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Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Strategies For I'll Be Back!

Furniture World Magazine


Why do we love it when the Terminator says it, but hate it when a promising “up” utters these three disappointing words?

Movie critics voted this three word sentence as the greatest catchphrase in movie history. Retail sales associates (RSAs) voted this sentence as the most dreaded phrase in retail sales history. Why do we love it when the Terminator says it, and hate it when a promising “up” says it?

Anybody who has toiled in the retail sales profession for more than 15 minutes is acutely aware of the phenomenon we affectionately refer to as the Be-Back. What is a Be-Back, you might ask? This, of course, is the would-be customer who is determined not to buy right now, but absolutely insists he will be back at a later time to make the purchase. Let me make a clarification of the term Be-Back, at least as I understand it. A Be-Back is ANY “up” that leaves the store without buying, whether he said he would be back or not. Some of them really do come back to buy. But, if they don't come back, they become the Be-Backs that never returned.

Why Do They Do That?

Before we examine techniques for coping with the Be-Back problem, let’s examine the question of why so many people who visit your store seem like they are ready to buy, but decide instead to leave empty-handed. But not before promising faithfully and incorrectly, that they will return to shop with you another day.

“What is the ultimate and most stinging of customer objections? Not ever coming back, when you just KNEW they were going to."


I often cite John F. Lawhon and his book, “Selling Retail”, in this Furniture World series, but Mr. Lawhon doesn't provide a lot of information about handling Be-Backs. He just advises, if you do your sales job right, you will make the sale and won’t need to worry about Be-Backs. I also cite furniture and bedding author Peter Marino quite a lot. He presents more insight in his list of why would-be customers dislike shopping for mattresses. They are often the same reasons why shoppers come to your store, but do not buy, despite the best efforts of professional retail sales associates. A few of Dr. Marino's observations are included in the list below.

Reasons Why They Leave Without Buying

1. There’s something they don’t like. It could be the RSA, the merchandise, the store, the price, or anything else. But, they won’t reveal what it is, even following highly skilled probing. I could write a whole chapter on this problem, but I’ll save that for another time.

2. They don’t want to make a mistake. Fear of being stuck with the wrong product at the wrong price is a huge factor in walking and not buying.

3. Shoppers never intended to buy, anyway. They are just seeking information.

4. They need someone else to help make the decision.

5. They are confused by the huge selection.

6. They are confused by conflicting information they received in other stores, RSAs or online.

7. Shoppers promise they will come back. But they don’t really mean it; they just don’t want to hurt the feelings of the nice RSA. Or, they just want to get the RSA off their back. I once saw an “up” offer an RSA $5.00 just to let him leave the store and quit hounding him!

8. They promise they will come back, and they really mean it at the time, but something changes their mind after leaving the store.

9. They just don’t want to spend the money. They get home and decide their old mattress will last a few more years. And, maybe the price of the mattress they liked is way more than the price in the advertisement that caught their attention.

10. They find something better somewhere else. It could be the merchandise, the store environment, or the salesperson.

11. They search on the internet and their mind is forever changed by that experience.

12. Friends, neighbors or relatives “educate” them out of buying.

You may have noticed by now, that this much of this section is rather similar to the “Objections” articles found in previous editions of this magazine. But, they are not the same in a Be-Back situation because a lot of these objections occur once the shopper has left the store, when the RSA no longer can counter them.

What is the ultimate insult and stinging rebuke to most any RSA? It's when a customer you just KNEW would return, never does, and you can’t do a thing about it! Or, can you?

Yes, You Can! (Maybe)

The most obvious antidote to the Be-Back experience is to follow the Lawhon prescription; which is to perform the sales job correctly. This means:

  • The RSA knows and uses the five groups of knowledge;
  • The RSA knows and uses the steps of the sale.

Most “ups” would never become Be-Backs if every RSA did a professional job. For more information, consult previous articles in this series at https://www.furninfo.com/Authors/David%20Benbow/37. Or, consult the book, "How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual" (www.bedsellersmanual.com).

What, however, if the RSA does a masterfully professional job and the “up” still insists on leaving, although protesting mightily that she WILL BE BACK.

Sales pros know, and have known for a long time, that clever customers use the technique of “walking” to get a better deal. Automobile sales people are very aware of this bargaining device. It probably happens less often in furniture sales, mostly because furniture retail has never quite developed the same reputation for price negotiation as the car lot has. So, what about negotiating the price with the customer before he leaves?

“Some customers, and particularly men, if I may generalize, want a DEAL. They aren’t especially particular about what the item looks like, just as long as it is a DEAL."

A lot of stores have a “one-price” policy on regularly floored merchandise, so bargaining is not always an option for RSAs and sales managers. On the other hand, I have never seen a store that didn’t have some discontinued merchandise lying around somewhere in a dark, dusty corner of a distant warehouse. Professional RSAs who want to do everything possible to stop these clever customers from "walking" should know every nook and cranny of their store’s warehouse storage and all the items contained therein. I doubt if the “one-price” policy of any store would extend to old, odd, discontinued pieces.Some customers, and particularly men, if I may generalize, want a DEAL. They aren’t especially particular about what the item looks like, just as long as it is a DEAL. These discontinued items may be just the ticket to keep an “up” from becoming a dreaded Be-Back.

"Landing" The Customer

So, how do you get your Be-Back back? While there is certainly no guarantee of results, there are ways to motivate your shoppers to increase the chance that they will come back and buy. Before talking about these ideas, I need to make one important point. To have ANY chance for a Be-Back sale, the shopper must have found a product that he/she likes better than anything else they have seen, anywhere. They must love the product, like the price, the store and the RSA. I refer to this event as “landing on the bed.” "Landing" can, of course apply to any product in a home furnishings store. When a customer is landed, the RSA knows she has a good prospect for a sale. If the shopper leaves the store without being landed, the RSA will never get a Be-Back sale. So, an RSA that does a incomplete job can just forget about hoping for a Be-Back sale.

If an RSA lands them, and they still leave the store without buying? What then?

Set The Shoppers Up Before They Leave

Most shoppers arrive at your store with only a very sketchy education on bedding. They need help. Part of the RSA’s job is to educate customers so they can make smart buying decisions. By the time a professional RSA has gone through her sales routine, the shopper should have received a great deal of valuable information to help make the right decision on an important purchase of a somewhat expensive product that will effect his well-being for many years to come. This education was free, costing only the time spent listening to the RSA for a few minutes.

If a customer is about to leave without buying, the RSA should remind the shopper about the value of that education he received free of charge from the RSA. Consider the following dialogue;

RSA Asks:
“Do you feel like you know more about bedding and what you need in a bed than before you walked into our store?”

Customer: “Yes, I really do.”

RSA Asks: “Do you agree that you are much better equipped to make a buying decision now after talking to me?”

Customer: “Oh, absolutely!”

RSA: “If you feel like I have been helpful in providing you with the information that you need, do you mind if I ask a small favor before you leave?” (Without pausing.) “I know you said you need more time to make a decision. You don’t want to make a snap judgment and buy right at the first store you went to. I do understand you would like more time to make sure you have made the right choice. I’m like that myself. But, will you do me one favor? Don’t make a quick decision at the next store you go to, either. Give me another chance to earn your business. I believe I am correct in saying that you like our mattress and our price better than any other you have seen. Is that right? If you do visit another store and they have a deal that SEEMS to be better than ours, give me a call back before you make a decision. Give me the details of the deal, and I will give you my honest assessment of how the two deals compare. I will also give you some additional questions to ask the RSA at that store. Right now, I am confident that our deal will beat anybody else’s, but I am also asking you to take my word for it. In other words, feel free to use me as a bedding consultant. Take advantage of my years of experience. But most importantly, do yourself a favor. Take the time to call me. Make SURE you are getting the most for your money.”

This approach has a better chance of working if the RSA has a really good rapport with the shopper.

Business Cards & Brochures

Handing out business cards to departing Be-Backs can be a tricky business. The purpose of business cards, I suppose, is to remind the Be-Back to ask for you should he come back to the store. So, what should be written on the back of a business card? If it's just the name of the bed and the price, you will probably lose the sale to a smart RSA down the street who will probably say, “Oh, that’s the same bed as our Zillions Pillow Top, and ours is $100 cheaper.”

“Let's examine The question of why people come into your store, seem like they are ready to buy, but decide to wait, promise faithfully they will come back, and then you never see them again?”

So, do you quit passing out cards? Well, no, not that either. The Be-Back will certainly not remember you without a card. I have a suggestion. This suggestion is based the fact that most RSAs do NOT know the specifications of the products they are called upon to sell. The suggestion is to load up your business card with every spec that exists about your bed; coil count, gauge of wire, warranty, foundation type, padding configuration, foam density, etc. You might have to use two cards to get all this written down.

The first benefit of doing this is to show the shopper you know your stuff. You are a professional. The second benefit is to show the shopper that your competitor down the street probably does not know his stuff. Ask them to challenge any other RSA who claims his bed has superior specifications, at a better price, conditions and terms. And, insist that he show you those specifications IN PRINT because some RSAs make up stuff about their beds. The third benefit is, the more an RSA performs well, the more likely the shopper will remember him.

As mentioned in the last section, if the shopper calls you back, as you requested, you can then reinforce your points; increasing your chance of a Be-Back sale.

What if the RSA produces all the specs in print? Ask your shopper to get a copy and bring them back to you so you can compare. Then add those specs to your competition product knowledge files.

A Deposit?

While getting a deposit from your shopper does not guarantee he will return, it increases the odds. The purpose of the small deposit is to hold the wonderful price offered. It is much easier to get a “hold the price” deposit if the shopper is told he is eligible for a full refund if he changes his mind. For example:
RSA Says: “I know you want to think about it, but our sale ends tomorrow. I can hold that sale price for X days, however, with a small deposit. That can give you longer to think about it. The deposit only obligates us to hold the price and the merchandise. It does not obligate you. It is fully refundable at any time if you change your mind. On a personal note, it will also make sure that I get credit for the sale when you come back in to pay it off and set up delivery.” (Only include this last sentence if you have excellent rapport with a customer).

I have had remarkable success with this sales device in my years on the sales floor.


Incentives sent to non-buying shoppers to encourage them to come back only work if you know how to stay in touch with your would-be Be-Back.

This can often be obtained by asking shoppers if they want to sign up for incentives, enter a contest, special offers, information about the latest advances in sleep technology, health, or design/decorating trends.

You can also find companies (online) that offer incentives for Be-Back customers. One such company offers, "immediate, customer-centric, valuable motive to return to your store… the program allows you to select an incentive value, issue it in the form of a time-restricted, redeemable card and offer it to customers as a sales inducement… to return within a specified time to make a purchase.”


RSAs are wise to follow up with ALL shoppers, whether they are a Buyer or Be-Back. For more information on following up, see the "Follow-Up, The Key To Success" in the online archives of Furniture World Magazine at https://www.furninfo.com/Authors/David%20Benbow/37.

The Be-Back Bus Route

Everybody’s heard the old saying, “the Be-Back bus does not stop in front of our store.” And, there is a lot of truth in that old saying. When a shopper walks out without buying, never count on them to come back and buy from you. And, in spite of all the suggestions in this article, all you can hope for is increasing the ODDS that they might come back, even with your best efforts. But, selling retail is a numbers game. Let’s say one out of ten walking shoppers actually come back. What if you could increase that to two out of ten? How much would your sales volume grow?



About David Benbow: David Benbow, a veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company offering mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) He has many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas.

He is the author of  “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual” that systematically presents a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It can be purchased at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.
Questions an comments can be directed to him at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or 361-648-3775.

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