Nothing beats an ice cream on a hot summer’s day, writes US bed industry consultant Gordon Hecht – but when it comes to picking a flavour, how much choice is too much? And what can bed retailers learn about merchandising from the frozen dessert specialists?

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I may have grown up in a rough neighborhood. When we heard the ice cream truck ringing its bells in the summertime, we’d stand on the corner and sing: “I scream, you scream, we all scream, the police show up and we get arrested …”

Purchasing choices were easy as a kid. There was a half-dozen choices on the truck, priced from a dime to a quarter. Most ice cream decisions were financially based depending on the coins in your pocket. 

I’m still an ice cream fan. Our town has three national chains offering that frozen treat – Baskin & Robbins, Hershey, and Dairy Queen. In the cause of marketing research, I feel it mandatory to visit each one several times a month. 

It seems that the line at DQ moves about three times as quickly as Baskin & Robbins or Hershey. That means three times more customers being served and triple the cash register rings. The people at DQ have made it an easier choice! While all three shops have multiple dessert option like sundaes, frappes, and concretes [frozen custards], DQ has limited their ice cream flavours to three choices – chocolate, vanilla, and a twist of chocolate and vanilla (for indecisive patrons).

Our Baskins features their 31 flavour choices, and Hershey’s one-ups them with a whopping 40 flavours on their wall-mounted menu. Chances are good that each of the members of the junior rugby team (whom hip-checked their way in front of you in the queue) will want to read all the flavour names and taste three or four samples before making their cone decision. 

There’s no best choice. When it comes to ice cream, the worst I’ve ever had was pretty good! It’s just too overwhelming to decide. 

It’s probably not a lot different in your shop. When it comes to merchandising, you need to offer choices – you can’t just have chocolate and vanilla products. People expect to see a wide selection in your store. But unlike your local scoop shop, you can have a selling process to slim the selection to a manageable level, easing the stress of decision making for your shopper. Part of that process means reducing your entire catalogue to a three-choice selection – just like DQ – creating an easier pathway from showroom to cash register. 

It’s fairly easy in our mattress world. A typical 30-bed selection provides a myriad of triple-choice selection options: memory foam, innerspring, hybrid (technology); soft, medium, hard (comfort); foundation, adjustable or no base (base); adult king or queen, youth full or twin (size); premium, mid-price, budget (price); and bank card, finance, or cash (payment). 

The choices become a selling process when you develop discovery questions to help the shopper understand their needs. Explaining that memory foam provides a passive (sink-in) support feel, and innerspring provides active (push-up) support, and hybrid is the best of both, makes it an easier choice. Asking about their sleeping and waking position along with their pain points helps you recommend the comfort level that will suit your shopper. 

When you find out if there’s a TV or laptop in the room, or if reading helps your shopper wind down, it can lead to a decision from the three base choices. Mattress size is a given – most shoppers will purchase to their headboard and room size. 

Most likely, your shop displays comfort and support feels in multiple price ranges. Once you determine your shoppers’ comfort level, you can have them test-rest the three price point levels (start with the premium – it’s like a super banana split, and far less calories). 

Don’t forget the extras – just like a sundae, they offer more satisfaction for your shopper. Protectors, pillows, and sheets are the sprinkles, hot fudge and whipped cream toppings of our industry. 

Payment terms are the cherry on top. Offer all three choices, and their selection means the purchase decision has been made.

Oh, and here’s the scoop on those 31 Baskins flavours. Nearly half (48%) of Baskin-Robbins’ sales are made from four flavours. A report from last year showed that chocolate, vanilla, chocolate chip cookie dough and cookies ‘n cream comprised almost half of all purchases. The remaining 52% of sales were split between the other 27 flavours. I’ll bet you a triple-decker cone that sales in your shop aren’t much off that ratio! 

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry. He can be reached at Gordon.hecht@aol.com.