How To Be A Smart Mattress Shopper: Advice From A Mattress Industry Veteran

Purchasing a new mattress is typically a decision most consumers labor over, typically because of the historical cost of a new mattress, but also because we are conditioned to considering it a significant expense.

In fact these days, a really great mattress can be purchased for right around $1,000 or so, with many not-so-good variations costing much less, in the $500 range. 

The recent explosion of online mattress retailers, especially in the last five years, gives consumers a huge range of options. But how do you distinguish between a super comfortable and supportive mattress option vs. one that will collapse and develop indentations in only a few months.

I can’t think of the last time I’ve even talked to someone who wasted their Saturday in a local mattress store with some guy hovering over you while you lie down for three minutes sizing up a mattress that’s supposed to last you ten years.

Nothing is more confusing and perplexing than buying a mattress at a local retailer, especially since the retail system is intentionally designed to do just that- wear you down, and make you settle for less,

Fortunately, shopping for a new mattress become a fun thing with the introduction of online mattress stores. Everyone is intrigued about the whole “bed in a box” phenomenon (pioneered by the CEO of our web site, by the way) and the experience of receiving and unpacking a vacuum packaged mattress is worth ordering a pizza and inviting some friends over the moment you open the box, pierce that bag and hear that familiar hissing sound as your new mattress expands right before your eyes.

You’re going to be far more comfortable making a sizable purchase online as over 250 online mattress retailers offer a variety of memory foam mattresses, latex, hybrid coil, air beds, and gel foam mattresses, with highly personalized customer services like chat, mattress concierges,  a transparent buying procedure, fantastic money back trial periods (some over 100 nights) and solid warranties.

Even more, most retailers are finding competition so fierce that it puts you in complete command, so prices are fantastic. You can even read reviews, customer satisfaction stories, and watch YouTube videos about each model and delve into the components, the visual appeal of the mattress, and much more. You’re also likely to score bonus free gifts like pillows and sheets- so don’t forget to ask.

Overview Of Benefits of Buying Mattresses & Accessories On The Web

Have a look at some of the benefits of purchasing a mattress online that are driving more and more consumers to get comfortable ordering online:

  • Flexibility & Convenience: Since everyone today knows someone who has purchased a mattress online, shopping one has become the norm. With ever-growing technology, customers can now take as much time as they need researching for their mattress at their computer & place an order from the comfort of their homes. The archaic practice of setting aside six hours on a Saturday is no longer needed, nor is the need to dress up & drive to the nearby retailer showrooms hunting blindly for a mattress and subjecting themselves to the whim of a part time mattress sales person- barista- Lyft driver. They can check mattress or bed reviews online and shop on their time and terms.

  • Minimal Sales Pressure: Though brick and mortar retailers offer you the security of being able to test a bed, the salesperson accompanying you might also pressure you to upgrade to a far more expensive mattress using bait and switch, trying to navigate towards the latest hot mattress in the store. Focusing on the pros & cons of the desired mattress can be tough when sales pressure is squeezing you in the background.  Your online research might take a little longer, however it is more likely to get you the best memory foam mattress you intend to buy. You can look for detailed information about design of the mattress or read mattress ratings & bed reviews of other customers.

  • Saves You Big Bucks: Reports from National Sleep Foundation has revealed that buying mattresses & accessories online can typically save you as much as 20-25% if compared to buying the same mattress from a store. A lot of online retailers offer discount regularly & sometimes even less than half the retail price. They sweeten your online purchasing experience by not collecting sales tax, offering free delivery and/or easy returns.

  • Excellent Customer Service: One deal-breaker with the online mattress companies is the astounding customer support. Shoppers usually prefer buying from the companies whose buyers & reviewers say they had a great customer experience. Responsive customer service aims from answering the questions about the products quickly to savvy replacements & issuing refunds to the dissatisfied customers.

  • 100 Days Trial & Easy Returns: Online retailers offer a generous trial period of typically 100 days, which lets consumers try sleeping on their new mattress for a longer period of time, and you get comfortable knowing there is no pressure on you to make up your mind. Customers have a plenty of time to test out the mattress in the comfort of their home and simply have it picked up for a full refund in case they don’t absolutely love it.

While online mattress retailers offer a family typical no questions asked trial period, the warranty, which protects against defects and workmanship, is probably the biggest piece of your online mattress purchase.

Again, because competition between online mattress companies has become fierce, warranties have become longer and more encompassing. This means that if the mattress develops indentations, if the outer cover falls apart at the seams, or if the contents shift inside due to inadequate gluing or assembly, you will get a free replacement mattress.

One thing any mattress does not cover by the way, is liquid damage. In fact, should your spill a liquid and the mattress develops a non-removable stain, any other defect would become void, if it occurred after the liquid spill, since the warranty ended at that moment. 

So, definitely purchase a mattress protector, which will keep liquids, sweat, particulate matter, dust mites, and other materials off of the mattress itself.

You might even be able to score a free mattress protector by chatting with a sales rep online at the same time you are almost ready to hit the buy button. It’s worth it to ask, since a decent mattress protector sells for around $100.

Before we get to the one brand we recommend as the best overall mattress, let’s talk a bit about why the online mattress business has exploded, and why you should might want to avoid shopping at a retail brick and mortar store altogether.  

The one reason why you should consider stopping in at a retail store is to try out various mattress types, is to allow you to get a general idea of what might work for you. Here are the basic mattress types that you should inquire about and ask to try out, if all of these options are available in one location, which typically, is highly likely.

Mattress Types To Try Out For Reference In A Brick & Mortar Store

  • Memory Foam– the most popular online mattress type, this option feels both squishy and like a melting sensation, and cradles the body, evenly distributing weight and reducing pressure points. Almost all mattresses sold online have at least one layer of memory of gel/memory foam in the makeup of the mattress.

  • Latex Foam– highly popular, the only green and natural bedding material option that is used for bed in a box mattresses. If you buy natural latex, it feels bouncy, buoyant and very slightly firmer. It is hypoallergenic, and has a lifespan of up to 50 years. Downside is that it is very heavy, so if you are hauling your mattress in a box up to a third story walkup apartment, get some help.

  • Coil or Coil/Foam Hybrid– yes, coil systems are made in layer form and on hinges, allowing them to be easily rolled and compressed in a bed in a box mattress. You’ll get the benefit of precise pushback and excellent spine alignment with a coil type mattress. Usually, other foam types are placed on top of the coils to provide a softer initial feel up top.

“The online mattress business really went from literally zero to a $1.5 billion business in the blink of an eye,” said Kathy Thornton-Bias, president of Milwaukee-based Verlo Mattress, referencing the boom in sales that happened roughly around mid 2014 until today.  “The entire industry has been disrupted by the idea that maybe you don’t have to try the mattress before you buy it.”

And essentially, that is correct, as long as you have at least a general idea about the kind of sensation each mattress type will provide. You can visit our Trusted Dealer page and we lay out our carefully vetted suggestions for mattresses in each of the categories we discussed, as well as a few more.

Our CEO and senior editor was one of the pioneers selling a bed in a box mattress long before companies like Casper came along in 2014. While Casper is not the best option for a bed in a box mattress (in our opinion), hundreds of other brands followed their business model, including many niche companies that bench build their mattresses one at a time, and would be considered craftspeople rather than production line workers. 

Many companies donate small amounts from their proceeds to charitable organization, wildlife rescue, and other entities, and you can find those options on our Trusted Dealer page in the description and short reviews we offer. 

The advantage of using our Buyer Guide rather than others is that, for one, we don’t have a financial interest in any of our recommended manufacturers and dealers unlike most other review sites, and our reviews are short, concise, and easy to understand. We don’t do long winded videos with people bouncing up and down on mattresses or guys in shorts providing vague reasons why a particular mattress option is your best bet.

There is a lot of variety to choose from, too, as many companies have created innovative elements that are part of their brand, distinctive qualities that set them apart from both brick and mortar stores as well as online competitors.

As an example, a company called Layla, makes a mattress that  is two-sided, giving you the choice between a firm or soft mattress. A company called Eight Sleep offers a mattress with smart home integration, collecting data on your rest as you sleep. 

Bear mattresses use “Infrared Yarn Technology” to help athletes and those with active lifestyles recover more quickly, and a company called Avocado builds a mattress made of all organic, nontoxic materials.

If we had to consider one mattress that stands out above the rest, all across the board, it would certainly have to be the Puffy lineup of memory foam mattresses. The company currently offers 3 different models, with their middle model, the Puffy Lux, being their big seller.

Their beds have thousands of loyal fans, and the company gets a lot of new buyers from friends and family of current owners who rave over the soft, cloud like feel- without the sinking sensation you get in mattresses that are too soft. 

Their mattresses are made entirely in the USA in their own factories unlike some of the bigger bed in a box companies that import much of their partially assembled mattresses or outsource them to third party fabricators all across the U.S. making quality control more difficult. Puffy is highly reviewed online, and receives the highest ratings of any bed n a box option on the web, according to Google, and other truly third party review sites.

Would You Use A Bath Towel For A Year Without Washing It?

Years ago, couples purchased a new mattress about every 30 years. Since they had no reference point on just how bad their mattresses were even after a few years, they simply stuck it out. Mattress stores had little options other than coil “rack” style mattresses that all felt the same and had little or not design element, unique qualities, or options to choose from.

The reality is that you should replace your mattress every 8 years, or more frequently if you have the option to do so. This is because mattresses collect a lot of nasty things, from fluids, moisture from the air, dust mite feces, hair, food particles, and much more. Would you use a bath towel for a year without washing it? Same thing, basically.

But Why Are There So Many Online Mattress Stores?

In 2014, a company in Belgium that sold the big machines that roll up and mattress, suck the air out of it, and stuff it into a box, sold about 8 machines to mattress manufacturing companies who were beginning to understand the bed in a box concept. This company was one of the few companies around that even made these machines. 

By 2016, the same company was selling 30 of these machines in a year, and the number kept growing. If you had a warehouse, and could buy foam from one of the big companies in the U.S., like the respected Carpenter Foam products, you could setup shop, and glue layers of foam together, sleeve a nice outer covering over the mattress, compress and roll it, and ship it off to customers all over the country.

Soon digital marketing companies go into the mattress business, and smaller organizations, usually run by SEO and content writer types, got into the mattress game. In fact, very few companies that are out there are actually seasoned mattress manufacturing experts. They rely on the third party fabrication houses we discussed to design, engineer, and manufacture a product for them. And again, the company we recommend the most, Puffy, is one of the few online bed in a box manufacturers who designs and builds their own mattresses in their own facilities.

“If you can find a manufacturer that will build your mattresses and slap your label on to the foot of the bed, then you’re in business,” said Daniel Galle, cofounder of Nolah Sleep, one of our top recommended brands. “There are very little barriers to enter so you see these massive number of brands coming up.”

Mattresses Were About The Last Consumer Product To Show Up Online

Mattresses were among the last consumer products to become firmly established in e-commerce. Traditionally, mattresses have been sold by retail chains like Mattress Firm, a few Mom and Pop stores, and department stores like Macy’s. Because mattresses sell at astonishingly high profit margins—a mattress can be manufactured for as little as $250 and then retailed for $1200—a mattress store needs to sell only a few mattresses to cover its costs. 

The perceived value of what Americans have become accustomed to paying for a mattress led directly to a huge wild west like boom in the online mattress business. The big problem- competition is now so fierce the many of the smaller players the online mattress game are shuttering their web sites. Along with that, if you’re an owner of one these company’s mattresses, there’s no one to turn to if you need a warranty replacement down the road.

This was partly by the industry’s design. If consumers recognize a brand, then they can go to another store and shop for the lowest price, creating a situation where mattress stores are slashing prices to compete with each other.

The Slippery Methods And Scams Used By The Retail Mattress Industry For Generations Are Finally Fading Away

Shopping in brick and mortar stores was intentionally designed to confuse you and wear you down, very quickly, forcing you to settle on a mattress that was either modestly comfortable and supportive, even though you didn’t really know what was inside, or buying something just to get you out of store and get the salesperson off of your back.

The trick was to have the big mattress companies, like Sealy, Simmons, and Serta, the giants that manufactured most of the mattresses in American for a century, to create a way for individual stores or chains to label the product differently, even though all across the board, the basic mattress was exactly the same.

For example, you could create a puffier pillow top section with a bamboo fabric and charge another $500 over and above the mattress that has a simple quilted top cover. Basically, an elaborate “cups and balls” scheme designed to upset you from the basic model. 

A salesperson who was highly trained knew to have you lie down on the most uncomfortable mattress in the store, always on sale, and likely the mattress you saw in an ad that sucked you into the store. Then he would groom you on the upgrade options, and step you up in increments of $200-200 until you agreed and, just like a used car lot, steered you into focusing on the monthly payments for financing the mattress rather than on the price of the mattress. A classic scam…

Buying a mattress online completely eliminates the nonsense and the wizarding ways of the slippery mattress sales guy with the pinky ring. You pay one price, which typically you can’t haggle on (though we recommend getting on a chat with a company and asking for discounts or free merch) that is transparent and easy to figure out.

Of course, we recommend using our Trusted Dealer guide to make sure you’re doing business with reputable companies, that we have already vetted and thoroughly researched.

Most Mattress Companies Are Not Mattress Experts, But Sophisticated Digital Marketing Firms

To understand why there are so many brands to choose from in the online mattress category  it’s better to think of these companies less as legitimate mattress companies and more as digital marketing companies. Aside from a few exceptions, like Puffy, and only a handful of other companies, most online mattress companies don’t actually manufacture their own mattresses- in fact they likely never see their product except in the design room and the one or two nights they spend testing the product in their homes.  

Rather, they typically subcontract the manufacturing and simply slap their labels on the product. Companies do have a hand in the design of their mattresses, which can include how it’s constructed and the materials used, but often they rely on professional mattress designing contractors, or experts in the field. As an example, our CEO and senior editor, Marc Anderson, has designed dozens of mattresses for some of the largest mattress companies in the world

According to Forbes Magazine, online mattress sales made up 5 percent of all mattress sales in 2016, and that number is rapidly skyrocketing. It’s hard to know exactly how much of the $15 billion mattress market online companies can ultimately capture, but there’s a trend happening these days, as online mattress sales are softening. 

The bed in a box concept was an early hit, but today, in 2020, it seems to have slowed slightly due largely to the fact that only a few online companies are selling the lion’s share of mattresses. Companies like Puffy has seen sales surging even during the pandemic, while other companies have disappeared from the landscape. 

Many of the digital marketing companies have found that fear of ordering something as intimate as a mattress because of the Covid19 pandemic may have had an effect. The fear is unfounded of course, as most online companies use stringent sanitizing protocol to prevent any issues that could result in litigation. 

Also, old school buyers still resist buying a mattress they have not tried out, even with super long trial periods and extended warranties. 

Online mattress retailers work constantly to overcome this hesitation by offering free returns that offer easy removal service within an extended window that can be as long as a full year  to bolster sales, and it seems to help. All across the board, though, industry insiders predicts that the ceiling for the online market share, buying a mattress site unseen, will likely cap at somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of all mattress sales. Still, this is an astonishing chunk of the once strictly showroom floor driven industry.

One holding back further explosive growth of online mattress sales is the fact that the mattress industry as a whole doesn’t have much opportunity for growth, and is pretty tapped out at this pint, with only the top big cats standing on the mountain top. The vendors we recommend are all proven, long lasting, and durable companies, that will be around well into the future.