Are online mattress brands the future?
In case you haven’t noticed, online mattress brands are having a bit of a moment currently. It may seem like common sense to test out a bed in the showroom before you take it home, but did you know that most people get it wrong when they shop this way?
Buying a mattress online is becoming a popular due to the cost savings and added conveniences. In this article, we put online mattress shopping head to head with shopping at physical stores, such as Mattress Firm or Sleepy’s. See what comes out on top.
First here’s a quick look at a few popular options. Brands like Sealy, Simmons and Tempurpedic primarily sell at stores like Mattress Firm and Macy’s. Online mattress brands like Amerisleep and Saatva focus on their websites, selling direct.
*Satisfaction scores come from Sleep Like The Dead and retailer websites.
You might think the brands being tested in stores should have less returns and more happy sleepers. But, what consumer reviews show actually proves opposite. People buying online are more likely to say that they are satisfied with their purchase, and rate them higher.
What’s behind the big gap? Let’s take a look:
Making the Best Mattress Selection
The biggest psychological difference between buying a mattress online versus in mattress stores remains physically laying on the bed you buy. It might even sound counterintuitive to consider buying a bed without a least laying on it for a few moments.
But, studies show that we actually do a terrible job choosing the right fit this way. RTI, a non-profit research organization dedicated to improving the human condition, found that participants chose the best mattress in a showroom of seven only 38% of the time.
The study involved participants selecting their preferred option, and then embarking on one-month trials of all seven beds. Sleep quality measures included participant sleep diaries, as well as sensors recording movement.
When the test concluded, no indicators showed people’s initial selection provided better sleep. Essentially, researchers found that standard showroom selection does not lead individuals to select the bed that ultimately felt most comfortable to them. If fact, they tended to chose worse than if they would have selected one randomly!
For the type people tend to rate highest – memory foam – people report an 81% rate of satisfaction having bought their bed in a showroom versus 79% for those who ordered online with having tested the product – not a huge difference.
In customer satisfaction, buying in a store seems nearly identical to buying online. And, in scientific studies, showroom participants chose the best bed only 37% of the time – worse than random chance!
Price and Savings
Running a bricks and mortar store brings many additional costs when compared to online mattress brands. These include overhead costs, such as commercial rent in a high traffic area, utilities, employees and high cost local advertising. All of these costs trickle down to the consumer.
Stores like Mattress Firm typically mark up beds anywhere from 30% to 50% and sometimes much more, according to industry sources like Consumer Reports. Why? Retailers that sell traditional retail brands must pay the distributor a markup, and also add their own markup to turn a profit after paying overhead and advertising costs.
Stores like Mattress Firm typically mark up beds anywhere from 30% to 50% and sometimes much more.
Online retailers typically cut out the middleman by producing their own brands. Running a website also entails less overhead in terms of office space and staff needs. Additionally, if you order from an out of state e-tailer, you usually forgo the state sales tax, saving another 7%.
Online mattress brands must ship their products, which they usually include in the price. Retail outlets often tack on the delivery price at the end – one more hidden cost. Returns also seem more likely to come with big fees from showrooms and local shops.
In-store, you may be expected to negotiate a better price to chip away at the tremendous markup. Online, the list price is generally what you pay. Websites face much more competition, encouraging more straightforward tactics. People who prefer not to haggle may find this more comfortable.
All sellers generally offer sales and specials during popular holidays, so be sure to check both online and store options for promotions, sales, or price matching.
Without the pricey overhead, online retailers are able to offer better savings.
Value and Quality
The question of value proves important when shopping for mattresses. In a significant number of cases, mattresses sold online yield better specifications and materials, resulting in a more durable and longer-lasting product.
Big retailers, such as Mattress Firm, carry the big named brands – Sealy, Simmons, Serta, and Tempur-pedic. With hefty price tags, only online comparison-shopping between brands will show you if there is value in the additional price. A $3000 mattress doesn’t always mean it is superior to a $1000 mattress – it often simply mean bigger advertising budgets to help boost brand recognition.
Other issue for many shoppers remains difficulty comparing between stores. Several big brands provide the major stores with “unique” and “exclusive” lines intentionally designed to make price-matching and comparing harder. The purpose? Allowing stores to charge more.
For those willing to do a little online legwork, comparing foam densities, materials, and customer reviews between brands on consumer websites such as sleeplikethedead.com always proves worthwhile.
Online research is easy using impartial consumer websites – check to see if the higher price equals better value, or are you simply paying for the name.
Selection and Availability
Mattress stores face limitations of showroom size as well as brand constraints. Retailers often sign exclusivity agreements restricting the brands and styles they carry. And due to the finite space, they only show you a few of the models available in the market.
Your options also depend on the types of stores nearby. In some markets, all of the local stores may actually be owned by Mattress Firm, even if the name on the door varies.
Online, only the number of websites you visit restricts your selection. Start by paring down the enormous marketplace to a few key factors that are important to you, such as price, firmness, or eco-friendly materials. Then check customer reviews and comparison sites to narrow down your best options.
The internet is not restricted by floor space or geography.
Flexibility and Convenience
Experts recommend spending at least 20 minutes lying on a model in a showroom to see how it measures up to your sleep preferences and personal comfort. If you plan on testing more than three, you better prepare to spend a few hours lounging around at your local mattress store.
However, most consumers would likely prefer to spend closer to 20 minutes total selecting a bed in a retail store, instead of 20 minutes per option. It can be an awkward experience trying to relax on a bed while customers and salespeople hover around you.
Retail shopping, sales pressure, feeling rushed, or not having enough information all may lead to buyer’s regret. Not to mention, it’s not exactly most people’s idea of a fun time!
Online, you browse at your convenience any time of day. You need not spend your day driving from store to store when websites are accessible from anywhere.
Another perk? Most internet brands allow you to test out your bed in home for up to a few months. This proves a much better test of sleep suitability than a quick showroom nap.
Shop from the comfort of your own home, in your pajamas…although it might help to wear your pajamas to the store too!
Unfortunately, no magical choice out there proves perfect for everyone. Beds remain a personalized product, with different types, firmness, features, and materials preferred by different people.
Spending 20 minutes testing a bed simply isn’t enough for most people. At the end of the shopping experience, ask yourself this: Did the salesperson help guide you to the bed that seems truly best for your needs, and did they provide detailed, complete information to enable your comparison shopping efforts?
Narrowing down your choices gets easier with a few simple tips:
- First, take a look at some online reviews and cross-comparison consumer websites to find choices that pique your interest.
- Next, learn about specifications and how to compare the types you plan on shopping for. For example, know what density in memory foam or coil count for innersprings means. By researching online, you avoid high-pressure sales tactics that trick rather than inform you on your options before you are ready to commit.
- Think about what you like and dislike on your current bed. If you sleep particularly well at a hotel or friend’s house, maybe that type, brand or firmness level offers a good starting point.
- Always take a detailed look at beds, ask questions, and be wary of brands that will not provide you with a basic level of information about their products.
The better informed you are, the better decisions you make. Internet shopping yields more information and reduces pressure on shoppers.
Some salespeople possess a wealth of information to guide you better sleep. Some have an arsenal of jargon that sounds great, but what does it really mean? Others may have more interest in lining their pockets with a commision than getting you great sleep.
When listening to a salesperson, try to distinguish between jargon and useful information. One industry trick includes fancy sounding trademarked names, so that they sound like products descriptions or like exclusive high-tech innovations.
Get salespeople to provide useful information which helps you cross-compare products – materials, foam densities, etc. Cross reference this online, where you can process the information without the pressure of a salesperson prompting you to make a quick decision.
One downside to shopping online may be an absence of salespeople to answer questions you may have. However, most reputable websites offer live chat with real people as well as phone availability during business hours.
Sales assistance is a personal preference. Whether you like a little help, or prefer to educate yourself, be wary of high-pressure sales tactics and meaningless jargon. Ask questions, and prepare to walk out if you feel forced or fooled.
The more hands-off approach of online shopping proves more comfortable to shome people, though others still prefer sales interactions in stores.
Getting Your Bed
Until teleportation exists, online shopping revolves around delivery. Some brands now come compressed and vacuum-sealed so maneuverability and set up proves easy. Most online “bed in a box” mattresses arrive via FedEx or UPS, so you know what to expect in terms of drop off.
One downside to online delivery is that set up and removal of old mattresses may not available. Check with your waste management company to see if they charge extra for hauling away beds, or see if you local recycling stations exist.
Beds bought through a store are usually delivered on via own fleet or through a contractor who will help you set up your bed and remove your old one. This is usually an added cost and you have to be home during the scheduled delivery time. But, local shops are more likely to take your old bed away (usually a separate fee).
If cost is a priority and you don’t mind unpacking your bed, online retailers are the clear winners. If the convenience of professional setup and removal of an old mattress seems more important, most stores provide this services for an extra cost.
Online retailers know they must gain your trust, as you usually have not physically tested the product beforehand. To compensate, many offer exceptional return policies of around 90 days on average. Consider it a 90-day in home trial in lieu of showroom testing. Returns are usually free, but you might need to arrange FedEx or UPS pickup. Some may accept local donations in lieu of returns.
On the other hand, stores offer much shorter return times and complex return policies. You may find yourself on the hook for separate delivery and return fees, as well as requirements of paying back promotions if they agree to take your purchase back at all. Check the return policy for terms like ‘resalable condition only’. If you slept on your mattress at all, it may be unfit for resale, and thus non-returnable.
Check the specifics of your return policy, whether online and in- store, as this varies greatly per product and manufacturer. Generally, it’s best not to remove any tags, to keep packaging, and to use a water-resistant cover until you are 100% sure you want to keep it.
If buying before trying feels like a leap of faith, treat your online purchase like a 90-day trial. Most online retailers offer above average return policies.
Who Wins: Mattress Firm or the Websites?
|Mattress Stores||Online Brands|
|Picking the Best Options||Get to try the beds, but satisfaction actually proves lower||Buying sight unseen, but more options and information means higher overall customer satisfaction|
|Prices||Bigger markup due to higher overhead and less competition||Very little markup due to more competitive field|
|Value/Quality||Details are often not provided, lower quality can be an issue especially for cheaper models||Quality details usually are available, and price ratios show better value|
|Selection||Limited selection per store, restricted by space/city||Unlimited options and brands online|
|Convenience||More time consuming, but can take bed home||Can shop anytime, from anywhere, but wait for delivery|
|Informed Choices||Typically information given to buyers is limited||More information accessible on beds, easier to compare|
|Delivery||Typically a fee, requires someone to be home||Usually free, some brands even ship FedEx/UPS|
|Returns||Less generous policies, more likely to have higher fees||Longer trial periods, typically free|
|The Winner is...||✯✯||✯✯✯✯✯|
The primary reason to buy in a store is to be able to physically test the product before hand. Studies have shown that testing beds in a retail setting does not reliably lead to the best choice, however.
If you consider cost, value, convenience, delivery, and return policies, online mattress shopping is comparable, and even surpasses the benefits of shopping in retail stores. It’s no wonder so many internet-based brands continue gaining popularity.
Online, you are able to make informed choices without the pressure of a salesperson. The beds come with less markup, thus prove cheaper. The generous return periods of online mattress brand help ensure you are completely happy with the product you are receiving, the ultimate goal when getting a new bed.