Should You Buy A Mattress Online Or From A Brick And Mortar Retail Store?

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way America goes shopping, not just for food and other essentials, but also for important purchases like mattresses and even automobiles. Online mattress shopping has been around for awhile now, since about 2005, and many new companies have begun selling mattresses online even in the last couple of years. 

Still, the brick and mortar retail store sector of the mattress industry has held strong, responsible for about 80% of all mattress sales, with internet mattress sales accounting for the other 20% through the early part of this year. 

The virus has dramatically altered the recent landscape of the mattress industry even more dramatically as consumers have become accustomed to making virtually all of their purchases online. Brick and mortar stores are really struggling to survive even as they sanitize and maintain social distancing in their brightly lit retail settings.

Shopping In- Store vs. Online

While most consumers looking to physically test drive a new mattress before they buy are able to do so, there are distinct advantages to buying online. 

The idea of buying a bed in a box is still alien to many people, but its rapidly becoming a mainstream thing, since most customers are thrilled with the ease of online ordering, the method of shipping and unpacking, and the fact that most sites offer very liberal test drive policies that allow you to get your money back if you don’t like the mattress. And generally, there is enough variety in mattress options, from foam to hybrid foam and coil, to latex, and even sleep number style air bed systems.

The online mattress shopping experience has become even more streamlined than ever. To begin with, you can study all of the performance factors and thousands of controlled, third party reviews, and you don’t have to deal with hovering salespeople who might be silent carriers of the coronavirus.

Research has shown the online mattress retailers offer very in-depth specifications about the contents, how long the mattress is expected to last, excellent warranties, and faster checkout and return procedures, too. Frankly, going to a brick and mortar store is a lot like buying a car at a dealership, painful and drawn out. Even cars can be purchased online and delivered directly to your door these days.

Retail Mattress Stores Are Notoriously Unsanitary

A retail store is often a breeding ground for viruses and bacteria to begin with, where hundred of people are touching price cards, lying down on mattresses, and there’s a good chance you’re going home with someone else’s hair on your body after flopping around on 12-15 mattresses on a Saturday afternoon.

When you consider that the average human body sloughs off  about 500 million skin cells each day, and that when you lie down to test drive a mattress for just 10 minutes, you’re not only swimming in your own dead skin cells, but in everyone else’s that has come before you as well. 

And it goes without saying that something has to eat those dead skin cells, and that would be a gigantic ocean of dust mites. So, to sum it up, test driving mattresses is a pretty grotesque and horrific experience. Dust mites nest in mattresses, lay eggs, and poop. If you suffer from allergies or asthma, your mattress test run could set off an allergy or asthma attack.

Mattress used as floor models often sit for a year or more, and then you have pillows, carpeting, and other upholstery materials that are breeding grounds for mold, bacteria, and yeast. For example, if you walk into a public restroom or on the grass with animal droppings, and then test out a mattress in a retail store, you can be leaving behind a deadly blanket dangerous bacterial other organisms on each mattress you try out.

Viruses can live up to two days on inanimate surfaces, including retail store mattress displays. In fact, virologists recommend cleaning your mattress once or twice a day if you have a sick bed partner at home. I can promise you that floor sample mattresses do not get cleaned that often.

As someone who has experience running showrooms in mattress stores for many years, we would take the pillow covers and foot protectors of the floor models to their homes to wash, but it didn’t happen very often.

“Going to a store is always going to be riskier than online shopping, as more people are around you, and around the things, you are touching,” said Dr. Giuseppe Aragona M.D.

Retail Mattress Store Trickery And Survival Guide

Years ago I owned a few mattress stores and competition was fierce in my market in the D.C. area. You’ve probably noticed that mattress stores are always running a sale. If you have spent any time shopping around at various mattress retailers you may have noticed that there seem to be dozens of mattresses with highly creative names and descriptions, the fabrics are all different, making it impossible to comparison shop store to store. 

The brick and mortar mattress industry is carefully structured to funnel you through the store, and wearing you down by confusing you, until you settle on a mattress that is within your price point, but that you are only 60% satisfied with, thus confirming the discussion we had above.

Mattress sold in showrooms are typically much higher than the same mattress options sold online, often with insane profit margins of about 40-50%, and sometimes even higher. When you buy a mattress from a retail store, you’re paying for a whole lot more than just a mattress. 

You’re paying for outrageous rent costs, advertising and marketing employee salaries and commissions, distributor and wholesale costs, utility bills, and other unseen expenses. When you buy a mattress online, you eliminate a vast percentage of these cost factors. It simply costs less to buy a better mattress through an online mattress retailer.

The fact is, however, that even if you need the sensory experience in a retail setting to help you make a substantial purchase, there is a pretty good likelihood that the 15 minute test drive you took on the mattress in the store doesn’t guarantee you will be permanently in love with your purchase.

The odds are about 60% in your favor that you will be incredibly satisfied with your purchase, about 20% that you will be moderately satisfied, and about 10% that you will return it. I know this because I operated both retail and online retail bedding stores for 25 years, and those numbers hold true in either setting- buying online or buying in a retail store.

Here’s the big difference- with most brick and mortar retail stores, if you are not satisfied with your mattress purchase, you may be required to return the mattress yourself, or pay for a return pickup fee. 

Online purchases are likely easier, primarily due to the fierce competition for your business online, and you will likely find more liberal policies, such as donation to charitable organizations, or in some cases, simply keeping the mattress and getting a refund.

This may seem strange, but when you consider the expense of actually picking up a mattress, especially one that is not compressed and rolled up inside the original container, it is far too cost prohibitive for a retailer to endure. 

Though all mattress prices have a factor of about 10% built into the cost (that you pay for) to cover the expense of a return rate at about 8-12%, the overhead of running a mattress web site is fairly high, and picking up returned mattresses is a business no retailer wants to be in.

But What About The Quality Of A Mattress Purchased Online?

Worried a mattress that arrives at your home rolled-in-a-box won’t be up to par with a  showroom mattress? Think again. Memory foam, latex, hybrid, and even air mattresses are not only more comfortable and durable, but they also offer more comfort and performance features than traditional innerspring mattresses, which is the traditional mattress type sold in big box mattress retailers. 

Most “bed in a box” mattresses sold online enjoy They also have much higher customer satisfaction ratings and are outfitted with much longer “no questions asked” sleep trials, free returns, and warranties.  

The Convenience Of Shopping Online Is Hard To Beat

If you still are convinced that test driving a mattress in a store outweighs the risk of illness, exposure to germs, having to physically drive to the store, and deal with hovering and questionable salespeople, you might want to consider this. 

Buying a mattress online actually forces you to test drive your mattress longer. It’s a known fact in the industry that to accurately determine how your body responds to a new mattress, and to determine whether or not the mattress will work for you, you need to spend a minimum of 30 nights on your new bed. 

Bottom line, those two or three minutes you spend rolling around in thousands of other people’s dead skin cells won’t give you an accurate representation of your long term experience with a new mattress. If you bought a new mattress to relieve pain, you need to accept the fact that you will be in pain for a few nights until your body adapts to the new surface and them begins to give you the long term pain relief you paid for. 

Shopping online versus at a retail showroom is physically safer. It’s also far more convenient. You can research mattresses to better understand each of their comfort and performance factors (spine alignment, motion isolation, pressure point relief, etc.), read consumer reviews, and even find out if the materials used are organic or hypoallergenic (this is especially important for shoppers with allergies or sensitivities).

On many sites, you can even determine where components and materials were sourced and get a better sense of the quality of the mattress and the cost.

There are also other benefits of online mattresses that showrooms do not necessarily offer: 

  • Free shipping: Most online mattress companies offer free shipping. Brick and mortar retail mattress stores often charge a hefty delivery fee. 

  • Lengthy Trial Periods: You can’t expect to find your dream bed by lying on it for 10 or 15 minutes. It takes at least 30 days to break in your mattress. You may have to negotiate with the showroom salesman to get a 30-day sleep trial. But almost all online mattresses offer at least a 100-night sleep trial up to a full year.

  • Free returns: Many online mattress companies offer free returns if you change your mind about your purchase within the sleep trial period.

  • Generous Warranties: Most online mattress companies offer warranties of 10 or 20 years. Some offer lifetime warranties.