Jessica Alexander, executive director of the National Bed Federation has the Last Word.
Last week the BBC’s Fake Britain programme investigated unscrupulous traders selling sub- standard and fake mattresses from the back of vans. Since early 2014, we have received a steady stream of calls and emails from consumers who have made such ‘too good to be true’ purchases.
It’s not just the fear that these mattresses might not meet flammability regulations, they often fall far short of the specifications claimed. (And I’m not even going to go into the issue of vastly inflated RRPs!) When a suspect product is cut open to check, those luxury layers of memory foam are a mere 6 or 7mm – unlikely to deliver any of the pressure relieving benefits claimed for this material. The number of springs turn out not to be the 3,000 implied by the product name but a basic 644 – well outside any possible scope for tolerance, however generous!
The trouble is, consumers can’t see inside those mattresses, so they have to take what they are told on trust. And we as an industry are in danger of losing that trust – unless we work harder to raise awareness of the problem – and provide solutions.
Well, mostly we can work together to try and educate the consumer into wiser buying habits, After all, we all know that if a bargain looks too good to be true, it generally is. And we can make it easier for them to identify products from reputable sources, sold by reputable retailers. It’s the reason why we introduced the NBF Code of Practice.
It’s worth stressing the NBF Code applies equally to the budget or premium end of the market. It’s about standards and honesty – checking that manufacturers understand their legal obligations and supply products that are safe, clean and honest.
There is more work we could do however – particularly when it comes to product descriptions and labelling. Some of the most misused terms in marketing these days – and not just in the mattress industry – are words like ‘luxury’ and ’quality’! Perhaps it’s time for the reputable side of the market to have a re-think about the marketing language used (let alone its pricing policies!).
Trading standards have given us a steer here – they work on the principle of ‘Reserved Descriptions’ to provide a baseline. It’s up to us however, to determine what those reserved descriptions might be – and it’s a fine line between useful guidelines and over-prescriptive control. Any suggestions gratefully received!
We are well aware of the responsibility that comes with our Code of Practice. That’s why we’ve revised the Code this year and when the next round of audits starts next month, there will be tougher sanctions on companies who fail to meet the required standards. We will also thoroughly investigate any reports about members who might not be complying.
Hopefully, we can make sure we don’t lose the consumers’ trust entirely – and end up with specific legislation to control us, as happened over pricing back in the 1970s.
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