Think of the store of the future as a fully immersive billboard for the brand.
This is the idea behind Saatva’s Viewing Room stores, which aim to re-create the digital experience shoppers have with the luxury mattresses and home furnishings retailer in person. Saatva opened the doors to its first Viewing Room, and first brick-and-mortar, in December 2019 in NYC.
Since its opening, the NYC Viewing Room has been a smash hit, exceeding financial expectations exponentially. The store performs at a $5 million annual run rate versus the expected $3.5 million revenue goal.
Now, with 20 locations planned to open over the next two years, RIS sits down with Ricky Joshi, Saatva’s chief strategy officer, to uncover how Saatva’s Viewing Room concept defines a new breed of retail stores.
The Viewing Room Experience
The first thing to notice about the Manhattan location is that it departs from the traditional retail model of associates asking “can I help you” at the door.
It's designed in such a way that shoppers are prompted to explore and experience Saatva’s full range of luxury sleep products – including mattresses, sheets and pillows, and designer bed frames – on their own, with associates available if needed.
“Our Viewing Room is designed and equipped to re-create the digitally-native experience that our customers have with us on the internet,” Joshi tells RIS. “It is conceived as a self-guided space, where visitors can interact with our award-winning products and learn about the features at their own pace, as well as receive personalized assistance from our Sleep Guides when they want it.”
To achieve this, the store is packed with self-service technology, such as tablets and information stations, throughout the 3,300-square-foot destination.
“Customers enjoy the self-directed shopping experience and learning more about our products at their own pace using the technology that’s available to them,” explains Joshi. “Because we started as a digital-first brand, we’ve gotten really good at talking about our products in a way that allows customers to discover them quite well on their own.”
The customers that come to the store are highly informed shoppers that have done lots of product research prior to their visits, he notes. Before they even enter the store, digital signage enhancements produce a state-of-the-art retail environment feel.
“Through our partnership with Samsung, we utilize the latest display solutions, mobile devices, and behavior-sensing technologies installed throughout the Viewing Room to create a personalized experience for our customers,” he says. “Samsung’s OMN-D Series dual-sided displays installed at the entrance allow us to maximize messaging, reduce equipment and installation costs, and increase operational efficiency.”
Currently, one screen educates visitors and passersby on in-store COVID-19 standards and safety measures, while the other features a scroll of customer reviews from Saatva’s website. Inside the store, each bed display is equipped with a mobile and website-connected tablet where customers can learn more about the product they are looking at or order it directly.
“It’s wonderful to see our technology in action — customers can actually pick up the tablet and explore the features of a mattress while lying on that very mattress,” Joshi says. “We use behavior-sensing technology at our display of bedding products. When a customer interacts with any of the sheets, pillows, blankets, or other top-of-bed products, information about that specific product appears on a screen adjacent to the display.
NYC Viewing Room by the Numbers
- Open since December 2019
- 70% close rate in-store
- $5 million annual run rate versus the expected $3.5 million revenue goal
“We also have an interactive digital easel where we feature information on our mattresses and can give an in-depth explanation of any of our products on a larger surface, but it can also be used as a drawing board to entertain kids as their parents shop.”
In addition to the bedside tablets, there are a few other screens throughout the store that share brand, product, and craftsmanship content. The technology design and integration helps shoppers experience products at their own pace, without needing to have an associate looking over their shoulder as they shop, explains Joshi. “It's very similar to the way that they would shop online. We want our Viewing Rooms to be extensions of the online experience. In the same way that our customers can shop online and use our chat feature to connect with a customer service representative if they wish, we offer that same freedom in our Viewing Rooms.”
Gathering Customer Data
Having a store loaded with technology has another benefit above offering a true omnichannel experience: the ability to gather customer data.
Ceiling cameras inside the Saatva store deliver the retailer data about store traffic and product interactions. The placement of technology throughout the store is meant to align with the customer experience and the buying journey, but the tech also provides analytics for who visits which bed and what areas they interact with.
“We use learnings from this data to provide more tailored information about what customers want to know about our products and tell a better story,” explains Joshi, who also notes that, since Saatva was not built using legacy systems or antiquated inventory systems and other systems that don’t speak to each other, the retailer is able to reap the benefits of a fully integrated digital system that connects in-store and online operations without having data issues.
“We have been efficient through our enhancements of online purchasing experience and because of that, we have clean, informative data that we can extrapolate on for a physical retail launch,” he says.
As the retailer expands this data is invaluable. Saatva has five new locations in the works for 2021 with 15 planned for 2022.
“Using customer data, we are able to be far more efficient than traditional retailers in picking locations that have a strong base of consumer interest,” explains Joshi.
Saatva retail locations are chosen based on historical and benchmark data, brand awareness information, and sales conversion statistics. In addition to choosing physical retail locations based on where the brand is succeeding from an online revenue perspective, Saatva also considers areas where it has broader brand awareness, such as Washington D.C., Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
“Our decisions are based on customer feedback, data, and changes in the retail environment,” he says. “We will always look for regional differences and take them into account when designing the store and selecting the merchandise that we choose to display, to make sure that we have an assortment that speaks to the needs and questions of that customer.”
In addition to choosing locations and assortments, Saatva is using its new Viewing Rooms to improve point of sale systems to make tracking and sales execution as seamless as possible. “And we see even further integration between our e-commerce data and our in-store data, so we can further extrapolate and understand who our in-store customers are versus our online customers,” he says.
COVID-19’s Impact on Retail Stores’ Future
Many retailers succeeding during the pandemic have noted that they had the business models that helped them in play before 2020, and Saatva is no exception.
“We saw the trend of DTC brands entering the physical retail space before COVID-19,” says Joshi. “While a percentage of mattress purchases have shifted online during the pandemic, there will always be people who want to experience the product in person, especially for a considered purchase like a quality mattress. We wanted to be able to serve those customers where they are and have a physical presence that offers the experience they want, with the added benefit of personalized assistance with our on-site Sleep Guides, should they request it.”
COVID-19 arrived a few months after the NYC Viewing Room opened, but most of the challenges Saatva faced were related to creating an even safer environment for customers.
“Thankfully given the self-guided nature of our retail space, we have adapted our retail environment fairly easily to the guidelines set forth by the CDC and NYS,” he says.
Between customer visits, tablets are sanitized and reset to make sure that they highlight the product information page related to the mattress they correspond to. Saatva also has the ability to update displays onsite or from a remote location. The company’s marketing office in Austin has the ability to update and share new brand information, product videos, and the latest content as soon as it is available.
“Post-COVID-19, there will be a return to the store and a return to face-to-face interactions, and customers will appreciate the level of sanitization and socially-distanced service retailers offer them,” says Joshi.
“Including smart technology in the retail experience to make the shopping process seamless and efficient will be important to maintain post-COVID,” he recommends. “It makes the experience even better for the customers who want to control their journey in our retail environments.”
He also says he expects a smaller retail footprint in the future, as DTC companies won’t need as much floor space to offer the educational experience customers want when visiting a showroom or store.
“Brands will allow their websites to do more of the education and selling before customers make a visit. We think that customers will continue to utilize their own digital devices for education, know a lot about the product they are considering, and be ready to complete their purchases by the time they enter a retail space. We are proud of our 70% close rate in-store. By the time customers visit us, they already have a pretty good idea of how our products will enhance their sleep experience and only have a few remaining questions. We also feel that customers will travel longer distances for highly-considered purchases, like mattresses, so we can be more strategic about where we open physical locations to best serve our clients.”
His advice to other retailers looking to achieve a balance between a digital and physical presence is this: “Digital and physical retail experiences need to complement each other, be consistent as well as seamless. We will always be a digital-first company, so for us, the physical presence is an opportunity to bring our online brand to life.”