Price matters, but customer service still closes the deal

          Laura Heller

I spent this Labor Day like many Americans: shopping for a new mattress.

Long holiday weekends offer lots of time for home improvement projects, and the extra day off means that couples or families can shop for things that require consensus. Hence, the Labor Day mattress sale was born.

It's not the most exciting holiday activity, but it was necessary. And so I set off on what has quickly become the new path to purchase.

First I went online and did my research. I learned about the different types of mattresses and studied independent buying guides and customer reviews. I brushed up on my negotiating techniques and noted which features could be bargained down.

It has been many years since I purchased a mattress and the process was so much easier this time around, thanks to the Internet. By the time I got to the first store, I had whittled down my options for a price range that seemed reasonable. I just had to test the products and work out some of the details.

So I used the store locator functions to find retailers near me, narrowed it down to two stores and off I went.

Both were mattress specialists, located directly across the street from each other. They carried the same brands with comparable models and starting price points.

I spend a lot of time writing about how Amazon and the Internet have reduced retail to a game of escalating discounts. The mattress category has some unique attributes that make online shopping difficult, notably shipping expenses and the need to try the product before buying. But I figured that with two similar formats, with the same brands and policies staring each other down across the road like two gunslingers, it would all boil down to price.

I was wrong.

The first store experience was just fine. Steve the salesperson was pleasant and informative. He steered me toward the models that made the most sense, and was willing to negotiate. I was prepared for the hard sell, and got it.

There was, "What will it take to get you this mattress today?" And, "This sale price is only for the holiday sale. It goes back up tomorrow, so you have to buy now." And the final "We're closing in 30 minutes…" technique designed to trigger a panic-buy.

But I didn't need that mattress that night. I was schooled in the ways of comparing prices. I had tools at my fingertips, on my smartphone, and I wasn't interested in rushing into a big purchase.

The hard sell pushed me right out the door, across the street and into the waiting arms of, and I am not making this up, another Steve.

This Steve was prepared. He went through the same sales pitch, showed me similar items and outlined the benefits of each. When it came time to price match, he immediately bettered his competitor and went a step further.

He promised to honor that price without a deadline. He told me about the 30-day trial period and promised, in writing, that there would be no restocking or delivery fee, even though charging one was the store policy.

Guess which Steve got my business? To be sure, some of this transaction was about price, but most of it was about going the extra mile. Steve No. 2 was thorough and made sure that his store would meet my needs better than Steve No. 1.

Because in this tale of two Steves, price was important, but customer service won out—something worth noting as we head into the all-important holiday season. Price matters, but service closes the deal and keeps the customers coming back. -Laura