January 23, 2014 - Marshall Coyle
MATTRESS SHOPPING GUIDE FOR INSECURE SHOPPERS
You are reading this because you need a new mattress and find the shopping process either uncomfortable or hard to understand. Or both. Mattress makers and retailers who deliberately make the buying process more difficult do it for the money. If they let you discover how little difference there often is between most mattresses profits will go down the drain. There are quality differences, but not as great as the price differences. My goal is to make it easier for you to be able to judge.
Mattresses are a “blind item”. They all more or less look alike. There are some exceptionally soft and/or hard mattresses, but the bulk of them feel pretty much alike. When you walk into a store with a sea of white or beige cloth rectangles, you are usually at the tender mercies of a commission paid salesperson. On the Internet, the differences are even harder to see. Your salesperson may be a nice person, and probably is. However, the “Golden Rule” stops at the door. It morphs into something like “ Sell or Starve”, because no sale, no pay. And the commissions are often much higher on higher profit items. None of this promotes a consumer-friendly environment. Your best way to avoid being taken advantage of is to gain a little knowledge before you set out to shop.
A guaranteed way to pay less and get more is to find what is best for you from a manufacturer that sells directly to the consumer at factory direct prices. Some factory direct resources have informative web sites and deliver anywhere in the country. When you can avoid paying retail, almost always 2X or more than the factory price, your savings are real and large. I list some exceptional factory direct sources in various essays on this blog. As I am a New Yorker, I am more familiar with my own local Mid-Atlantic and Northeast sources, but in my years of domestic and foreign travel I have been able to check out resources from Ontario, Canada to Ontario, California. At least a dozen strong and capable direct sellers are ready to make a mattress for you. I make judgments about their products based on the quality and quantity of materials used, and reader recommendations. I am always learning about small local shops, many without websites, from my readers and pass this information on when I think you will be getting a good deal. The numbers of factory direct stores are diminishing as competition from problematic and questionable Internet startups has eaten into their customer base. This is not good for consumers, but the marketplace goes by the law of the jungle.
If you are searching for honest, informed, and unbiased guidance on the Internet, there is close to none. At risk of sounding judgmental, my criteria for rating a review site as being biased or not are whether or not they take money from mattress sellers for praising their product or actually sending customers. I constantly trawl the web looking for review sites that I can recommend. Although there are at least a hundred sites of various sizes that offer to guide you, only two meet my criteria for not being two faced.
Consumer Reports is the grandfather of all review sites and mattress reviews are just a tiny bit of their wide umbrella. They charge about $6 for a trial membership, and I highly recommend that you make the investment. I have disagreements with some of their testing techniques, as their seventy-year-old test machines are not up to the needs of rating newer memory and other synthetic foams. However, as in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, it is very true in the mattress-testing field. Their member-actual user reviews are, or were until very recently, among the few consumer reviews with absolute credibility. Apparently one of the new mattress startups has been able to game the system and insert a dozen or so dubious good reviews. CR is a well-managed public benefit operation. I would expect that they would find a way to keep out the phony mattress reviews.
The other site that has earned my trust is the oddly named, “Sleep Like the Dead”. The trust, however, is for their honesty, not necessarily their accuracy. The site is a compendium of reviews gleaned by the management from forums and review sites, many of which are included in the group that seeks cash for recommendations. Still much better than no information at all. If you use them to answer the larger questions, such as a comparison of foams, or good pillow information, you get quality information. If you try to pick out one single mattress for yourself, absent professional qualified guidance, it is unlikely that you will get the best possible outcome.
Another reason to be wary is the flat out misrepresentation that is present in most of the numerous start up websites such as Casper, Saatva, Tuft and Needle, Keetsah, Leesa, and Yogafoam. An expert examination of quality and content claims often discloses no or little connection with the truth. These sites pander to the most cautious of shoppers with extravagant “free” trials and other apparently consumer friendly policies, and sometimes, when pressed, do carry through. My issue is less with the service than the problematic mattress-like things that they foist on the unwary. If something is too good to be true, it isn’t.
The only “truth” is that virtually everyone who publicly judges mattresses on the web has some kind of financial agenda that pre-determines the outcome. Claims of comfort or durability are always subjective and since they are not provable can not be called true.
Claims of value can only be slightly more objective, and then, only if they could compare two identical mattresses offered at different prices. Consumer Reports, the only consumer oriented and supported magazine, has made legitimate efforts from time to time. The quality of their advice varies, but you often can get very good guidance. Where CR, in my opinion, is completely wrong is in their advice to always haggle. This is rarely possible or necessary when buying from internet merchants.
I have tried to comprehend why they do so and have come to a conclusion that it is geography. They are physically located just north of NYC and tend to buy all of their test products from local stores.
I believe that CR usually shops for their test mattresses at Sleepys. The NYC area is inundated with Sleepys sleep shops. They have 32 in Manhattan alone. They are the poster children for stores that put extreme markups on their price tags and give almost every shopper ” a deal”. After the deal, the price may still be twice as high as some of their competitors, but by having exclusive names and labels, comparison-shopping is well nigh impossible.
Where you buy your mattress is as or more important than what you buy. It is so difficult to know what you are getting into. Spending half an hour lying down in a store with a salesperson at your feet, does not guarantee that when the mattress gets to your bedroom, it will be identical to the sample, and/or still feel comfortable to you. Generally speaking, you are far better off in a department store than a sleep shop. When or If you need a replacement for a sagging foam mattress, you don’t want to be ripped off and abused on the exchange, you want a comfortable mattress at an affordable price. Family owned and operated Factory Direct stores tend to be the best for value and service. Ikea, Sam’s, Costco, and other big box stores can often have bargains, but sometimes with questionable or incompetent after delivery service. Internet mattress sellers are all over the place ranging from ultimate integrity for one 160 year old NYC factory direct with a mattress that CR highly recommends, the St. Regis, to overnight wonder startups that bring in a container of Chinese foam mattresses and then disappear.
Please read the essay called “Best Mattresses” to find out what you should buy when you have found an appropriate place to shop.