designer" strategy was clearly evident with its cache of stars each offering a program, including Martha Stewart, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. The problem for consumers may be that it's not so obvious what sets the Tommy Hilfiger pillow apart from the Calvin Klein pillow.

Polyester Fill Dominates in Pillows*

Polyester Fill Dominates in Pillows

* As seen at Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Kohl's, Macy's, Target and Walmart

Source: HTT Research

Sleep Pillow Pricing from OPP to Top Price*

 Sleep Pillow Pricing from OPP to Top Price

* As seen at Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Kohl's, Macy's, Target and Walmart
Source: HTT Research

Mattress Pad/Topper Pricing from OPP to Top Price*

 

* As seen at Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Kohl's, Macy's, Target and Walmart

Source: HTT Research

Comforter Pricing from OPP to Top Price*

Comforter Pricing from OPP to Top Price

* As seen at Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Kohl's, Macy's, Target and Walmart Note: Walmart had only fashion comforters available. Target offered only one utility bedding comforter, priced at $119.99.
Source: HTT Research

The Tiers Have It

The retail tier in which stores operate in plays a significant part in the product assortment for this category. The discounters stuck to the basics while midtier players and specialty retailer BB&B offered broader selections. In pillows, each sold single items. Macy's and Kohl's showcased one multi-pack pillow set each. Kohl's was featuring a buy-one-get-one offer on pillows and mattress pads on the week HTT visited.
     Across the board, retailers showcased the largest selection of pillows, followed by mattress pads and toppers, with comforters last.
     In fact, no white goods comforters were found at Wal-Mart, only one at Target and two at Kmart. But both department stores and BB&B featured multiple comforter options.
     Likewise, more solution-based features and products in the pillow and pad area (like memory foam and specific allergy-relief constructions) were found at the department and special stores, with the mass merchants carrying only one or two options.
     Size also mattered when it came to tiers. King size pillow options were more evident in the department and specialty stores. Likewise, while most of the stores featured twin/queen/king size mattress pads; more toppers and comforters in king sizes were available at the department stores.
     The majority of pillows and pads were poly-filled with cotton covers, although opening price points included cotton/ poly blend covers or all poly products. Here, too, more pricey constructions - memory foam and white down - were more evident at the higher tiers, with fewer available products at the mass level.
     China was the sourcing location across all the categories and tiers. Though most pillows featured covers made in China, a large portion of those pillows were filled and finished in the United States.

Marketing and Packaging

It can be confusing for consumers to sift through packaging claims in utility bedding. Most pillow manufacturers have a clearly marked side sleeper or back sleeper pillow option (apologies to the side sleepers: your pillow is overfilled and therefore consistently costs more). But HTT saw many opening price point pillows claiming "good for any sleep position."
     A sampling of allergy-relief constructions was featured in each at all of the retailers and marked as such. A few featured an Asthma & Allergy Foundation seal or certificate. On the other hand, virtually every pillow and pad package featured the claim "hypo-allergenic" with few details to back it up.
     As the entire category has become more technology and solution based, there has been much emphasis on trademarks and affiliations with varying associations, but one can wonder how much impact is made on the average consumer. Do they understand what R-Tech is? Some of the trademarks HTT saw featured on packaging (and the supplier) include: Microsafe Antimicrobial Treatment (Sleep Studio); R-tech Stain Resistant (Hollander); Lux Loft (Hollander); Dreamloft (Louisville); Expand-A-Grip (Louisville); and Always Fresh (Perfect Fit).
     Most occurring affiliations were: Asthma & Allergy Foundation (Hollander); Good Housekeeping Seal (Louisville); Sleep-better. org (Carpenter); and Certified American Feather & Down Council (Blue Ridge Home).
     On Kmart's Cannon brand, the packaging itself is a marketing reminder and asks consumers to not forget a pillow or pad protector. The body pillow trend also continues, with each retailer offering at least one option in that size. Kmart and Target both cross-promoted their body pillow with colorful fashion covers: Target on an end cap and Kmart within the department.
     While retailers and suppliers are doing many things right, there is room for improvement. A better tended department, less confusing features/benefits on the packaging and better differentiation all around may give consumers a better reason to shop a store or brand.

Featured Video

Other Home Furnishings Sites

Casual Living
Gifts and Decorative Accessories
Home Accents Today
Kids Today
Home & Textiles Today