May 2, 2014 - Marshall Coyle
Trustworthy or Not? —Sleep Like The Dead, Consumer Reports , Mattress Underground
“If a mattress review site is paid by mattress makers, can you place your faith in their recommendations? ”
If nature abhors a vacuum, opportunists are always ready to make money by exploiting the fears to be found in the minds of almost all mattress shoppers. And that is the message I am trying to impart in this post. The mattress industry as a whole, has intentionally made it as hard as possible to comparison shop for a mattress. I do not have to go into detail as every single one of the dozens of useless how-to-buy-a-mattress articles that appear regularly in your favorite newspaper and magazines, always start off by telling you about the same mattress being sold under numerous names, and every other possible trick used by stores and some websites to convince you that the name-brand product they are selling is exclusively sold by them. This lack of truth is the most common denominator to be found in print and internet and TV mattress advertising you are exposed to. The only truly “Exclusively Ours” mattresses are sold by factory-direct stores that literally assemble them from bought components(most), or actually manufacture them from house-made components. ( A very few, and I identify most). A third, and very new and often the most troublesome category are the “miracle” mattress sites; Saatva , Keetsa, Casper, Leesa, Yogabed, and more than 200 other Internet-Only newbies. The USP, the Unique Selling Proposition and the one that makes it even more important for you to do research at honest, knowledgeable advice sites that work for you, not the mattress sellers, is that when you buy from this class of retailers, you are always promised a superior buying experience. And the actual ordering and delivery process usually goes very smoothly. Generally speaking, most of them keep their promise. That is the only good part. To your frequent misfortune, while the delivery and post delivery service is as expected, the mattresses are very very frequently a cause of buyer’s remorse. Many crushed, rolled, and boxed mattresses are only made well enough to survive the trial period. You are often given as many as four months to try out the mattress and return it with little or no extra cost. When you pay from $500-$1,000+ for a vacuum packed mattress that can be bought from Amazon without all the BS starting for as little as $150 (including free delivery and pickup) and go all the way up to about $280 at Amazon for the equivalent of a $1,000 snake-oil peddler’s offering. The Amazon delivery experience is usually first rate. I have heard that the pickups vary significantly from source to source. When you live in a large city, the possibility of actually getting your unwanted mattress picked up is much greater than less densely populated areas.
If only the mattresses were crafted as well as the advertising copy that describes them they would quickly put the old-fashioned retail stores out of business. However, as of December 2017, none of the above mentioned mattresses in my and many other’s professional opinions rise even to mediocre. Casper, Leesa, and Tuft and Needle, early entrants to this scam-like mattress marketing do garner good ratings in the current Consumer Reports tests. Hundreds of other newbies do not.
The style and method of selling and promoting really do resemble the Snake Oil patent medicine peddlers now only residing in our history books. These modern peddlers might someday get smart and realize that you can not fool all the people all the time, and start importing and using better quality synthetic foams. Unfortunately, in this world, the real world, you have no government entity looking out for your welfare when it comes to mattresses. The Federal Trade Commission has successfully prosecuted only three of the dozens of memory foam peddlers that were so untruthful, and with such known carcinogens that the government was moved to act. But the bar is very high for prosecutions, and what you have to do is to make sure where the foam comes from, and what is the reputation of the company offering it to you. This is not easy to do without enlisting the help of trustworthy review sites. Sites that work for you, not for the mattress sellers and makers that pay SLTD for their praise and recommendations. Finding these sites is easy. Consumer Reports (CR), The Old Bed Guy(OBG), and Sleep Like The Dead (SLTD) to name three. Each take a different tack, but by spending adequate time on all three, improves your chances of getting a comfortable and durable mattress within your budget.
SLTD has a large amount of usable information accompanied by almost as much unusable. None of it exists to earn payments from the sale of mattresses. You have to visit The Mattress Underground to see information designed to get you to buy from someone that pays kickbacks to them. You won’t find it on SLTD or the OBG. Some of the information on SLTD, mostly about accessories, links to Amazon to make ordering convenient for you and profitable for SLTD. And that’s OK because they go out of their way to tell you about this source of income. What is not so good is that SLTD gets rather large payments for placing paid mattress ads right on the homepage of their website. It really can look as if SLTD is endorsing some of the worst possible mattress choices. SLTD’s hard-working owners are youngish (to me!) people doing this as a business and are entitled to make a living. Sleep Like The Dead is a compilation, a mass (mess) of statistics. Statistics are only as good as the information that is used to create them, and Sleep Like The Dead , no matter how hard they try, cannot change the fact that they do not know how to accurately find and interpret mattress reviews. They primarily rely on external sites that exist mainly get complaints,not product praise. Happy people rarely bother to post about their happiness. SLTD also visits various forums and chat rooms seeking people commenting about mattresses. It should be no surprise to know that most mattress posts are also complaints. Most people buy “mass produced” mattresses. That is why they are manufactured in large quantities. And apparently, also why they are designed and made more for profit at the expense of long term customer satisfaction. Few people bother to vent and complain when they are happy.
The most significant reason that you cannot rely on SLTD to pin down information on a specific mattress or brand is that the “open sources” that form part of their opinions are so packed full of paid-for-praise, that the accuracy of his percentages needs to be wondered about. Still SLTD so much better than most of the alternatives. If you use it for generalities, things like ” do innerspring mattresses sell as well as memory foam?, Or “is it better to shop in person?” but not for any one individual mattress brand search, you will get the most useful help. That is where you should use Consumer Reports. You cannot actually find your perfect mattress on SLTD, and might even find yourself inadvertently seeking a hot and smelly memory foam slab, not because it is good, but because of basically flawed information gathering. Most of the phony mattress reviewers somehow lead back to synthetic foam mattresses of various kinds. Not all are memory foam, but almost all are. The methodology is published on the website and is as far from unbiased as one can get. The site’s owner picks and chooses and publishes what makes sense to him. Useful statistics are never cherry picked. It is a stab in the dark for the most part. But a million times better than TMU.
Many of the SLTD editorial essays are obviously written by someone who makes a best try to write trustworthy and serious how-to essays. Unfortunately, these essays suffer from a flaw, the same as mine do. We are both opinionated. We are both judgmental (although they say they are not) and while my judgment often parallels the opinions at SLTD, I often completely disagree with their advice. GIGO is what we called it when I studied statistics in B school. Garbage in=Garbage out. The editors at SLTD feel a lot more favorable about petrochemical synthetic foams than I ever could. Yes, synthetics with the CertiPur seal might be less unsafe than uncertified synthetics, but only nice naturally cool latex deserves to be called absolutely safe. Latex never outgases, and memory foam always does. VOC’s are never completely benign. I have a post with a list of CertiPur approved foams that you can find in the index on the right side of the home page.
How about me, the Old Bed Guy, and what I can do and can’t do. I will not blindly recommend any mattress when writing this blog. I will tell you how to make your best decision. I do praise a handful of mattress factories that stand out in the race to the top of the quality pyramid, and even more rarely praise any individual mattress. At the time of writing, I praise a the Simmons Beautyrest Black Lillian, a Macy’s exclusive, The Charles P. Rogers Estate Powercore that Consumer Reports rates as the number one of all tested innerspring mattresses. I also like another Macy’s exclusive, “Hotel Collection by Aireloom Vitagenic Holland Maid Latex Luxury Firm” , a real mouthful. Consumer Reports likes it less than I do. This mattress is very well made, and while it has some synthetics that I do not care much for, it has quite a bit of latex that I do. I estimate that it will last twice as long as most current major brand mattresses, 8 or 10 years instead of four or five. Only at Macy’s.
I never say never, but do not bend when asked about a mattress I have never touched. Macy’s flagship store is only minutes from my front door and they have stores in most major shopping areas if you want to see and try what I like for yourself. They are my go-to store when trying to find mattresses that can be in-store tested in most of the country. I like to find and endorse high quality hybrid innerspring mattresses. My highest praise goes to pocketed coil innerspring hybrids with all, or mostly all cool latex foam for the comfort layers. Until 2017, the selection of mass produced hybrid innerspring mattresses was “not many”. This seems to be the year of the innerspring hybrid. The Consumer Reports best rated innerspring mattress, an Estate Powercore is a true latex hybrid. Most of the high scorers are hybrids. CR should add a test to rate VOC’s coming out of the tested mattresses. Shoppers concerned with their health could at least see a choice between latex mattresses that do not outgas anything, and various memory foams that outgas molecules from the various noxious petrochemical substances that are omnipresent in this synthetic memory foam.
And for those who question why I do what I do. I hope that it will not soon be. ” I did what I did” as I have definitely passed my “use by” date.
If you wonder what the catch might be in someone knocking themselves out for total strangers, here it is: When I was healthier and still in only in my seventies, I used to volunteer myself and donate my money to a neighborhood no-kill animal shelter. I volunteered five or six days most weeks doing whatever was needed and I could. Mostly dog walking. The paid staff cleaned the cages! Now as I can barely walk myself, I can still donate, just not as much as the animals need. That is “the catch”. If you want to express your gratitude for any help you may receive from me, please make any size donation to a no-kill animal shelter in your hometown or the National ASPCA. Nothing else. From the many thank-you letters I have received over the years that also mention that the reader made a donation, I estimate that I have raised at least $79,000+ in the past six years, mostly benefiting local shelters.
Consumer Reports is the gold standard or product information. They have been running tests on all kinds of consumer goods since I was seven years old. Consumer Reports mission is to provide shopping comfort and knowledge for their dues paying members. They never take kickbacks from any manufacturer or seller of any product. The only nit that I have to pick is that when testing mattress durability they use testing machines that were designed for the Cornell School of Hospitality in the 1920’s, long before latex or synthetic foam was used to pad innerspring mattresses. CR chooses to ignore one inconvenient fact: these, the only available testing machines can only determine the strength (or lack of) for innerspring units. Solid synthetic or natural latex foam, air, or waterbeds can not be meaningfully tested on these machines, but CR seems to pretend that they can. These non-coil foam or air mattresses that they test are unaffected by the heavy rollers that will eventually break any kind of coil spring. Because cloth pocketed coils are the most flexible, they almost always come out on top of the innerspring tests. I ignore their ratings on synthetic foam and air mattresses as they are meaningless in the real world.
TMU,The Mattress Underground, a modified chat room is moderated by the mythical bird that arose from the ashes, “Phoenix. She is a highly gifted and prolific writer and knowledgeable businessperson. This site features a few essays signed by the pen name, Phoenix, purporting to advise the unknowing how to shop for the unknown. Sometimes her “advice” is presented as a post from a reader. Pure BS. All of her essays skillfully and gently flow with praise for an exclusive group of tribute and dues paying mattress sellers. TMU is paid by mattress sellers. Can you picture always getting 100% honest advice from a broker representing the seller when he or she is trying to make a sale? Check the site for the membership page. These mattress sellers are financially different than the other five thousand places where you might buy a mattress. These stores and sites, all alone in the industry, pay regular dues to the Mattress Underground for general praise, and an agreed on commission when they make a sale. The rest of the industry are on the outside looking in and get few to no recommendations, mostly “no” recommendations. Nothing for nothing in this dog-eat-dog world.
Phoenix instructs her readers to tell the cooperating stores when you place your order that you heard about them from the Mattress Underground. Why? You are told that this is for you to get a discount? Total bull. This is the tip off for a pay-off to TMU. Money is the only language spoken at the Mattress Underground. If you place your trust in the Mattress Underground, your chances of getting good bedding at a good value are a roll of the dice. Ironically, I recognize one or two, maybe three halfway decent and reliable old names on the TMU paying-dealer’s list, and I am uncomfortable putting them all in the same pot. However they are only a very few, so “luck” will be elusive.
The forum on The Mattress Underground site, populated with questionably real and imaginary mattress experts, is entertainment for anyone who actually knows what goes in the not so complicated making of a good mattress. You would think that the discussion is about a new kind of interplanetary propulsion, not a flattish bag of petrochemical foams. You take The Mattress Underground gentle nudging at your own risk. You might just get lucky, but the house always wins. Some of the advice is ludicrous, because it is obviously so blatantly skewed, but a typical mattress buyer has no clue about the deceptions. I am sure that it is some of the most imaginative mattress writing that money can buy, but, unfortunately, the money that pays for it is coming from the wrong side of the table. For a more scientific study of how to understand what you are mostly reading on TMU, I suggest the following Canadian scholarly study. TMU