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The War to Sell Mattresses Is an Internet Nightmare (2017) (fastcompany.com)
69 points by yesplorer 59 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 81 comments

My favorite conspiracy theory (which I totally believe) is that mattress stores are mostly for money laundering. No market can possibly support as many stores as there are, and every time I go by one, they're empty. It's probably because I don't understand the economics of the industry, but wow are there a lot of mattress stores. I know we all need to sleep, but spending $2,000 once every 10 years can't be a reliable source of income. Plus people will sleep on anything rather than lay out that sort of cash.

I personally, at 47, have never bought a new bed except a Ikea, from which I've bought several, all for much less than $2k.

>My favorite conspiracy theory (which I totally believe) is that mattress stores are mostly for money laundering. No market can possibly support as many stores as there are, and every time I go by one, they're empty.

Here's more fuel for that fire.

If you look at Sears in the last 10 years, the number of shoppers seemed to dwindle and getting smaller and smaller. Except for a spots in each store, there wouldn't be many shoppers at all. So the economics don't make sense...and then bam they're going bankrupt.

Now look at rug stores; there are a few of them where I live (Toronto, Canada) and every single one, without fail, has very few customers and has a sale on. Usually it's "inventory clearance" or "going out of business" or whatever. But they just continue to sit there.

There are a lot of industries and niches in industries where the economics do not make sense on the surface but I suspect there's some perverse set of incentives that make it possible. Maybe some weird tax loophole, or some kind of government loan or grant, or some weird combination of laws (or lack of laws and regulation) that make it possible.

Embrace the weirdness?

Get a nice mattress.

I'd been sleeping on whatever crap was cheapest for most of my life. Never bad enough to complain about but was never truly comfortable either.

Sounds expensive at first, but totally worth it for the amount of time you'll spend on it. I went to a few mattress stores and found just the one I want. So comfortable now.

I had put it off for years because I didn't want to be harassed by salesmen but actually the whole process ended up being very painless.

A good mattress will change your life.

Bed or mattress? I’ve been happy with IKEA mattresses, but I’ve found the random importers’ softwood beds advertised in the classified ads to be better than Ikea’s particle board. And a lot easier to assemble.

I got my wood frame thing and mattress from ikea. The mattress is perfectly fine but the wood gets dented/chipped very easily.

I had good experience with custom foam mattresses made by a local store. They let you customize it in many ways. And the price is less than half of usual chain stores.

That's possible though I know some people who own a mattress store and I'd be astounded if they were into money laundering.

Tangentially, someone once told me that vending machine companies are havens for money laundering. It's a plausible source for tons of cash, which makes it ideal for getting illegally obtained cash into the legal banking system. No idea how true it is, but that's how it was explained to me.

I remember not too long ago a legal fight between Purple and an "honest guy with concerns about the chemicals used in Purple mattresses" and then it turned out the "honest guy" was a GhostBed mattress affiliate or something. I had no idea it was so cutthroat across the board.

Edit: a summary of the spat I mentioned: https://www.reddit.com/r/shittykickstarters/comments/69zqcx/...

To be entirely fair - iirc the purple mattresses did have a powder inside them, and they were microbeads.

If Ford tells me my GM leaks gas, and they’re right, that’s fine with me.

I wouldn't appreciate them pretending to be "just an honest guy with concerns" though

I had a client once who made custom wedding stationery, it was an eye-opener for me what a nasty, backstabbing business that could be. With mattresses, I'm not so surprised really.

Here's my favorite quote:

> Kenny Kline and Dan Scalco swore that Casper wouldn’t touch the site. Casper’s Philip Krim told me the same: “We exert no influence and have no influence over the site, other than that we lent them money.”

I smiled at that part, and then read on to the next paragraph:

> The new owners of Sleepopolis did disclose on the site: “Until the loan is satisfied, Casper has the contractual right to repossess the assets and forgive the remaining value of the loan…yes, that was written by our lawyers ;).” Repossess the assets: in other words, take over Sleepopolis, if it came to that. But Krim said this was just “lawyer language protecting our loan, so we get paid back.”


There's all this stuff advertised in podcasts (mattresses, clothes, underwear, meal prep, snacks) which seems to be aimed at young professionals who hate the idea of having to go into a physical store and talk to a physical person. When the podcast man reads a script saying "Casper mattresses are WAY cheaper than what you'd get in a store!", I guess you're not supposed to comparison-shop and see that the Casper is $950 for a queen... which is pretty much exactly what we paid for a perfectly nice Serta memory foam mattress at a store 1 mile from our house, which included delivery and installation.

I'm not sure anyone is fooled by the "It's cheaper" - but there are a lot of us who will pay a reasonable premium to not have to go to the store and deal with salespeople in person, and personally... I think that's a reasonable luxury to buy?

I mean, even if salespeople weren't... salespeople, it's still often a good several hours of time during business hours to drive to the store that has the thing you want, and I personally have a really hard time telling you how much I will like a mattress without sleeping on it for a week, anyhow, so I don't feel like I'm getting any value out of shopping in person.

I like to shop online and stay out of stores partly due to the time savings, but also because of anxiety. I agree that buying online is a luxury and a reasonable premium is attached to that, but I disagree that the price should be comparable to in-store.

For a company that is essentially the manufacturer and retailer, there should be quite a bit of overhead removed for them. I'm really disliking this trend where ecommerce-based manu-tailers are seen as premium brands and can increase their margins more than the other guys and make hand over fist. To me, it's even worse than slimy car dealers or furniture stores.

Note, walmart has a wide selection of extremely cheap mail-order mattresses. No idea if they are any good, but if you are looking to save money on a mattress, it's probably worth doing some research.

I got a memory foam mattress from Costco for under 200 delivered and I was quite satisfied. It also rolls up to about 2ft diameter.

There are also AmazonBasics' mattresses to add another option.

What makes you think that the degree of overhead is directly related to the price? The price is what the market will bear.

> there are a lot of us who will pay a reasonable premium to not have to go to the store and deal with salespeople in person

Indeed. I really hate talking to salespeople, and tend to avoid going to stores where that's mandatory.

5 years ago, when i did comparision shop (remote and on-site) many remote places offered drastically less. But, it's impossible to do a 1 to 1 because, by design, the sellers don't want you to be able to identify you mattress. A online store might sell it as "Cloud" while the same mattress in store will go by "Canper Comfert". They wont have the same id either, as Canper Comftert will have some minor detail changed just to warrent a new id. Fix that problem, and mattress shoping will become a much saner process for the buyer.

Relevant Adam ruins.. (The Mattress Industry is One Big Rip-Off) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvlA9UxGvSg

Thanks for the link - that was exceptionally fun to watch!

My small city has 20 or so mattress stores I can think of. They’re always empty, having “seasonal sales”, have people working them that follow you around the store, no direct prices but “I’ll go look that up” and “box spring included this week!”... I hated mattress shopping.

The best thing to happen to mattresses, was that someone figured out you can roll them up and ship them direct.

The fallout from that discovery of Purple vs Casper vs Avacado (my pick, love it) vs whatever... don’t care so long as I never need to go into a mattress store again.

I agree. I happen to love Casper, but regardless of who you pick, the mattress in a box thing is great because mattress stores are all slimy to me.

I went with Leesa, same reasons for going online, also has worked well for me.

I always wondered how these places stay open. I judge them as fronts for cleaning up dirty money.

I have two neighbors who are mattress salesmen and their houses are decorated opulently, both in and out, and drive cars that working professionals in the neighborhood could never afford.

It's suspicious, to be sure.

I never thought that being a matress salesman was so profitable. One has offered me discounts if I buy from him, but I haven't taken him up on the offer.

That's so bizarre. A couple of weeks ago my wife and I bought a mattress (the one we currently had was starting to draw blood from a broken spring) and didn't think about going online. We went into a store, tried a couple, did a quick google search price match, and decided we'd take it. I never even considered online.

I was trying to do research after the fact (cause why would you do it BEFORE you bought something) and found that I couldn't find any sites that screamed "objective" to me - it all seemed like a bunch of sites that were advertising far more than reviewing.

> We went into a store, tried a couple, did a quick google search price match,

Even this is tricky, because they'll sell the same matress as "super deluxe" in one store and "premium super" in another store.

Sleep Number is especially scummy in this regard. They'll have a specific model at a very deep discount when compared to their other models, but they won't have it in the stores. They'll have the expensive models in the stores, but assure you that the discounted model is very similar to one of the expensive models. If you fall for it, you'll end up with a very poorly made mattress that was nothing like anything you experienced in the store. They do this because they charge exorbitant "shipping & return fees" which cover their costs should you return the mattress, so the worst they can do is break even, while you're out real cash money. Their salespeople are especially pushy, like at a scummy used car dealership.

Is there a website somewhere that helps you navigate the fact that the same mattress will have different names at different stores?

That seems unlikely because every mattress store is its own thing with its own made up names. I imagine there are some tags somewhere on these mattress with some kind of product model that you could look up to see where it actually came from.

It would be a lot of work to organize this mess of information.

Yup. The mattress producers make the same products with different model names and SKUs, as well.

True. I gave up pretty quickly. The whole thing seemed like a fog of disinformation.

Online mattresses became popular because of the multi-naming, multi-branded, high-margin existing world of mattress sales which was, and is, way scummier than online mattress sales are. Plus, how are you really going to judge a mattress by lying on it for a few minutes?

Wirecutter is owned by the NY Times and does very good reviews. You can also spend a few bucks to buy a Consumer Reports subscription for a month and access their huge testing database and years of experience.

> how are you really going to judge a mattress by lying on it for a few minutes?

When we purchased our mattress ( a Vi-Spring ) the store only accepted our order after we had lain on a matching configuration in-store for 20 mins. Or was it 30?

If felt odd lying in the middle of a shop but apparently it was the only way to enable the softness-exchange warranty. We could switch up or down one softness grade but had to find the starting grade like that.

Where were you two weeks ago! Ah, now my next 10-20 years of sleep will be bothered by knowing my mattress, which I enjoyed last night is sub-optimal for my sleeping style!

Seriously though, thank you, I'll keep that in mind for my next major purchase.

For sure, you may have very well got a good mattress at a good price. However, things you did like price-matching don't work in mattress-land because all the companies release the same mattress under different models, brands and SKU's, precisely to defeat those tools.

Online mattress sales became popular precisely because of those scummy tactics, as well as very generous return policies, where you can actually use your bed for a significant amount of time before you make a decision on it.

While we're having this conversation, how should I go about finding a good mattress for side-sleeping?

Are you looking to buy or build?

If I may high-jack: looking for good mattresses which will also be good in 2 years, I came to the conclusion that DIY is a good way to know what you get and save some bucks. Any recommendations?

My current plan is to have either a spring or dunlop latex base, with then 3 inches of firm dunlop and 2 inches of medium dunlop latex on top. Side sleeper (mostly)

It makes sense strangely. Did you see the emperor bed build 6 months ago? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17558719

I haven't. Thanks for the pointer!

Buy, obviously?

Well yes, but the state of the market implies things about building too.

FWIW I really like purple.

Wirecutter's mattress reviews specify sleeping style.

The mattress industry (in the US, anyway) is disgustingly scammy. I think it's at least on par with used car dealerships.

I avoid it by buying refurbished mattresses from local charitable organizations.

I've never bought a mattress online, but I see little reason to think those guys are any better.

I am happy to do this regarding furniture, but mattresses is a tough sell for me. Aren't you worried about bedbugs?

No, I buy them refurbished. They strip the mattresses and boxsprings down to the wood and wire, disinfect them, then replace the fabric/padding/etc with new materials.

It's essentially no different than newly built. I've been buying these for decades and have never had an issue with bedbugs or any other nastiness.

They are less expensive, but not dramatically so. But I get a quality bed, don't have to deal with mattress shops, and get a little bit of feel-good from helping to employ people who otherwise have difficulty finding work.

And they deliver.

Interesting. Sounds like they need to tear down, clean and re-assemble the mattress, which I'd think would end up making it more expensive.

Definitely better for the environment though, and good for society if it means they're able to employ the less abled to help do the work.

I find it interesting that they are able to sell them cheaper than new mattresses, which I assume are built in a high-throughput factory.

As russh says, part of this is that new mattresses are overpriced.

When I first investigated these things, I had asked them how, since they're only keeping the wood and wire, they can sell them at a discount. What they told me was that first, the beds they're refurbushing were originally donated to them, so cost them nothing. Also, since they employ people who are otherwise unemployable, they pay minimum wage, which keeps labor costs down. And thirdly, the government considers them a nonprofit work creation program and provides a certain amount of subsidy for the wages.

That would be one of the clues that the new mattresses are overpriced to begin with.

This is a many-times repost but still a good read. I've gotten to the point where I only trust Wirecutter/Consumer Reports reviews of anything.

Yes, but it's a little hard to know what to do when you go to look at their top-rated items and there are tons of negative reviews. That has been my experience recently looking at the highly rated Bluetooth receivers on Wirecutter and ranges on Consumer Reports. There aren't that many total reviews on Consumer Reports though, so maybe the complainers there are overly represented.

Apparently wirecutter will demote a product if the company won't offer affiliated sales or something. There was a big story about a standing desk company thst had to deal with that iirc

I showed this article to our director of sales a while ago and he was amazed at how crazy the industry is. Not sure what I can really do amidst all this to avoid validating the aggressive tactics by these folks besides avoiding buying a mattress that is ever advertised or reviewed in any way but that’s hard to do now too.

I just go with ikea who happens to sell mattresses without it being their main revenue source. If you want really cheap, DIY foam pads are cheap, but so are water beds.

We have an ikea spring mattress in our spare room - and it's really comfortable. It came rolled up just like a foam mattress does.

I do value good mattresses and IKEA mattresses don’t work for me. My family historically bought mattresses from Costco but not all warehouses carry them.

I sleep in a hammock. If you're not expecting company it's really a nice alternative to mattresses.

> Casper’s sales topped $200 million last year, though it declines to say whether it is profitable. Fortune has estimated Casper’s annual marketing budget to be $80 million.

If true, that's absolutely insane---spending ~40% of your revenue on marketing.

Well as they quote in the article:

    You have to be a strong marketer to be in the mattress industry, because they’re really selling identical, rectangular slabs.

A valid point for sure. But as a consumer, I'd strongly prefer it if they spend very little on marketing and instead pass the savings onto me.

You make mattresses sound like Obelix's menhirs.

Not really.... mattress stores probably spent similar percentage on real estate + sales people + ads.

Costco mattresses ftw

I bought an online bed-in-a-box after this HN post in 2013 and still very happy with it: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6900625

I really liked this article, I bought one in Warren Evans, it's the only product I can remember buying that has came with a 10 year guarantee.

Haven't they now gone bust? I might be wrong.

Yes, sadly. Bought our bed and mattress from there 5 years ago and think we will have it more many years more.

Turning 60, I have yet to learn appreciation for this product niche. A decent foam-rubber thingy costs me next to nothing, can be rolled up and put in the car boot, and will last me several years, call it four or five.

Also: https://xkcd.com/2096/

You're lucky, I have a bear of a time sleeping and often feel physically uncomfortable sleeping on the floor.

I bought a cotton-filled Japanese futon mattress and slept on it for 6 months. In the end, I was still waking up with hurt joints, almost like bruising, and I bought a $1,000 mattress instead.

So I think it's due to individual nerve differences or something...

Futons are underrated as well. Foldable and disposable. Saves a ton of space in the room.

Mattresses are oversized sanitary napkins but people keep them around far longer than they should because they pay so much for them.

I've slept on quite a few futons, especially in college, and I've never slept on one that I would consider comfortable, only merely better than the floor.

I'm reading the comments and feeling incredibly fortunate. I'm 33 and I've slept on a $100 Ikea queen mattress since my college days (the very basic model) and haven't had any sleep or back-related issues.

I appreciate the plusher mattresses hotels have, but at no point have I thought to spend anything close to what these mattress places usually charge.

The one thing let's not neglect is that these actually are really nice mattresses.

I just spent a week at a 5-star Hawaiian resort where they (I saw and asked them) change out the mattresses monthly ... My mattress at home that I ordered online was far nicer.

Yup, I have one (I won't say which brand - they're all pretty much the same idea) and the reduction in movement transmition was amazing. My partner gets up in the night usually, and the reduction in disturbance from that was huge.

Meeeh. I paid $600 for Tufts&Needle. I don't have any complaints but it just feels like... a bed. I literally cannot tell any difference between $30 Ikea mattress and $600 Tufts&Needle mattress, and if I spend a whole lazy weekend on my bed then maybe I can say yeah Tufts&Needle is more comfortable than $30 mattress. While these expensive mattresses aren't bad -- so I don't think they're true scams -- they're extremely low value, so the marginal benefit you get from them is imho extravagant luxury.

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