An Expert’s Guide To Online Mattress Shopping

I’ve been in the mattress industry since 1994, inventing and selling my own brands of bed in a box mattresses long before Casper and everyone else came along. So, I wasn’t surprised to read a recent survey that lumped mattress shopping right up there with getting a root canal for intimidation factor.

Fact is, mattress shopping is a mystery with zero glory or ecstasy involved, and the hidden doors and ghostly hallways of the mattress world are intentionally designed to throw you right off track.

This page, however, is designed to give you the basic information and tactics to successfully buy a mattress either online or in a retail store with confidence and a warrior attitude, knowing that you didn’t pay too much- and that you bought a mattress from a respected brand with with insurance- a great trial period, and a solid warranty.

When shopping for a mattress online, there are several factors to consider to ensure you make an informed decision. Here are some key things to keep in mind:

  1. Mattress Types: Understand the different types of mattresses available online, such as memory foam, innerspring, latex, hybrid, or adjustable air mattresses. Each type has unique characteristics and benefits, so research them to find the one that suits your preferences and needs.
  2. Firmness Level: Determine your preferred level of firmness, whether you like it soft, medium, or firm. This factor depends on your sleeping position, body weight, and personal comfort preferences. I review hundreds of bed in a box options on this site, most of which adequately describe what the mattress feels like using a numbered system of 1-10, 1 being as soft as a marshmallow, and 10 being a carpeted floor.
  3. Support and Comfort: Look for a mattress that offers excellent support for your body, especially for your spine alignment. A good mattress should evenly distribute your body weight and relieve pressure points. Consider the materials used and the overall construction of the mattress to assess its comfort level.
  4. Size: Determine the size of the mattress you need based on your bed frame and sleeping preferences. Common sizes include twin, twin XL, full, queen, king, and California king. Ensure you choose a size that fits your bed and provides enough space for comfortable sleep. You can check out my understanding mattress sizes page here.
  5. Motion Transfer And Isolation: If you share your bed with a partner or pet, consider a mattress that minimizes motion transfer. This feature can be crucial if one person frequently moves during sleep, as it helps prevent disturbances and ensures uninterrupted rest.
  6. Durability and Longevity: Assess the mattress’s durability and expected lifespan. Read customer reviews or check for information on the materials used, manufacturing techniques, and warranty details. A good-quality mattress should last for several years.
  7. Return Policy and Trial Period: Understand the online retailer’s return policy and trial period. Many reputable mattress brands offer trial periods where you can test the mattress at home for a specific duration. This allows you to determine if it suits your needs and preferences. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the return process and any associated costs.
  8. Reviews and Ratings: Read customer reviews and ratings to gain insights into other people’s experiences with the mattress you’re considering. Look for reviews from customers with similar sleep preferences and body types to get a more accurate picture.
  9. Price and Budget: Set a budget for your mattress purchase and compare prices across different brands. Online shopping allows you to compare prices easily, so take advantage of that to find the best deal without compromising on quality. My site has categories which help you find mattresses that are typically under $1,000, for example.
  10. Customer Support: Check the online retailer’s customer support options. It’s important to have access to responsive and helpful customer service in case you have questions, concerns, or need assistance with your purchase or after-sales support.

By considering these factors, you’ll be better equipped to choose a suitable mattress online that aligns with your comfort needs, sleeping preferences, and budget.

The mattresses all have different names at different stores, the range of choices can be overwhelming, a money-back guarantee often isn’t really a money-back guarantee, and all the jargon and hype tossed around by salesmen just really irritates the hell out of most potential buyers.

Online, every web site seems to sell basically the same thing, with different coverings and multi-colored foam layers, all framed out with photos of young couples cuddling on their new mattress (which strangely never have sheets on them, so you can see the company branding) in their loft with salvaged wooden floors and the obligatory rescued greyhound nearby.

How the hell do you know if it’s comfortable and supportive? If you are shopping online, should you believe the reviews you read on the web site, and the scrolling banners that tell you Todd from Milwaukee  just bought his Sparklyfoam Mattress five minutes go?

This guide is our abbreviated attempt to change the experience for you and arm you with some tips and pointers, especially if you are buying online. I’m going to throw back the curtain and give you some step by step instructions to help you get the best deal on a great mattress with some freebies thrown in for good measure. 

Look, I was one of the first bed in a box online mattress pioneers and inventors, so trust me when I tell you that I feel your hesitation about buying a mattress sight unseen. I had to convince people that buying a mattress online was actually the best way to buy a new bed.

Want to cut to the chase and see my list of Trusted Dealers I recommend?. Click here, otherwise, strap your self in- and learn, step by step.

1. Don’t Get Caught Up In The Hype And The Brand

Unfortunately, a lot of the mattress industry is driven by hype. There are the popular brands that we know because we’ve seen them on social media and TV, and on subways in big cities. We’re seduced by mattress companies to adore their product and their story. 

Buying a mattress is now really a cool thing to do, and it’s finally becoming, well, a little bit fun. But most of the more popular brands are typically way overpriced primarily because of high shipping costs and unimaginable advertising expense. 

It costs millions to deliver a message that will stick, via social media advertising, print, TV, radio, placarding buses and subway cars, and many other forms of “brainwashing”.

Consider that many of the biggest selling online mattress brands sell for around $1000. Right off the top, it typically costs around $200 to make the average bed in a box basic mode, queen sized mattress. Another $200 is used for fixed costs like web sites, office space, payroll, etc., $100 is eaten up to pay for the free shipping to your door, and another whopping $300 of that $1,000 is used to market and advertise to get the brand and their message in your face.The remaining $200 is used to pay review sites and sales people their fat commission checks. That’s it, that’s the formula. I know this calculation well, because I’ve built mattress sales funnels myself.

Remember this: out of that $1,000 retail price, the mattress itself costs one fifth of price you paid to actually manufacture it. Is this the way with all online mattresses? No, but it’s typical. 

Keep in mind that there are plenty of great mattresses for $500-1200 out there, and many brands put a whole lot more than $200 into the cost of the components, but it varies by business model. 

Fortunately, we include many of these quality brands in our Curated List of Trusted Dealers.

Also, keep in mind that mattress manufacturers know that you’ll likely get quickly bored with your new mattress within two years, so to stay one step ahead of the curve, and so you’ll be brand loyal and upgrade to the newest models, they are constantly creating new renditions and giving them new names.

Usually these new models are built on the same chassis as the original, and often a newer model might involve only a small change in the mattress recipe of the original model, like by simply adding an additional layer that gives added benefit or a unique sensation. 

Hype does have some staying power, though. Memory foam for example, which was developed by NASA for lining fighter jet seats, and later became the hottest mattress ingredient out there, is still and important ingredient in bed in a box mattresses sold online. It may be called many different things, but it has become an essential ingredient in just bout 75% of the mattresses you will likely consider- and buy.

Based on 135,000 real people’s responses, Sleep Like the Dead, a well known review site that is highly respected, found that memory foam beds had the highest rate of customer satisfaction, at a whopping 81%. In contrast, traditional innerspring mattresses received only 63% of their owners said they were satisfied.

2. Beware, most mattress review sites are owned by the mattress companies, themselves. View them with suspicion.

Most mattress review sites started out very independent and consistently reliable. In 2016, though, mattress companies began arguing and trying to control the most popular review sites, and after legal battles and courtroom drama, and some big payouts, most mattress reviews sites became just another part of the portfolio of Big Mattress, Inc. Check out our Biased Review Site Page and find out who owns what.  We’re one of a only a handful of mattress review sites not owned by a mattress company,

Overall, I think legitimate reviews are probably the most important information you will find when shopping for a mattress. After all, you want to hear what actual users have to say. Best place for that? Google Reviews, Yelp, Trust Pilot and other third party platforms are your best bet. Unfortunately, most mattress review sites favor the beds their mothership companies manufacture and sell, and the reviews you read are likely highly skewed.

Why do we recommend the mattresses selected in our Curated List Of Trusted Dealers? We study the websites, evaluate the design of the product, find out where they are made (imported or in third party fabricators in the USA, and we have connections with all of them) and we study third party reviews written by owners of the product. 

You’ll notice that we recommend only about 35-40 mattresses companies in total, out of about 250 options. very few make it to the final list.

3. Look for at least a 30 day no questions asked free trial with free return shipping and a full refund- not an in store credit.

One of the best ways to insure your purchase, especially if you are buying a mattress sight unseen online, is to get a great free trial period, but you have to carefully scrutinize the details to make sure it is bullet proof. Here are some bullet points about free trial periods:

  • Look for trial periods of 30-90 days. Some companies will offer a full year, but you’ll know within two weeks if a mattress is going to work for you, so 30 days is the recommended minimum.

  • Make sure the trial period provides free pick up and return shipping charges, so you’re not stuck with a $400 ship fee.

  • If you live in a walk-up or high rise, be aware that if you return a mattress, you will be responsible for getting it to the curb or lobby for it to be picked up, so arrange for assistance.

  • A trial period is completely different from a warranty, and the two of them are not interchangeable or related to one another in any way. A warranty protects your investment over the long haul should you decide to keep the mattress beyond the trial period.

  • The trial period only allows you to return the mattress within the number of days described. After that, if you find it uncomfortable, and it is not damaged, you are stuck with it. This is highly unlikely to happen, but it does on occasion. Let the retailer know, in writing, if you feel there is a defect- before the trial period expires.

No matter how you choose to buy your mattress, it is essential that you have a true money-back return, also known as a “trial period” or a “comfort guarantee”. Because the bottom line is that regardless of how much research you do or mattresses you lay on, you just won’t know if a particular mattress works for you till you try it out in your own home.

You will need to ask very direct questions about what the retailer’s return policy is and exactly what this means. Because the language can be confusing. 

And other sellers offer some sort of trial, but only offer you store credit if you want to return the mattress(and this may be reduced by a return fee). And if there is no other mattress in the store you want, or if the return fee is unreasonably high (sometimes these have very high restocking fees), you are stuck.

Because competition is keen for your business, most online mattress retailers offer highly competitive trial periods and liberal return policies, but ask a lot of questions before you buy.

4. Make sure a mattress warranty truly protects you and offers you the ability to get a free replacement if your mattress is truly damaged.

Ever read a mattress warranty? They can be so dense that they are practically unreadable.

One key thing to look for is whether the warranty period is pro-rated or non-prorated. The best is non-prorated. This means that during the replacement period the mattress will be replaced without you having to pay (although the warranty may specify a shipping fee, etc.).

In contrast, with a pro-rated warranty you will pay an ever increasing portion of the cost of the mattress to replace it if you run into a warranty issue.

Another issue is the length of the warranty. My personal opinion is that warranties that have excessive lengths unnecessary, though not a bad thing.  A lot of online companies now offer a lifetime warranty, which is only useful for as long as the company stays in business, which brings up my next point. 

The typical bed in a box mattress store will stay in business 3 years. We’ve tracked more than 200 online stores and out of the 200 we’ve been monitoring since 2016, about 50% are still in business. Many online stores started out as small hand-on boutique retailers, and as they grew, got bought up by larger entities, losing that small business luster. Many just closed up. What’s the use of a lifetime warranty?

Another observation that’s interesting is the warranty pitted against the lifespan of a typical bed in a box mattress, say an all foam mattress, which is the bulk of the volume out there, and likely what you will buy, though you may buy a hybrid, which includes foam as well as coils.

Mattress companies now recommend that you replace your mattress every 8 years, which I agree with, considering that your mattress will simply accumulate particulate matter, will likely weather a liquid spill or two, and will generally compress about 10-15% over that time span.

Very few younger consumers will keep their mattress longer than 10 years, vastly different than our parents and grandparents who kept their mattresses for 30 years (Yikes!) simply because mattresses are affordable, forward thinking, and always evolving. 

So, don’t worry about the length of a warranty too much. I’d say if you get a 20 year warranty, with 10 years non-prorated (free replacement if it has a covered defect anytime during that 10 years), you’ll be covered.

Here’s the skinny on a good mattress warranty:

  • The warranty should include at least 10 years of lifespan, though many retailers now often lifetime warranties, but read the fine print.

  • Half of the warranty timeline should include a complimentary replacement, including free shipping, if the mattress shows signs of premature wear, including indentations more than 1”, measuring with a yardstick spanning left to right on the mattress, without any bed linens on the mattress. Failure of the outer covering should be included.

  • Note that liquid spills ALWAYS void a mattress warranty, so get a mattress protector at the same time you get a mattress, not a day later.

5. Don’t be scared off getting blinded by the headlights of 250 brands of online mattress options- only a handful are really any good.

Relax. When you first start shopping online for mattress, you might be tempted to buy what everyone else is buying, or you might be completely starting from scratch. Odds are, though, you’ll end up buying one of about 10 options out there. An important point to remember is that I have carefully crafted a list of Trusted Dealers that have been around a long time building mattresses that are well thought out, well executed from a design and manufacturing standpoint, and are not just another “slab of foam”.

Pricing online is extremely competitive, so often a retailer has to cut corners and buy inferior components to compete. We watch this trend carefully and compile our recommendations based on industry contacts who know where manufacturers are buying their ingredients, where their product is made, how many they ship, and even the traffic and demographics of their web sites.

So, in the end, if your use my links, you’ll get state of the art and current options from retailers we know to be trustworthy. We’re kind of your mattress buying “wingman”.

If you shop online as well as try to compare models of different manufacturers in a walk-in retail store setting, another thing to keep in mind is that many foam mattresses (all foam or what are known as hybrids, containing both foam and coils) are usually very similar in design. Though the design may be similar, because of different foam densities and types of foam, the feel can be very different. Unless you are accustomed to sleeping on a very firm mattress, opt for what is called “medium plush”

A medium plush mattress generally has enough immersion while still offering support. Don’t forget to ask for freebies as well. Whether in a retail store or if you are buying it online with a 60-90 day no questions asked trial period, you can typically get free pillows, sheets, and even a mattress protector.

If you are shopping online and just want to be done, get on with a representative during your checkout and either ask for a discount or some freebies, too. Make sure to visit our Trusted Dealer page to get one of my recommended options…