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Why there are so many online mattress-in-a-box companies (curbed.com)
249 points by prostoalex on Apr 1, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 260 comments



The journalist spoke to all these founders and to marketing people, but didn't ask a fairly obvious question: What makes the mattress market so much weirder than for other products? Let's compare mattresses to big-screen TVs, which are also $1000+, infrequently purchased, bulky items:

- The article says, "If consumers recognize a brand, it creates a situation where mattress stores are slashing prices to compete with each other." But how is that different for Samsung or LG TVs?

- "The number of mattress manufacturers is close to 500," meaning in the US I presume. Why are there only 19 TV manufacturers that market in the U.S., and probably not many more in the whole world?

- Why do mattress manufacturers obfuscate the model numbers so that "every one of the stores gets a slightly different mattress" making it impossible for consumers to compare? TVs aren't like that. LG's current lineup seems to be 11 different models for 65-inch TVs and 3 models for 60-inch TVs. It's perfectly easy to compare LG's prices online vs Best Buy vs other stores.

So why are the mattress and TV markets so different? To take a stab at answering my own question, I think it's because mattresses are still mostly made locally in the US since they can't be shipped great distances (like from China), so they don't benefit from huge economies of scale and cheap labor. And many of those 500 manufacturers probably serve a niche geographical area, so they actually have less competition than TVs manufacturers. Hence they can get away with 300% markup whereas TVs manufacturers operate on tiny margins. Therefore TVs need to compete on features and price, but mattress manufacturers have traditionally used high-pressure tactics and obfuscation to make sales. Anyone have a better explanation?


You can easily test TV brands by going to a store and looking at them. You can't really test different mattress brands in a store; yes, you can lie on them, but in my experience at least, that doesn't give a very good prediction of what sleeping on the mattress long term will be like.

The result is a standard asymmetric information scenario: the seller knows much more than the customer about the actual quality of the product. And standard microeconomics tells you that in such a situation, the market will be dominated by lemons: products that don't have to (and can't) complete on features and price, and are sold by "high-pressure tactics and obfuscation".

The difference between the mattress market and an idealized market dominated by asymmetric information in standard microeconomic theory is that most people aren't willing to take the option that standard economics recommends for such a situation: don't buy at all. Most people consider a mattress to be a necessary purchase, not optional, so they have to just do the best they can in a highly imperfect market. (Similar remarks apply to, e.g., the used car market: most people who are shopping for a used car are doing it because they have to--they need a car and can't afford a new one.) Many other possible markets which would be dominated by asymmetric information if they existed, simply don't exist, because people can choose not to participate.


Another small observation - the properties you described (asymmetric information, obfuscation, and a necessary purchase) apply to many parts of the healthcare market. I wonder whether it means that this market is dominated by lemons.


"Lemons" is not so much of the problem in healthcare because of the (over)prevalence of litigation as a remedy for failures.

I can't sue anybody for a year's salary if I don't like my mattress (I don't).

Instead the market is dominated with inflated prices and mostly harmless procedures and tests. Sometimes the information isn't asymmetric, it's just difficult or sometimes just not a habit to try to find the best prices.

Here's an example that blew my mind a while back:

I was helping a friend with limited income afford medication. Generic Prozac, an extremely common drug.

Here are the current prices at Costco (you'll find the same trend many other places).

FLUOXETINE HCL 20 MG CAPSULE x100 $17.03

FLUOXETINE HCL 20 MG TABLET x90 $141.09 ($156.77 for 100, the price is listed for different values)

Look at that, nearly a factor of 10! For the same drug in a gel cap instead of pressed into a tablet. This isn't cherry picking, you can find the same scale of differences anywhere. Sometimes a drug will be cheaper in a tablet, other times a cap.

We had to call the doctor to get a prescription for the capsules, but for someone on a not-so-far-above-minimum wage job, that was a huge difference.

I only figured this out because I was curious about the difference and wanted to find out the best price, then I was blown away when I saw the vast differences in price. Anyone _could_ do the same thing for all of their prescriptions, but insurance and apathy mean that nobody cares so the market is extremely inefficient.


Regions that spend more money on healthcare have little if any benefit from that investment. http://nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Report%20File... ~50% of all medicine prescribed in the US is useless to harmful. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/allen-frances/many-commonly-u...

So, no US healthcare is very much dominated by Lemons.

PS: Modern medicine delivers most of it's benefit from fairly inexpensive treatments.


Not only are half medications useless to harmful, most of the time side effects aren't ever disclosed. I'm still bitter about this due to being prescribed medication I would have never had taken if the potential side effects we're disclosed.


Did you ever read the information sheet they give with your medication?


The pharmacy always gives you papers with all of the side effects, interactions, and instructions. Is that not good enough?


Is this a serious comment? Of course it's not good enough.

I'm supposed to wait until after I leave the doctor's office and fill the prescription to know the side effects of a medication I just spent money on? So if I don't like the side effects I have to make another doctor's appointment and wait until the doctor has availability?

So I go to my doctor and say "I have X problem." Doctor says "take these pills." I go to the pharmacy and read about the medication. I say "well these side effects don't look good, I don't want to take the medication." I go back to my doctor, the doctor says "here's some different pills" and I have to fill that second prescription and compare the two side effects.

No, that's not good enough.

There's also the problem that that information is given in a vacuum, there's no information given about what the alternative treatments are for your condition and what the side effects are for those alternative treatments. That discussion rarely occurs to my satisfaction at the doctor's office because oftentimes the doctor seemly doesn't know about the side effects or is misinformed.

This has just been my experience...

For me, the medication in question was given to me in an acute setting. I asked directly about side effects and I was brushed off as "oh most people don't have any side effects" or something of that nature. Especially when the medication is administered by a nurse and I was just given pills, I had to firstly ask what the medication even was.


Honestly, you seem like a somewhat difficult patient. If you want to be more involved in medical decisions, it takes time and effort.

"big issue I have with doctors, I don't know if they are going to prescribe me some bullshit"

You want a somewhat different relationship with a doctor, it probably is not going to be very easy if your attitude is like that and you are not particularly willing to spend time and make effort. Finding the right doctor for what you want can be difficult, especially when you yourself are difficult.

I read all of my prescription documentation, and if there is an issue I raise it with my pharmacist or my doctor. Sometimes I go out and find journal articles too.

Sounds like you are using the VA, I'd believe you if you said it was time consuming and the doctors didn't have enough time for you.


Prior to Obamacare introducing some sanity to insurance spending/denial of claims due to pre-existing conditions, the health -insurance- market was dominated by lemons.

You would end up paying for a plan that would not not actually cover you when you had a catastrophic health event (Or would cover a lot less then you'd expect.)


I don't think the health care market is quite the same, because in the health care market, in most cases the people who are paying for the services are not the same as the people who are receiving them. The people who are paying for the services (health insurance companies) do not have the same issues with asymmetric information and necessary purchase: they can obtain much more detailed information than individual patients about the relative performance of health care providers, and they have the ability to switch which providers are allowed to participate in their plans.

The main problem I see with the health care market is just what I said above: the people who are paying for the services are not the same as the people who are receiving them. This means that the price signals the market is sending are not well matched with the actual value of the services to the people receiving them. Standard microeconomics says that such a market will be highly inefficient, which I think the health care market generally is. But "inefficient" is not quite the same as "dominated by lemons".


To be fair, who can really tell the difference between TVs in the store? The source is crap, the lighting in the viewing area is crap, the settings are totally unknown.. and the reality is, they'll all look good once you get them home.


I think he's close, but it's more that there are objective criteria for TV quality. My guess is that there are enough people who will only buy TVs with good reviews that manufacturers don't want to muddy the waters on their top-tier models. Low-end TVs sometimes still have store-specific model numbers.

For a mattress, a review is less helpful. Firmness is probably the most noticeable feature of a mattress, and what's good or bad is mostly a matter of taste.


Consumers are a lot less discerning about TVs than you think. Most consumers only care about size and maybe resolution. The TV market is dominated by low end brands.


The TVs that are sold with huge discounts that everyone kills themself trying to get on Black Friday are the cheap in-house brands that will probably crap out in a couple years.


I agree, but is that a bad thing? I've had two cheap TVs that went out after 5 years and the TVs - equally low end - were a lot better.


I can't parse this-- yes, a TV failing after 5 years is bad. Did you mean.. the equally low end TVs were a lot better than the black friday no-name deals? (which, from what I've seen is not true.. often black friday deals ARE brand names).

Or are you saying the replacement after 5 years, a low end, was much better than the previous one it replaced? But you said they were both better, not the newer one was better.


I left off a crucial statement.

I bought two lowend 32 inch TVs five years ago. If I remember correctly, they were about $350. I replaced them with TCL Roku 32 inch TVs for $169 (regular price). The Roku TVs were much better - smaller bezel, better pictures, and the Roku smart TV platform is the best you're going to find as far as features, interface, etc.


Ah, okay. So you're saying the no-name cheapos are better (and cheaper!) than the low-end of the brand names.


I'd have thought most in store buyers would look at the name, then the general appearance, and then the sellers recommendation. Does the general public pore over reviews?

Indeed I'd imagine most would simply follow what "the expert" tells them. When it appears to go against their view they'll say "your the expert" and go along with it.

Sadly I think "the expert" is most likely selling according to the profit margin/bonuses.

As long as the choice isn't dire for the customer then they'll come back in 2-3 years and do the same.


> You can easily test TV brands by going to a store and looking at them. You can't really test different mattress brands in a store; yes, you can lie on them, but in my experience at least, that doesn't give a very good prediction of what sleeping on the mattress long term will be like.

FWIW IKEA offered 90 days "trial" when I bought my last bed a couple of years ago.

I liked it for a few months so I never verified if their return policy worked.


A way to sell in an imperfect market is with branding. You, as the seller (or manufacturer), won't risk your hard earned reputation by selling a couple of lemons. Something like in the kitchen appliances market. You can't try a dishwasher nor a washing machine at the shop, but you know that you cannot go wrong with Bosch (no affiliation, I'm just satisfied with them).

The interesting part in my opinion is that in the mattress market this branding system seems not to work.


Branding depends on a reputation.

That reputation needs to be established by either word of mouth or general reviews. For mattresses, word of mouth isn't that good because people have different preferences.

Moreover, general reviews have essentially been corrupted by 'astroturfing' reviews. That is, almost all mattress reviews that are prominent are financed by a manufacturer. They then use publishing clout or heavy SEO to be found over any possible remaining reviews. Besides, single user reviews aren't that valuable because of personal preference and lack of comparison mattresses. Thus, it is really hard for an honest reviewer to start. They need capital to get sufficiently many mattresses. Then, they need to be found, thus going up against the heavily SEO'd dishonest sites. Finally, they need to stand up to all attempts from the mattress companies and dishonest reviewers to actually survive.

Finally, bad-mouthing brands' product quality is again stymied by personal preference and the small number of mattresses anyone sleeps on.


Works great until the brands start cutting corners.


And Bosch is on of those brands, to my knowledge. Bosch is one of the main examples of a split brand: They compete with Miele and the other premium Germany made brands with their deluxe models that are still made in factories they control, but they also compete with Zanussi etc with their basic lines, without the 15+ year warranty, and definitely not made in Germany.

Here I'm not sure the name Bosch is worth anything, and you might as well buy a Zanussi, our student flat had all Zanussi stuff and nothing broke in the 10 years they had them.


>You can easily test TV brands by going to a store and looking at them

And a store can easily game this by selecting the most pleasing settings on the most expensive TVs.


Even if stores do this, it's not the same as trying to get customers to buy a lemon. It's basically upselling, which is a common technique, yes, but the products are still competing on features and price--more precisely, on the balance of features vs. price.


> The result is a standard asymmetric information scenario

I think you nailed it with that. But now the question is: can we do something about it?


It depends on whether the asymmetric information problem is fixable. The usual reason why fixing it is hard is credibility. For example, in the used car market, a seller who happens to have a car that is not a lemon has no way of credibly conveying that information to prospective buyers, since sellers of lemons can say all of the same things he can say. So the seller of a non-lemon will get no buyers unless he is lucky enough to come across a buyer who actually can tell that his car is not a lemon--i.e., for whom the information is already not asymmetric, without the seller having to say anything.

Note that branding is not necessarily a solution to this problem, except possibly in the short term. That is, a seller can work to establish a brand reputation--which, btw, will generally (by standard game theory arguments) include costly signaling, such as expensive advertising, that sellers of lemons cannot duplicate. But as soon as the brand reputation is established, the seller has an incentive to take advantage of it by gradually reducing quality. Buyers know that this incentive exists, which limits the degree to which they are willing to believe even costly signaling; and therefore establishing a brand reputation is not a long-term stable solution to asymmetric information.

The other potential solution is for credible third parties to exist who give unbiased and accurate quality ratings to the various sellers. But this, of course, is vulnerable to being gamed: sellers have an incentive to offer rewards to the third parties in exchange for more favorable ratings. This then becomes just another version of the brand reputation situation above: buyers know that the third parties will be tempted to sell better ratings to sellers, which limits the degree to which those ratings will be believed.


> - The article says, "If consumers recognize a brand, it creates a situation where mattress stores are slashing prices to compete with each other." But how is that different for Samsung or LG TVs?

I can speak for this because I've actually experienced this. When I went to a local mattress store and found a mattress I liked, I was unable to find it online by name/model. Only references I found were to the same mattress store chain. Each chain makes sure all of their mattress brand names are unique to them, to prevent the exact kind of price shopping I was trying to do. Oddly enough when I went to a few other local mattress stores, I found very similar mattresses as the one I liked before, under different names.

E.g. What Chain A called 'Premium New Haven Sapphire Deluxe' was very similar to something Chain B called 'Silver Cooper Plush' and Chain C called 'Luxury Sunfire Extra Soft IV'.

Now the reason this is different from Samsung/LG is that you can buy the same (or almost the same) Samsung at Walmart, Amazon, Costco, or Best Buy based on the rough specs (size - 60", type - LED, features - SmartTV). Can't really do this for mattresses because there's no 'New Haven Sapphire' in Chain B, C, or any site online.


Tech does get different model numbers when sold in different places sometimes too (in the UK). Usually there's small changes to the spec as well.


I think that's fair enough though. If the product ships with a different plug attached then it makes sense to have a slightly different number. With most tech brands (Dell monitors spring to mind) that variation is consistent across their lineup and across the slightly different models they put out each year.


Not sure if this is common with the higher end TV's, but with the more budget brands sold in supermarkets, it's not uncommon to find an otherwise identical model in multiple stores, but with slightly dithering model numbers, or in some cases, complete rebrand (box and badge).


Yeah, I have noticed that as well. The big chains often get their own SKU, which will make comparison difficult. And I don't think that it it is always about included accessories.

Alternatively, sometimes it is about preventing arbitrage. Nobody wants customers to be able to pay $300 at one place and take it back for $400 in store credit somewhere else.


There can be difference in packaging. One ships with just the TV, the other ships with all the cables and accessories.

I've seen that on induction hoods and computer displays. Another trip to the shop to get the missing part that's overpriced.


> Why do mattress manufacturers obfuscate the model numbers so that "every one of the stores gets a slightly different mattress" making it impossible for consumers to compare? TVs aren't like that.

I can't speak for the US, but in Germany all kinds of electronic appliances (TVs, washing machines, toaster ovens) are regularly advertised in the two big electronics stores' brochures and newsletters, and the model numbers are very often nothing the manufacturer's website knows about.


http://freakonomics.com/podcast/mattress-store-bubble/ might be interesting listening material in this context


I’m pretty sure the answer is simple: TVs are hard to make, mattresses are very simple. Foam latex, it’s pretty much the simplest product you can fit in a box, and damage is probably not a concern as the product itself is what we use to protect most other products!


Sure, TVs are much harder to make than mattresses. I agree completely. But that doesn't explain why mattresses are so expensive and why we have 500 mattress manufacturers and obfuscated models and prices. In fact, your line of reasoning would lead to the opposite conclusion: Mattresses should be cheap, a commodity product dominated by 2 or 3 manufacturers who eke out a few percent margin, selling at a standard price. But that's not what we see.


The materials probably aren't quite that cheap, and due to the bulk (a queen size mattress weights about 50-70lbs) there is natural price floor just of shipping expenses.


Shipping that from China to the US or Europe isn't expensive. From the port to the end customer is the most expensive part but even that won't be significant. Even washing machines (which are heavier and harder to transport) can be shipped for a relatively low price across long distances. I wouldn't expect shipping costs from China to the end customer to be more than $30 for any mattress.


These types of mattresses have a limited shelf-life in their 'compressed' state and can only be stored within a specific temperature range.

I say it is more akin to shipping produce than TVs. We don't get the majority of our veggies from a single farm for all of the US.


Marketing, they don't have to be expensive. I bought a no name queen sized mattress from overstock.com in 2012 for $240. It's indistinguishable from any other mattress.

People want to spend on mattresses because they believe spending a lot on mattresses will improve their lives in some way. Less fatigue, less pain, less stress, etc. These are big selling points. However, they are selling mostly snake oil.


I thought your question was why are there a ton of mattress companies but only a (relatively) few tv companies.

As for why mattresses are so expensive, I think a lot of it is "because they can." I think there is also materials and such. A bed with two people in it might hold over 400 pounds for 8 hours a night 7 days a week for years. If a tv had to do that it might be more expensive too.


A mattress is wires and springs. The load limit is irrelevant - a truck body can hold scores of tons for 50 years. We've solved that.

I lean toward the 'because they can' argument, which means, what the market will bear.


I don't know if there's any merit to this, but I've always felt the mattress industry benefits from being a "soft target" like the wedding, funeral, education, child <anything> industries. The old "You spend 1/3rd of your life sleeping! Don't be stingy" marketing strategy is so convincing, consumers do not behave rationally. Higher price is assumed to be better, so there's little pressure to lowering price.


Also, these types of mattresses have an expiration, and I doubt they are manufactured on demand.

If they are not sold within a specified time and stored properly (not stuck in a hot warehouse or cargo container), they are useless.

Also, mattresses are not currently being subsidized by adware/analytics apps and companies.


Wow.. and here I've always thought people who pay $1000+ (USD) for either a mattress or for a TV were being grossly extravagant, even with Bay Area tech salaries.

The extravagance of large-screen TVs is arguable, of course, especially if one has a particularly large room and/or regularly hosts large audiences, but mattresses..

When one can get even a brand-name mattress and box spring from Costco (with, I believe, no special restrictions on their usual, generous return policy) for on the order of $700, that people pay multiples of that prices still boggles my mind.


> Why do mattress manufacturers obfuscate the model numbers so that "every one of the stores gets a slightly different mattress" making it impossible for consumers to compare? TVs aren't like that.

TVs can be like that. Costco is known for using different SKUs for what would otherwise be the same product.


Mattress quality = subjective (how it feels) TV quality = objective, you can measure technical features.


In addition to the article's points, it seems to me that the experience of dealing with aggressive/manipulative salespeople in a "classic" retail mattress store cannot be compared to the feeling that I get from most online stores.

Questions on my budget, spending time to show me the mattresses (and then making me feel guilty that they spent all of this time on me), etc. Offering me a "last minute" deal once they saw that I was leaving. It was dreadful.

In this regard, IKEA can be a good compromise on price, selection, and their employees' relaxed, non-pushy demeanour. You get to try the mattresses and no one (except other customers) will watch over you.

---

Contradicting all of my points above, I do want to say that investing in a Tempur-Pedic was a life changing decision. I definitely spend a more "rewarding" time sleeping in it.

(((obviously, but just in case someone is wondering, I'm not astroturfing for IKEA or Tempur. Just a satisfied customer...)))


I second that. I recently bought a king size tempur, upgrading from my queen size (which got moved to my spare room). It's not just comfortable - it's next level. I slept on a Casper at an airbnb for a full month this past summer - it's not bad but it isn't tempurpedic.

Ps, check my past comments - I am not a shill, just someone who digs tempurpedic.


I sleep on a Tempur-pedic and I don't like it. I turn around at night and the mattress resists that, giving me neck pain since I have to arch even more in the turn to compensate. And it's not so great for sleeping face down, because of the way I sink in. I rarely wake up without some kind of neck or shoulder pain.

I should replace it with something else, but I'm far from sure I can find something.


Ditto. My tempurpedic cost a fairly ridiculous amount. I would pay it again in a heartbeat if my mattress caught on fire. The best mattress I’ve ever slept on by a very large margin.


These recommendations seem wholly legitimate. Funny thing is, though, the only person I know well who owned one (my brother-in-law) liked it but said it was simply too damn hot, which I've since heard others discuss as well. They had to return theirs, just couldn't live with it. I don't think of a normal mattress as providing ventilation, but I guess it does, at least somewhat -- less thermal mass, at least.


This is a problem with memory foam mattresses in general, they trap too much heat. It's not too bad if you live in a cold climate, but I live in a hot climate and during the summers it got to be too much.

Gel memory foam is the nice compromise. You get the memory foam but with a gel topper. It's noticeably cooler and a bit firmer than typical memory foam. We got one and have since moved the regular memory foam into the guest room.


Mind sharing which brand? Texas here.


Also Texas.

I got this one[0] from WalMart because I think once you get above $500 for a mattress you see a cliff of diminishing returns in quality. I’m quite happy with it.

0: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Modern-Sleep-Cool-Gel-Memory-Foam...


I’ve never had that issue personally. Even before I had air conditioning, this wasn’t an issue for me in the summer. However, I don’t doubt that a memory foam mattress is warmer than a traditional mattress so I can totally understand that this could be a factor for others. I wonder if other foam mattresses are any different in this respect.

On the topic of thermal mass, more thermal mass would actually keep you cooler longer, because it would take longer to saturate the mattress with heat. Ventilation is probably a much more significant issue than thermal mass though.


It’s a common issue with memory foam, and especially closed cell foam. Some of the foam mattresses on the market now use a gel or gel-infused layer to take advantage of phase shifts, while others use a cooling layer with air channels above the memory foam.

I switched from a memory foam mattress to the Purple specifically because of the heat issue.


I don’t think memory foam is ever closed cell. The open cells are necessary for the “memory” to happen.


When we bought our IKEA mattress they offered a 12 month 'satisfaction' return period.


The margins in this industry and its structure are almost an economic paradox. The dynamic is basically (1) markups are very high (2) manufacturing is a solved problem and (3) there is lots of competition.

This should resolve to a very competitive market with costs trending to marginal manufacturing cost. Instead, you have high prices for consumers and competition for the tremendous sales margins driving a marketing bidding war. IE consumers pay 400%. 100% is used to make mattresses. 300% is used to market mattresses.

IMO, this is something like the wine industry. People want a premium product, but a premium product doesn't exist. So, the market spoofs it with marketing.


> People want a premium product, but a premium product doesn't exist. So, the market spoofs it with marketing.

I had never heard it described this way. I love it.


Slightly off-topic, but if you genuinely think that there's no such thing as high-end wine, I feel a little sorry for you. Surely you can tell the difference between the Budweiser/Calsberg-type beer and beer from an independent brewery? If so, then surely you can imagine the same might be true of wine? I get that the fact that some bottles cost thousands may offend some people's sensibilities, but this hardly covers the wine mainstream and is usually down to intangibles that go beyond the wine itself, just like a piece of art.

It's certainly the case, of course, that while there's a big gap between a $10 and a $50 bottle of wine, naturally the gains for price points above that get incremental pretty quickly in much the same manner as TVs — is a TV that costs $9,000 over four times as good as a $2,000 model?

Wine experts often stumble on double-blind tests, sure, but then again, so do audiophiles trying to differentiate lossy and lossless audio.


I feel a similar way about micro-brews. It's good because people think it's good. They think it is good because of cultural/narrative reasons. It's not good for any underlying or objective reason. If Budweiser made a beer that tasted like micro-brew, the connoisseurs would be drinking a micro-brew that tastes like budweiser.

Don't feel bad for me though :) Being a philistine is not life-threatening.

Wine is a good example because it's proven to be nonsense. Neither experts nor consumers can rank wines for taste in either a consistent way or a way that corresponds to price. Prices & blind test preferences are random. OTOH, people demonstrably prefer expensive wine when they know it's expensive.

This comes back to my earlier point, it's not all economics. Human beings are complicated. In these cases, some of us want to pay a premium for a premium product. There is no such thing, so the market spoofs it.


>It's good because people think it's good. They think it is good because of cultural/narrative reasons. It's not good for any underlying or objective reason.

I just want to point out that this is true of basically all food, drink, and art. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distinction_(book)


At some level, value is a matter of taste. I agree.

Is this $900 phone better than this $200 phone, or two $200 phones? IDK, but at least they are different. The question is not (IMO) about absolute rationality, but having enough rationality to drive a market. Wine & mattress markets don't have it. You can't offer a near identical wine or mattress cheaper than market price and expect it to disrupt the market, forcing competitive price-cutting.


A handful of people might be "super tasters" and be able to tell the difference.

I suspect most people in a properly run double blind test would be able to tell you what they like, but that wouldn't be repeatable over time and it wouldn't correlate with price.

Your last sentence about audiophiles is odd, because everyone knows audiophile hifi is full on nonsense.


Sorry, yes I should clarify. What I mean to say by that is that while there is objectively a difference between a 256kbps MP3 and a FLAC copy of a song, it's very hard to discern, but the difference is there. But personally, I can't imagine being unhappy with a $30-50 bottle of wine. I suppose this is part of the attraction here — mattresses aren't a regular purchase and the notion of 'cutting out the middleman' is a big part of the value proposition for lots of companies these days (Warby Parker and Everlane make a big play of this in their marketing).

Being able to slap a label on someone else's product and have them handle both production and distribution while you just do the marketing is the dream for a large chunk of the Valley, I guess!


Beer is somewhat different here, in that it is not just one ingredient. One reason Budweiser/Carlsberg are not "high-end" is they use ingredients that make production cheap. For example, both of these beers use rice, which is a much cheaper source of sugar than barley. But when you get to comparing full-barley beers from Anheuser-Busch vs a micrcobrewery, you'll find just as much pretense as in the wine world.


This is all true, however even among all-malt beers there is significant variance in the quality of ingredients. That doesn't mean that there is no pretense but that high-quality beers can be measurably better (GCMS, blind sensory tests etc.) than less expensive ones made with cheaper inputs.


But it certainly hits a ceiling at some point. I've had really expensive beer and it doesn't taste any different than moderately priced beer.


Beer made by independent breweries doesn't taste better by virtue of being independent or small. There's some bad beer made by craft breweries out there.

Furthermore, some formerly independent breweries are owned by Budweiser, but that doesn't make their beer suddenly taste bad. Goose Island has been owned by Budweiser for 7 years now, for example.


It's almost as if the hegemonic form of Econ theory is mostly bullshit that doesn't correspond to reality.


Not in this case, though hegemonic is a big word here. You can still buy a mattress for $200 if you want. Micro-102 has all sorts of funky examples where things behave weird. This mattress situation is only possible because people want to buy a premium product "irrationally." This isn't housing.

Mattresses and wine are pretty straightforward examples because "marketing" is straightforward, advertising and sales. It seems obviously wasteful when $400 of your purchase price was spent on FB ads, $400 on sales and only £200 on manufacturing.

In the garment trade (a much bigger industry), there's still that insane manufacturing/price ratio. It's just that "marketing" is more complicated, involving premium retail experiences and difficult stock management. In both cases, you could hypothesise a different structure where stuff gets produced and shipped to consumers at a fraction of current prices.

But... this particular thing can't really happen in markets where people want/need stuff and can't afford it. Cheap/cost-price alcohol (also wine) is also available, and popular. This can only really exist when people don't mind paying more.


Somewhat ironic that the article comments about MemoryFoamTalk not disclosing comissions from Nectar and then provides an (undisclosed) affiliate link.

I have a Leesa as it was the only mattress (at the time) which fit my bed properly. The fact that all these companies can offer 100-365 day trials does hint at how stupidly large the margins are.


I think the reason the 100+ day trials are successful for the companies is that it's a huge pain to box up and ship back a mattress. Also most people don't have room to hold onto the old mattress for several months while they try out the new one on trial. I imagine a lot of people therefore keep 'good enough' mattresses vs sending them back.


>I think the reason the 100+ day trials are successful for the companies is that it's a huge pain to box up and ship back a mattress.

I don't think they ask you to ship it back; I think they contract with some local charity to come pick up the mattress, or just toss it and write off the loss.


The big shipping problem is in the warranty (i.e. if you find a defect after the 100 day (or whatever) trial period) - you generally have to pay return shipping to make a warranty claim, and it costs somewhere between $400 - $800 to ship a queen mattress across the country. [1] Even shipping to the next state can cost $100 - $200.

And assuming they agree that it deserves a replacement, you have to pay shipping costs for them to ship the replacement.

So.... you can either pay $500 to ship an $800 mattress back to the factory and hope that they agree that it's defective enough to deserve a warranty replacement.... or you can just buy a new mattress.

Makes the 10 year warranty pretty meaningless if you pay more in shipping costs to make a claim than the mattress is worth.

[1] https://www.uship.com


https://purple.com/refund-policy

"Purple will cover the shipping or pickup charges for returns and exchanges, except when there are extenuating circumstances. You will be informed beforehand if extra charges will apply."

which is consistent with what I was saying, which is that you don't have to pay return shipping.

But I think you are right that shipping costs dominate; from what I hear, the reputable brands will give you a refund and send someone local to haul off the mattress for free.


That's only during their initial 100 day refund period ("comfort trial", etc) -- if a year later you find that the mattress has developed a human sized permanent depression, then you pay for return shipping yourself as well as the costs of shipping a replacement (or repaired) mattress back to you.

From their warranty page:

Any to-or-from transportation handling and costs and inspection costs associated with repairs or replacements are the responsibility of purchaser

So basically, don't count on that 10 year warranty for any of these mattresses unless you can truck it to the factory yourself.


> if a year later you find that the mattress has developed a human sized permanent depression //

Minimum warranty period in EU is 2 years.

Under the UK Sale of Goods Act products have to be free from defect, there's no official time limit, it's based on expectations in part. A mattress should last much longer, so that would be a defect in manufacturing and the _seller_ has to make good (repair or replace at their cost).


Wouldn't you still be pissed to find your mattress was only comfortable for 2 years? Or even 5?

Anyone here had one of these rolled-up mattresses for 10+ years? The long term durability of these roll-up mattresses is a concern for me.

That and mattresses are notoriously horrible to recycle anything from, so caring about mattress longevity is both selfish and selfless.


After 18 months with our Leesa, my side seemed to be getting softer than my wife's side. It was giving me back aches in the morning.

She prefers a softer mattress so we rotated it about a year ago and it's been fine for both of us since then.

I've slept on her side a few times and it's been fine, so maybe having a lighter person on it has let it firm up a bit.


We had a Leesa but returned it because it was too soft. Got a Helix mattress instead (lots of options for firmness etc.), which has been pretty good for about 2 years.

The "return" for the Leesa was a disposal truck from 1-800-Got-Junk. It already had another Leesa mattress on it from that morning. Used mattresses can't really be resold; I hope they're at least somewhat recyclable.


Tuft and Needle’s returned mattresses are directly donated to local homeless and women's shelters.


Depends on the state. Reusing mattresses is not permitted in California, unless the mattress has undergone a sanitization process that often costs as much as the mattress is worth.


Every couple of days on HN, I learn of something else you can't do in California. That, plus absurd rent, makes me really glad I don't live there.


Yeah, California is a terrible place to live, what with its concerns about peoples' "health" and "safety".


I think that if I were to become homeless tomorrow I would prefer to sleep on an almost new mattress than on a new cot. This is my problem with California- let people decide for themselves what they want. I don’t need a government telling me what to do.


Have you ever considered that there might be needs and issues at stake whose importance exceeds your preferences as an individual?


Certainly. But the fact that California is such a statistical outlyer with the number of laws but does not show a significant increase in the quality of life (in fact it's last by most measures), makes me think something else is at play. Like market manipulation, or theatrics, or both.


Oh yeah, so concerned, especially with all that urban sprawl and complete lack of care or concern to reduce traffic or increase public transit so it takes less cars off the road, reduce pollution and increase air quality and reduce traffic deaths. Or how about affordable housing? Housing is so expensive, that most migrant workers (the backbone of California's economy) have to eat Fast Food every day because it's cheaper. Concerned about their health and safety? Didn't think so.

Concerned with paying lip service to health and safety (and maybe create an extra regulator job or two)? Sure. But at some point, labeling everything as cancer causing takes away any meaning what so ever. I think California labels something every week as cancer causing. It's just become noise at this point. Here's the latest now for ya: Coffee https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2018/03/29/coffee-cance...


At least they try, I guess. Nobody's perfect.


bed bugs man, bed bugs.


Have you seen some of the things people do on their mattresses? I certainly wouldn't want to sleep on one secondhand without having it cleaned first.


This is also why I don't drink water - fish shit in it.


You dont sleep on hotel beds?


What's the kinkiest sex you can think of? Because if it what you're thinking of doesn't soak/soil the sheets and mattress, then you're not thinking dirty enough. Hotels will at least toss the mattress and bill the customer under those circumstances.

Have you ever worked hospitality?


Fair point.


* wherever possible

Which means sure, if it works out, but mostly these are probably still going into the trash.


I bought the wrong size $250 Zinus mattress from amazon and tried to return it. They refunded my money and told me to just keep the mattress.


I had the same experience with a $700 Tuft and Needle purchased through Amazon, though I actually found it to be a bit of a hassle. Ultimately I was able to sell it for ~$100, but it took me a month—I'd have preferred if they just arranged someone to take it immediately.


Serious question - how were you planning to ship it back?

If it's a foam mattress, it doesn't exactly go back in the original box, because it's vacuum packed and expands after opening.


I assumed the people who picked it up would have a plastic slip or something.

Other people in this thread said they took the mattress and donated it or recycled it.


I think you can use a home vacuum to re-pack it, if you keep the bag intact.


How do you like your Leesa?


Not a Leesa but I have 3 Brooklyn Bedding mattresses.

I don't have a critique from any sort of experience aside from that I sleep well and its comfortable.

I have the soft king size for the bedroom, and 2x full size mediums for the guest beds.

My wife stole the free giant shredded foam pillow. I probably couldn't take it from her if I tried.


I will ride and/or die with Xtreme Comforts' shredded foam pillows. They're like fifty bucks, a little more for a bigger one. My girlfriend hates them--which is fine, because it means I get two. The bed's going to look funny when we move in together: two enormous pillows on my side, two puny flat ones on hers.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00V909F1K


Heh I have the "as seen on TV" bamboo pillow as well that I bought on some insane sale somewhere. i think it was $12 ish for the pillow.

I like it quite a bit. When I was getting shipped around on a plane every week for work, the hotel super soft pillows really didn't stack up. You get used to having something that fully molds to your head.


Pretty good, I've not had any real problems with it. I tried a Casper before and liked that too. I don't have a problem with the softness, it's actually harder than I expected.

Is it better than all the other companies? It's still very difficult to tell without trying them side by side. When I bought it there weren't that many offerings in the UK - I think it was only Leesa, Casper and Simba.

One concern is that there's no way of easily removing the cover, and all it'll take is one glass of wine to ruin it. So while it looks great in the photos, really you'll want to put some kind of protector on it.

I also tried one of Casper's pillows, which was great until it started bunching like crazy and is now useless. Don't waste your money on the expensive upsell 'accessories'.


I have a Leesa and liked it so much that I bought 2 more for the rest of my beds.

It feels great for me, I like a firmer mattress, but it’s not too firm.

Here are the highlights:

1. Half the price of the equivalent at Sleep Country

2. Didn’t have to deal with mattress sales people. Margins are so high there is usually a negotiation. Given the varying types of materials, I don’t really know how to price and why I should bother knowing the ins and outs of mattresses. I don’t like the upsells. Makes it feel like going to a car dealership.

3. Shipped and got delivered fairly fast.

Cons:

1. Buying it sight unseen can be unnerving, especially for a $1,000 purchase. I guess that’s why they have the generous return policy.

2. Differentiation. I don’t know how Casper is different from Leesa. I went on a review site and trusted it, I guess, but even then, they seemed to be made the same way more or less.


I’ve had two Leesas. One with my ex and now at my new place (a year old). Both were extremely comfortable and fit my sleep needs. The first was a risk, the second was an obvious choice.


I think this might be one of the big 'brand advantages' of the mattress in a box companies; because most people feel uneasy about the return process, and because of that, if they like the mattress, they are more likely to buy more of the same than to roll the dice again.


Seems like part of what this article is discussing is the emerging 'Shopify effect'. The barriers to entry for starting an online brand-based business have plummetted to the point where even people with little means financially and no means technically can still set up a business for a fraction of what it cost in the 20th century. I wouldn't be surprised if we're in the middle of a Cambrian explosion-esque period for consumer-based brands.


And not just US based brands trying to all sell the same products. I have a "joyroom design" phone charging case, shamo's phone case, yivvin wireless keyboard, powerextra camera flash, godox battery charger, auxia ring light, and all other manner of cheap Chinese whitelabel brands that didn't even take the time to consult an English speaker before coming up with a name.

And all of these products have at least 20 to 30 or more other listings of the exact same product with some other made up "brand name" on it.


And yet, for living species, it looks a lot more like the K-T boundary extinction event. At least we created a lot of shareholder value.


Many of those shops won't make much profit. Shipping companies are probably the only ones profiting (if not shipped via national mail services). Most of the value will flow to the customer as prices are now much lower.


It will turn into what eBay turned into: Cheap, misrepresented crap. Web design used to be a reliable way of judging a stores product quality, but less and less every day.


A fine example of Goodhart’s Law

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodhart%27s_law


So happy to have a real term for this! I've always just said "A known metric is a gamed metric". Everything from "if you can't touch your toes you're unhealthy" to "price per square foot maximizing" in real estate... once a group has consolidated on a metric and let that metric be known, that metric is useless.


Brands, sure, but it's a side effect of nobody actually making anything anymore. The manufacturer or distributor, of which there are certainly many fewer than mattress brands, could steal huge hunks of the entire market just by deciding to do so. I'm not sure all of these are positive developments.

I have to wonder if the low barrier to entry takes Hotelling's Law and explodes it into high gear. Like, how many actually-different mattress design patterns and materials are there anyway?


I own a Hästens bed, which is supposedly among the best box springs (with a horsehair topper) you can buy. I also own a latex mattress from IKEA, made by a really famous latex manufacturer, which has been discontinued to sell inferior options.

These are good, but in my case they couldn't beat a setup that is an order of magnitude cheaper, simpler and better. A simple custom-made japanese shikibuton, filled with felted wool panels and a buckwheat pillow. I put this on a modular set of bed slates to avoid insects, get better airing and avoid cold floors.

I treated a few years of my life as an experiment to improve my sleep. I bought a Hästens and that latex IKEA mattress. I used them for 3 years, switching back and forth every 6 months. Then I made this custom shikibuton, and after a few months I never looked back.

There is some literature which explains how we evolved sleeping in relatively firm setups. Big, expensive and mushy mattresses tend to be a bit too soft and you end up developing neck aches as I did. A better option is just some slightly flexible wood base, or a tatami, and some thin cushion. In fact, another less unconventional setup I like is a horsehair topper, like one of those from Hästens, on top of some wooden base.

My shikibuton is really cheap. It's washable! I can open my futon, put felted wool panels in the washing machine and it's dry in a day. It's very comfortable. It's ended up my perennial neck issues. It's convenient, I can transport the whole system in my tiny car.

A simpler, non-washable alternative is to have a big cover filled up with buckwheat hulls. Every 6 months, compost hulls, buy new ones, and wash cover. Every month, empty hulls into a bag and wash cover.

I don't understand why this alternative is not more popular in the West.


>I don't understand why this alternative is not more popular in the West.

> Every 6 months, compost hulls, buy new ones, and wash cover. Every month, empty hulls into a bad and wash cover.

Alternatively: Have a mattress for 10 years, do nothing.


My latex foam mattress has a 25 year full warranty. If it sags or cimpresses more than 1 inch, I can have it replaced. 25 year warranties aren't out if the ordinary now.


That's.... a lot of maintenance for a bed. Compost this, find a place to buy "buckwheat hulls"? Yeah.


You don't need to do it that frequently if you don't want to!

Buckwheat hulls can easily last 5 years without maintenance. Still, I prefer the wool alternative, which again doesn't need to be cleaned often or at all, as most people do with their regular mattresses.

The fact that stuff is washable is an advantage for me, because I'm a bit allergic, and regular mattresses don't have a simple way to be deeply cleaned. The best thing you can do so far is to vacuum them with a Dyson for mattresses.


Not sure about the mattress, but I have a buckwheat pillow and it has improved the quality of my sleep by a LOT. If you have a long neck, or otherwise feel like something is missing from your life, try a buckwheat pillow : )


>A simple custom-made japanese shikibuton, filled with felted wool panels and a buckwheat pillow. I put this on a modular set of bed slates to avoid insects, get better airing and avoid cold floors

Can you explain your "bed slates" further? All I want is a simple raised wooden platform, and they're absurdly expensive. Bed frames in general seem like a totally messes up market; Ikea's fucking slats could drive a man to murder, and anything else is overpriced or cheap and overdesigned

At some point im going to be forced to build the damn thing myself if the market is going to refuse to sell anything sensible


I got a local carpenter to build me something like this:

https://zafu.net/wp-content/uploads/ecosquaresbedframeviewsm...

The idea is simple, just some blocks you connect (2 or 4) and some legs, so it's easy to ship and transport. The design above is good, but IMHO it's better to have some flexible wood. Especially if you are a side sleeper.

You can usually buy decent ones in the US or UK for $150 if you look for futon platforms. If you want some flexibility but you don't want to go the custom route, buy a tatami raised platform and buy a tatami.


> All I want is a simple raised wooden platform, and they're absurdly expensive.

> At some point im going to be forced to build the damn thing myself if the market is going to refuse to sell anything sensible

I did this and was so happy with the results that I built a second one for the room that we rent out. Probably $80 in materials and a few hours to assemble. Feels sturdier than the floor it stands on (no weeble wobbles). Photos: https://imgur.com/a/gtwmS

Could share plans but it's pretty simple: 1/2" sanded plywood for the surface, 2x6 outer frame, 2x4 joists, 2x4 legs that bolt to the frame, a pound of 3" screws. The plywood surface sits about an inch inside the frame, creating a lip that holds the mattress in place.

If you don't have power tools then HD / Lowes can can make all the cuts for you (I recommend this for the plywood as they have the best saw for it), then all you need is a drill to put the thing together.


What does "absurdly expensive" in this context mean? There are many companies that make affordable wooden platform beds. kd frames is a good one:

https://kdframes.com/collections/beds/products/asheville-pla...

https://kdframes.com/collections/beds/products/fold-platform...

$150 for a full-size platform that folds and is made of solid wood seems like a good price to me.

You can get lower if you go for a metal frame, e.g. Zinus:

https://www.amazon.com/Zinus-Platform-Mattress-Foundation-Bo...


> At some point im going to be forced to build the damn thing myself if the market is going to refuse to sell anything sensible.

Why wait? If all you want is a simple platform, you couldn’t beat the price of buying and cutting some wood yourself.


Im lazy, don't actually know what I'm doing, and the whole thing seems like a lot of trouble to setup (don't have a decent way to move the wood, or convenient/immediate access to tooling, etc).

I'll beat the price at the cost of time and effort (and probably some favors), and I'm not sure carpentry interests me enough for the learning to have much value. So its a last resort, if I can find nothing decent, and decently priced.


You might be surprised at how fun and rewarding it is to make some simple things by cutting wood. Just in case you can't find what you're looking for on the market, a few ideas:

A. Put a listing on Craigslist asking someone to build you a simple platform. Say that you'll pay for the materials, and get them to quote a price for the labor. Maybe ask them to deliver it, as well.

2. Find a local maker space. They likely have the tools you'd need. You can rent a pickup truck from a local U-Haul or Home Depot usually. Cutting wood is pretty much the easiest thing you could learn to do in an afternoon. Find out the dimensions of your desired mattress, and for a platform bed, you'll be pretty okay if you play it safe and make your platform 4 inches wider & longer than your mattress (2in on each side of the mattress). Pick up some plywood to go over the frame if you don't want to cut 20 slats--you could, say, make a frame out of just 8 boards, and then screw plywood to the top of it. For the legs, you don't need anything other than, say, a 4" high simple wooden furniture leg[0] to bolt to the platform itself. Then you just bolt/screw it all together.

D. If you really don't want to spend an afternoon of your life cutting some wood, buy a decent boxspring with a wooden frame, then go to Home Depot and pick up 5 or 6 4x4 plain wooden furniture legs[0]. Simply drill a hole for each leg into each of the corners of the boxspring, and add the extra 1 or 2 legs in the middle of the boxspring for centered support (1 if your bed is queen or smaller; 2 if it's a king). Screw the furniture legs into the included tee nut that you hammer into the drilled hole. It won't make much of a mess, and you can have it done in 1 hour. Drilling 5-6 holes is about the only thing simpler than spending an afternoon cutting wood & bolting it together. I did exactly this for my boys' beds, and they even had a blast helping.

[0]: https://www.homedepot.com/p/American-Pro-Decor-4-in-x-4-in-U...


I used standard wooden forklift pallets in college and for years afterwards. I scrounged them somewhere. Not beautiful but free or cheap, and pre-made.

Also, dense cinderblocks make excellent speaker stands.

I don't enjoy my middle-aged 'grown up' furniture any more than I enjoyed that stuff.


Any particular reason you want wood? I've found the folding metal frames you can buy on Amazon to be fantastic. Cheap, easy to assemble, super stable, no creaking, minimal profile, lots of under-bed storage, easy to move.


I’d be interested in seeing pics and info, especially your washable shikibuton. Or if not maybe pointers to the research you did to make it.


Could you elaborat on the IKEA mattress? What was the model name and who was the famous manufacturer?


It's an IKEA Edsele. It's 85% natural latex, OekoTex certified. It was manufactured by Mountaintop Foam. Sadly discountinued. The price was a bargain. I got it for €390, size 90x200 cm.


Yup that's the one I have, still holding up pretty well and I guess that's why.


Surprising that an article about mattress in a box companies can be written without mentioning T&N.

Tuft & Needle probably was the first one to come out with this concept, and probably is still the best priced one. I have two T&N queen mattresses for more than 4 yrs. Been very happy with these in terms of comfort and durability. Never going back to any of the 4S mattresses.

No reason for me to try other mattress in a box brands, because they are way more expensive and dont seem to be any more comfortable than T&N.

Best thing about mattress in a box, is that if I have to move to an another place, I sell my current mattress and get a new one where I move. One less thing to carry while moving!


Indeed. I bought a T&N cal king back in 2015 as my first brand new mattress and it’s been great. The firmness took a night or two to get used to but no complaints at all since.


> Tuft & Needle probably was the first one to come out with this concept

Nope. That was Nest. Or, at least, Nest came out with it a year before T&N. But they also failed to get a mention in the article.


Good to know. Surprised that I never heard of nest before. Their mattresses look like conventional ones. Would love to know how it compares with T&N, since nest has a few that are priced better ran T&N.


Hmm, pretty sure I had a mattress delivered in a box back in 2007-8 and it was neither of those. Was a perfectly fine mattress, too.


Looks like the same price as two or three others I've seen.


Mattress-packing via machine pix:

https://twitter.com/machinepix/status/965691925712875521

Instead of merely airing the bed each morning I run a dehumidifer. Hopefully this will reduce mould & mites. Now HN can tell me why my personal mattress hack is a bad idea.


At last I have an excuse for not making the bed in the morning. ;-)

When my kids were tots and we took them to day care, the day care center had a collection of little beds for naps, which were some kind of durable fabric mesh stretched over a frame. I've often wondered how that would work as a general purpose mattress for adults, with little chance of festering over time.


As far as I know, any kind of hammock or suspension bed will ultimately suffer from uneven pressure points. Unless the frame is filled in, in the middle, which would make it a normal mattress, then your weight is going to be pushing back on you mostly laterally via the perimeter where the attachment of the mesh happens. Sleeping surfaces are meant to support the body from the bottom in an even fashion in order to minimize pressure points.

This is why memory foam is so effective - instead of having 1024 springs, add more add more!!! - we just get a porous composite material with 1000000 tiny nooks which basically act as springs. Latex on the other hand, if not in foam form, can be solid, and gains its "spring" properties just from its tensile chemistry alone. No nooks needed. But latex foam is sold..which is a marriage of the two ideas.

In any case, hammocks aren't gonna hurt you from sleeping on em occasionally, especially since the pressure points will mostly be your back as hammocks are often hung loosely, so that the attachment points can be much much higher than your actual body, therefore moving most of the force to a vertical pressure, instead of that lateral pressure we talked about.


You mean something like army cots[1]?

[1]http://armynavysuperstores.com/cots.htm


(Plenty functional, not that comfortable)


Yeah, that's pretty much it. I suppose toddlers don't weigh as much as adults, and can probably sleep on anything.


This is why it's hilarious that they offer return policies. You really think you're going to coax your mattress back into the box?


They send someone to pick it up. You don't have to get it back in the box. With most of them you get 100 days to try it out (some are up to 365 days). If you don't like it, you call them and they come and get it.


When I returned a Casper they sent a man&van to pick it up.


We bought a Tuft and Needle mattress three years ago, and it's been fantastic. A few other friends have bought mattresses online and all been very happy.

If it's all a marketing ploy, as the article implies, then there's a lot of happy people benefiting. ;)


Of course it's a marketing ploy! Mattresses are a great example of an area where the marketing ploys are really an inescapable part of the perception of value. If you think you're buying a great, innovative mattress design, you'll probably continue to believe that unless it's quite bad.

They've just switched us from feeling like we can pick the right mattress through trying a dozen in a store to reading online reviews. Both are biased, but everyone needs some way to feel confident about a big purchase.


We were certain we had split opinions on a softer and a firmer mattress in the store. We bought one for the master and one for the guest room just in case we changed our minds.

I think we switched them at least once, but honestly can't remember how many times, and can no longer tell which one I "really" like.

Through this process I learned... I don't actually have mattress preferences, short of it not being a bunch of rocks.

I'm sure some people actually have preferences, but I wonder if this is an area, like vodka, where you can make people feel strongly like they have preferences between two things that are barely distinct, if at all.

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/02/23/588346329/epis...


If it's a marketing ploy, then traditional brick and mortar mattress companies were also marketing ploys (which they may have been!!). In either case I agree, consumers are pretty happy now.


I have always viewed traditional mattress companies as very sketchy. I can't find a more authoritative source than Vox that corroborates my view, but here it is: https://www.vox.com/2015/3/5/8151607/mattress-buying-tips-sa...

Notably, mattress stores participate in the classic tactic of price inflation, as well as taking the same model of mattress and giving it a different name, making it much more difficult to comparison shop:

>For example, the popular Simmons Beautyrest line has different brand names at different stores. The "Beautyrest Recharge Allie" at Macy's is called the "Beautyrest Recharge Devonwood Luxury" at Sears, the "Recharge Signature Select Hartfield" at Mattress Firm, and the "Beautyrest Recharge Lyric Luxury" at US-Mattress.com. If customers don't realize these are names for the same mattress, it's harder for them to bargain effectively.

Then again, maybe these online mattress companies are doing the same thing too, just one step removed. At least there's no pushy sales staff when I order a bed in a box.


The question is, how are all of those 'happy people' benefiting? Could you not have purchased a mattress from a brick and mortar store? It seems it would be relevant to cite the advantages.

I can't help but feel like the entire podcasting industry was funded by businesses that are 'cutting out the middleman' as if this is a novel concept. Frankly, the mattress-in-a-box companies are nowhere near the worst offenders in this regard!


I paid 60% less than a lot of friends, so I’m $1200 happy.


Ouch. Maybe more people fall for the ultra-premium than I thought. The total cost of our mom-and-pop mattress store 'big name' mattress was half that difference you cite. I think I'd have a hard time spending way more than we spent and just HOPING I like the way it feels when it arrives.

I can definitely see the value of the ability for customers to actually REVIEW the options, though.


Same. Easily the best mattress I've had. Had to give it up when I moved into a smaller place.


As an American that moved to Europe before I was old enough to ever buy an expensive mattress, what Americans spend on mattresses is always incredibly baffling.

New, king sized (1.8 x 2.0 m), mattresses go for €200-1500 (about $250-1800) in Germany, with prices gravitating towards the lower end of the spectrum. Americans use much springier mattresses (box springs are unheard of here, and foam mattresses are standard), but I'm incredibly skeptical that quality of sleep is systemically worse. The whole thing has the feeling of a ginormous scam / rent-seeking.


> As an American that moved to Europe before I was old enough to ever buy an expensive mattress, what Americans spend on mattresses is always incredibly baffling.

I think it might just be a class thing? If you want a $100 mattress in America, you can get one for super cheap:

https://www.walmart.com/ip/Linenspa-6-inch-Innerspring-Mattr...

I'm just saying that I think that most Americans don't blow a grand every time they want a new mattress.


Mattress is an item where its very easy to misjudge the value. You spend 1/3 your life on it! Whats that worth? $3000. Seems legit.

There was some movie where these street guys were talking about the best stolen stuff to sell on the street. Scissors. Everybody needs em, no one knows what they cost.

Go for good sleep surely but living alone $100 air mattress I sleep fine. Glad I didnt go for the $1000 matress in a box. Had a $2000 bed plus a $2000 mattress before that.


Americans from the major cities have a much higher purchasing power.

You're throwing numbers that are a year of disposable income. That's madness for the rest of the world.


I agree with you. I went mattress shopping a couple years ago and was taken aback by the prices. The whole thing felt like a scam, as people have been sleeping perfectly well for hundreds of years without all this extraneous marketing crap.

I ended up buying a $200 queen size mattress on Amazon. My fiance and I have been sleeping on it for ~2 years - never once had an issue, easily the best mattress I've ever owned. I can post the brand if someone wants to know, but I'll refrain for now as I'm not interesting in shilling for some company.


A few years ago we shopped for a mattress here in Silicon Valley. Size was California King which is, IIRC, 4" longer than a standard King, but 4" narrower. First mom-and-pop store we went to, prices were $599-$3000ish. Running a "no sales tax" promotion (they always are).

My wife and I spent an hour trying different beds and through all the firm and soft and plush and ultrafirm ultradeluxe ultraplush nonsense.

Talked to the salesman, and he pretty much said the only difference between the REALLY low end $599 ones, and the $799+ ones, was coil count. Once you hit 799+, he told us, it was all kinds of toppers and so on. But the coil count doesn't effect warranty or how often you should replace it.

My wife's favorite bed was the $599 simple firm one. That was my second favorite by a narrow margin; my favorite was way down her list.

Delivered to our house a day or two later; again, no sales tax, no need for a box spring because we had a platform bed.

It's still a REALLY REALLY industry, and I'm not saying Americans don't pay more than they should, but I'm not sure our price range is particularly out of whack with what you saw, and this is for coils, not foam.

At Ikea you can easily get a cheap foam mattress; we have one in our guest room. I've slept on it when I'm sick. It's fine. I don't prefer it, but if it's all I ever knew, or if I spent as much time on one as I've spent on coil mattresses, it might well be my favorite.

Yet, not many people here buy foam mattresses, or mattress from Ikea at all.

Perhaps the bias is just that Ikea = cheap, but some trendy internet-advertised foam brand with a new name and a fresh face must be some new high-tech amazing thing.


If this is interesting look at how often Americans think they have to change the oil in their vehicles. Even if said oil is synthetic.


"think"? The manufacturer specifies the interval, and you best follow it if you'd like your warranty honored.


Most people don't follow the manufacturer's recommendation, they follow the "Jiffy Lube" recommendation which is every 3000 miles. 3000 miles is a ridiculous interval.


Curious, have you actually read their specification? I ask because it is oven much longer than people think. The cars are configured to "warn" you that the oil needs to be changed, but the miles to change is a soft configuration that is under-provisioned (presumably due to $$ made by people selling you oil you don't need). You can ask the oil changing people (or do it yourself if sufficiently motivated) to change the interval.


My old Tacoma was 5k. My Subaru is 6k. Does that answer your question?


My manufacturer specifies 1 year or 10,000 miles. However, growing up I was told that you shouldn't go more than 3 months or 3,000 miles between oil changes.


well back in the day, say before 1990, many cars needed that because the engines were so bad. a combination of plain old poor quality and immature technology for reducing emissions . So it became a meme.


That hasn't been true since the 60's or before, when oil was very different than today's (or the 90s). We know that the 3000 or 5000 mile oil change interval is pure nonsense because the exact same engines magically have 10-20k mile oil change intervals in Europe.


Volkswagen USA says my 2016 Golf should have the oil changed every 10,000 miles. 5w40 synthetic, I think.

So far I've changed it twice, every 10k. To be honest, I meant to do my own change after 1000mi as it was my first new vehicle and I figured there was no harm in doing an early first change to satisfy my concern about the supposedly-old-wives-tale of flushing out breakin materials on my first-ever new car.

To make up for my guilt at doing the bare minimum I do a Blackstone oil analysis. Great so far, but what I expect out of an engine which, at 26,000 miles, has still not done half the mileage as my previous lowest-mileage car was at purchase!


I change my oil when the car tells me to. (Which for me is only about once a year since I rarely drive more than 100 miles a week)


Unfortunately it is lying to you (it was paid to do that by the people who sell you the oil).


I have a theory about mattress shopping:

Purchasing a mattress can be like purchasing a car when it comes to getting a good deal. Let's say you know what car you want, so you just e-mail dealers back and forth until you get their lowest offer. The same could be done with mattresses. Thoughts anyone?


The problem is that mattress manufacturers create different product lines and variants for each retailer. This makes it difficult to comparison shop or price match between retailers.


Except for when there's several stores of the same chain in the same town.


I bought a Tuft and Needle after this post in 2013:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6900625

I’m pretty sure that at the time, Tuft and Needle was the main name in the game, and I definitely hadn’t heard of Casper at that point, so there seems to be a bit of revisionist history attributing the rise of these mattresses to Casper? I don’t know.

I’m still happy with my T&N.


Revisionist is putting it lightly. Casper sued the largest online mattress review site after it refused to favor its brands, and forced it to sell itself. The entire saga has more twists than a G.R.R. Martin novel. https://www.fastcompany.com/3065928/sleepopolis-casper-blogg...


Maybe I'm wrong, but I always assumed that the quality and convenience were secondary to the big factor for me: a cheap, disposable mattress that is NOT a 10 year investment is nicer for people who rent/move. If I have to donate/throw away my mattress in 2 years because I am moving across the country, into a new room that doesn't have the space, or just because I've decided I don't like it, I now can.

The inflection is taking something that used to be branded as a long term investment, and making it into something that doesn't have to be. Consumers seem to be reacting well to this change since there are many benefits. Everything else seems to be standard piling into a new market when there is obvious demand.


Remember how the movies Armageddon and Deep Impact both came out in the same year? (Apparently it was 1998.) It was so weird to have a choice of two bad asteroid movies, which wasn’t exactly a common trope at the time.

I got a similar feeling when a company advertised in my Facebook feed that it had “reinvented belts,” and then a different company advertised more or less the same thing a few weeks later! Same with pills designed to boost your brain power. One week you are being pitched by brand X, the next by brand Y, and each one gives the impression that someone passionate about belts, or neuroscience, or whatever, poured their blood, sweat, and tears into this revolutionary new product.

Edit: I actually bought a “reinvented” belt, and I love it. I wonder if modern marketing, i.e. Facebook, makes it possible to “reinvent” mundane objects and make a buck, maybe the way it used to be before products became more commoditized and distributed by big corporations.


That's called a Twin Film in show business and had been happening for a long time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twin_films


They're A/B testing the audience!


I assume for cgi based films it's partly due to the technology available that year.

Got a link for the belt?


This made me think of the article a while back about the mattress blogger who got sued.

https://www.fastcompany.com/3065928/sleepopolis-casper-blogg...


Thank you, that was such a good read. So Casper won, does it make you hate them? I tend to dislike the winner when I read stories like this.


The guy kind of got bullied to sell his website but is a millionaire and in the end it seems nobody is very ethical in the field.

What's funny is that people get rich reviewing mattress online and we developers still debate inheritance vs composition like it will make or break a business ;)


Being a millionaire is not unethical, bullying is. Did he actually do something wrong?


One of the great things about online mattresses is having reviews. The traditional store all had unique names/codes for their mattresses so you can't compare price or get any reasonable volume of reviews for a mattress. I love how the internet levels the playing field on things like this.


Most online mattress reviews are part of affiliate programs and aren't trustworthy. It's also impossible to review something so personal.

For example, someone else in these comments loves their floor futon, but I loathe mine.


Hem-hem.

https://www.fastcompany.com/3065928/sleepopolis-casper-blogg...

IMO it looks like the mattress business is 99% marketing.

It is a rectangle of foams, I would love it if companies stopped pretending that they spent thousand of man hours improving it while they all come from the same factory (I am not even exaggerating much here :/ ).

I moved to the US recently and was shocked by how big the mattress business is here and how costly these are.


"Reviews" are useless, in fact, they are worse than useless, they are just another form of spam. Those reviewers and bloggers make their living on commission, thus the incentives are not aligned. You can find positive reviews of pyramid schemes and malware.

Mattresses are in a way kinda interchangeable. Sure there's different quality and a well worn mattress will be different from a new one, but, in general, you probably aren't going to sleep differently on a different brand of a similar quality mattress.

About 6 years ago I read that people who bought their mattress from the internet we're just as satisfied with their purchase as people who tried them out in the store beforehand.

Plus most people's opinions suck anyway.


As far as I'm concerned, that whole market still needs some newcomers (also called "disruption").

this whole mattress in a box segment is essentially 70% marketing and 30% RD//Production//Shipping. Those companies price around 1000$ for a mattress, but I highly doubt the production (and shipping) is anything more than 150$.

I'm happy there is an alternative to the older shaddy company that cornered that market (sleeptrain and all of those), but it's still too much marketing, too little value for a fairly simple product!

(I have a Leesa and it's a mattress... It's ok).


I bought my foam mattress from Dixie [1]. It's the Dream Bed Deluxe model, which was about $550, which seems right for a foam mattress (it's still probably 2x markup, but less than what Casper etc. are charging), with free delivery in NYC. Unlike most brands, Dixie makes their own mattresses, and they're made in the US. I love the mattress.

[1] https://dixiefoam.com/collections


Cheap memory foam toppers have effectively made the quality of the mattress irrelevant to me. I've been sleeping great on a compressed Ikea mattress with a foam topper. In fact the entire bed setup was boxed up and taken to my home in a car. I've spent the night at really nice guest rooms/hotels, and I don't prefer them over my setup.

I would much rather re-buy my setup again every time I move, than spend a ton of money on a "proper" mattress and deal with moving it/dealing with movers — for now, at least.


I did something similar in college. Bought an airbed and memory foam topper both from Amazon, transported them inside my Honda when I had to move out of state for internships. It was damn comfortable. Now I have a Tuft & Needle.


Retail mattress shopping is insane. I went to nordstrom/macys to look at mattresses and the foam ones were retailing for like 3,000$ dollars. Checked out Amazon and found some for 1/10th the price and decided it was easily worth the gamble.

2 years later and I have no complaints with my 300$ Amazon foam mattress.


"Since Casper launched its “mattress in a box” concept in 2014, digital-savvy entrepreneurs have been launching new mattress brands online seemingly every week."

Casper was not the first mattress in a box online company. But Casper definitely is the first company to get the marketing right.


I think it would be fair to say they Apple'd it.

Given how they sued people who gave bad reviews to their products, I think that is more than enough reason to never buy from them, especially sight unseen.


Right. I got a boxed mattress back in 2007 or 2008, from a place imaginatively called bedinabox or somesuch. It was a fraction of Casper price, too.


I was looking at an Ecosa Sleep ad on facebook a few months ago and considered purchasing one of their mattresses, until I read some of their comments.

They claim their mattresses are better because of reduced EMF radiation (compared to traditional mattresses with springs) and when i called them out on their pseudo-science bs I got a nasty reply telling me I was wrong and to do some research!


I don't know if this has any impact, but thinking about it, a mattress is a possession that can't be easily transported in a car, or even, by someone who doesn't have a car. I imagine that as people become more mobile and choose to have fewer possessions, it might be easier to simply abandon their mattress and have a new one shipped to their new location.


In addition, due to risk of bed bugs/contaminants and the fact that people are very particular about the comfort level of a mattress, the re-sell market for mattress is really unlike other pieces of furniture. Whenever I've moved, I've really only been able to sell mattresses to people who trust me because I can vouch for living in bed bug free zone. Otherwise, I've just had to trash it because as you mentioned, it's way too cumbersome to transport.

That's kind of why certain furniture brands catered to urban markets (smaller dwelling) tend to make some of furniture able to be dis-assembled: much easier for moving around.


Americans are moving less over time. The effect is not subtle.

https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/geograph...


I used to worry about this, but I've got enough furniture and accumulated stuff that the size of my car is irrelevant for moving house. My bed frame alone is too big. Hiring a transit van for a couple of days is about $50 and gives you over 2m of room inside.

Pretty much as soon as you buy a bed, your car is too small. And if you're at the level of self sufficiency where you own a bed, you probably own other things like chairs, tables and chests of drawers.


I used to buy foam Ikea mattresses specifically because they compress and roll up well. That allowed me to move from place to place with a normal car.


I have such a bed. Getting it home was easy. But how do you actually compress it and roll it again? It's kinda become huge. What do you do?


Vacuum. Thick plastic wrap and then hook up a vacuum pump to the interior and watch the atmosphere do the heavy work for you. Then you can roll up the package.


ingenious! Here I was looking at steamroller rentals.


If you look at the video linked elsewhere you'll see they use a giant press to compress the mattress between two sheets of foil and then they heat seal the ends. After releasing the press it all stays nicely flat because of the same reason: there is no air in the mattress and no way for air to get into the mattress.

I figure they do it that way because it is much faster than just letting the vacuum do the work which for a production facility is a must. But when you have a small budget and more time then using the vacuum directly is the best way to go.

There is an interesting branch of manufacturing related to this trick:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_forming


I was in the market for a mattress, went to a big store which exclusively sells mattress, tried a 4000 AUD mattress and 1000 AUD mattress, they felt the same.

Finally went to Ikea and tried a 200 AUD mattress, that felt good too so got that.

All the mattress were medium firm and I could not figure out any difference with all three of them with the 20 second demo.


DIY mattresses will be the next big thing, and will disrupt the industry. A mattress you can tune as you build it to give you the exact feel you’re going for. You could even have a different feel for both sides of the bed. And for way cheaper. We’re working on it.


I just did this. I picked up a mattress enclosure/cover, pocket coils, a couple natural latex toppers and cannibalized a couple pieces of rigid foam from a previous mattress.

The hardest part of shopping for this was finding pocket coils and a mattress enclosure/cover. My troubles finding this may have been because of my personal preference. There may be some alternatives to the typical mattress enclosures.


You can almost do this now with mattress toppers.


Almost


Reminds me of something called "Made for Outlet." Popular brands license their logos to third parties who make low quality goods. It has the label and the store has the name, but it's cheap junk worth a fraction of the price they're selling it for.


With globalization things are getting really weird in the retail space. For example, snap-on (a super premium tool maker) used to make wrenches for Lowes. They were nearly identical: http://www.snapon-bluepoint.com.sg/

Just a few days ago, AVE did a few videos showing evidence that there may be a single supplier for some new airguns that are on the market. Thing is, these air guns range in price from less than $100 (harbor freight) to well over $500 (premium brand). He tested a Husky brand that was much more expensive than the HF one and found it to likely be worse than the cheap one. He had a good theory in the video that no one can beat manufacturing overseas now days for quality or price. So everyone just outsources it and is hoping no one notices.


I was just checking out the harbor freight air nailers. The main concern I had was for the triggers, the plastic seemed really thin and poorly connected. I'll have to check out this video


This is just for this specific impact wrench. HF quality can vary a lot, but where as it used to be just crap and worse crap, there are a few very specific instances now where they actually have some gems. This impact wrench appears to be one minus some very slight concerns.


Answer to title is the same answer to the question, "Why there are so many mattress stores"... profit margin.


Right.

And once someone figured out that you can roll and vacuum seal a mattress and ship UPS - lots of online stores.

Writing this while laying on an Avacado latex mattress.... HATED every second of mattress store nonsense... oh you’re having a sale just today!? My goodness how lucky! :/


Somewhat related but this article from a while back had some observations on how mattresses are a marketer’s dream to sell. The really shady nature of these companies in protecting their brand even at the online review level does not inspire confidence and trustworthiness.

https://www.fastcompany.com/3065928/sleepopolis-casper-blogg...


On a side note: Since their marketing is superb, it doesn't surprise me that even the article takes Casper's claim at face value - but it wasn't Casper who invented this business-model in 2014.

I don't know for other countries, but German startup Bett1 was started in 2004. It became famous in Germany for uncovering the "mattress mafia", a cartell formed by producers and retailers that ensured their ridiculous high earnings stayed in place, eventually leading to criminal investigations by the authorities.


We are probably not far from needing a new mattress ourselves and I’ve been looking at all these companies. Minus Purple, most of them seem fairly similar within a degrees of each other.

Has anyone who wasn’t a fan of memory foam mattresses been swayed by any of these companies? We live in the south and haven’t liked the few we’ve tried for them sleeping hot and general feel. Kind of wish I could try before I buy.


I bought a Casper about a year ago after having a standard spring mattress for 10 years prior. I’ve found it very comfortable from day one. I also tend to sleep hot and so was concerned about reports of memory foaming feeling warmer ... hasn’t been an issue for me. I’ve had guests on it as well and people my age and size (late 30’s, average build) seem to find it comfortable.

To be clear: I’m sure I could find a nicer mattress, but this was easy and represents a good value.


I highly recommend looking into Spindle Mattress. It's all latex and wool/cotton and sleeps a lot cooler than memory foam. You sort of put it together yourself (i.e. Put three thick sections of latex in a zippered cover) but this also also allows for a bit of adjustment (reorganize the layers which come in various finesses). The whole thing weighs a ton and ships in three separate boxes.


Probably because foam mattresses cost next to nothing to make... (and also because foam mattresses are better then spring mattresses)


I thought I loved the idea of a solid-chunk-of-memory-foam mattress. But now I've identified that it's causing me serious back/neck problems; maybe it just doesn't suit my body-type or something. I'm looking to replace it with a decent firm spring mattress. But it sure was easier to shop for mattress-in-a-box.


Shameless self promotion:

If you are doing or are interested in a _personalized_ mattress business/start-up, please drop me a line: matress.20.j4848@spamgourmet.com

We are looking for collaboration partners. (We are a technology start-up, not a mattress company.)


An evolved form of drop shipping.


Surprised that nobody has mentioned Zinus, which sells similar stuff but for (relatively) dirt cheap via Amazon, Walmart, etc. A year ago, I paid under $200 for a full size foam mattress, very comfortable for my partner and I.


I have two now, best mattress I've ever owned, and several coworkers have them now too. Yet I am sure they are all made in the same factory as the rest in China. Zinus has expanded into related products like frames as well so I am sure its mostly marketing over manufacturing in China. Yet I've know people who spent $4000 on a Tempur-Pedic and didn't like it much. I'd rather spend $200 and not like it than $4000. At least with things sold on Amazon you can read 1000's of reviews which are unlikely to be all fake which at least gives you an idea of what people think, unlike buying a mattress in a store where the only opinion you get is the salesperson's.


Zinus sub-discussion from some time ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15489344


I got lucky and saw the Zinus thread last year, I was close to spending over a thousand when I heard about them. I spent 400 for a king mattress and a stand. My Wife loves it!


Its probable that any 'review' site that only does reviews and doesn't have any real content behind it, has some financial relationship with some of what they review. Its a common business model.


There's a commercial on the radio here for an online mattress vendor, where they call out 'The walk of shame' you have when you leave a mattress store. Its hilarious and so true.


So stupid question. Are mattresses in a box actually viable? What changed in recent years that make it work? I assumed you'd just end up with a mattress with messed up springs.


The mattresses are memory foam and/or latex and don't have springs in them.


My latex does have springs (avacado) and was still vacuum sealed.

If your distribution model has always been freight no need to try anything else - then someone came along and did something else.


Ikea sells rolled vacuum packed spring mattresses. I just bought two for my daughters


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