The Mattress Industry is One Big Scam

The last time I bought a mattress for myself was about 11 years ago. I bought a fairly new full-sized one off a coworker. Four moves and a decade later, we’ve decided it’s time to replace it with an adult (and sometimes an extra toddler)-sized bed.

Shopping Blind

When we started looking, I was shocked at the prices. $3000 for a mattress? What the heck are these things made of? Knowing very little, we went shopping for a mattress and other things on a Saturday morning. The first place, we stopped, Sleepy’s, seemed nice enough. We laid on a few and honed in on the one that we both felt most comfortable in. Meanwhile, Audrey discovered the fun of letting herself fall backwards onto mattresses and did it all over the store. She was giggling and the whole store couldn’t help but look and smile at her. Unfortunately, we soon stopped smiling.

When we found something we liked, the seemingly helpful salesman started to get more aggressive. He asked how much we were looking at paying and I made up a number on the spot, something way below the listed price on the bed. The said he would “talk with his manager” and see if he could get us that price. Then he started asking us if we could commit and have it delivered tomorrow. Anne had walked outside to give Audrey a break by that point, so I said I had to go out and talk with her about it. We talked about it for a bit, then decided we didn’t like the high-pressure sales pitch, so we got ready to leave.

I had the car started up when the salesman came out and approached the car window. He then said that he had “talked to his manager” and he could give us the price we wanted AND a free “platinum package”. I said we would talk about it and let him know. We again decided this was sketchy, but to make good on my promise, I went in and gave him my phone number and left.

Later that day we went to Jordan’s Furniture, generally known to be a reputable place with reasonable places. The salespeople there were nice and NOT high-pressure. Prices were generally lower, but strangely, we couldn’t find the mattress we found at Sleepy’s. They had Sertas, but not the one we liked.

Being indecisive, we left with a couple new names of ones we liked. Later, we went to Mattress Discounters. The woman there was not pushy and told us about the BBB complaints that Sleepy’s (a 700-store chain) had gotten. We decided to think some more and head home.

At home, I did some research online and I found something strange – I couldn’t find much of anything on the mattresses we saw that we liked. I found some mattresses, many of the same brand, but not the same models.

One Big Scam

I later came to find out that this was completely intentional. The mattress industry is one big scam. There is no way to make an objective decision on a mattress using actual facts.

Here’s a few things that the mattress industry does to get you:

1. They mark up their prices 100% to 200%!! No wonder the first guy was able to get his “manager” to give me such a steep discount. They were probably still going to make hundreds of dollars of profits on it.

2. They give the same mattresses different names in different stores or they set up exclusivity agreements by mattress line in certain stores. This makes it impossible to comparison shop because…

3. They make it really had to get actual facts about the mattresses. Stuff like coil counts, materials, overall construction are shrouded in secrecy. But that doesn’t really matter because…

4. There’s no objective measure of mattress quality. Consumer Reports won’t rate them because they can’t get the data and there’s no testing that actually says higher coil counts are better or the number of wires in the coils makes a difference in any way. You’re left to deciding how much you believe the marketing. Is a pillow top made of alpaca hair any better than one made of cotton? Your guess is as good as mine.

5. There’s very little online reviews of mattresses, probably because the model names are so fractured. The ones I did find looked more like content-free sites designed to attract referral credits.

Cracking the Code

With some more research, I found out that it was somewhat possible to compare mattresses models from different places. It turns out that they really only make one hardness variation in each line. So you can assume that a Plush Firm mattress in the “Classic” line, is the same as another Plush Firm in the Classic line, even if they have different names.

US-mattress.com was very helpful in figuring this out. We were able to understand which mattresses we saw and how they related to each other. For example, the mattress we liked at Jordan’s was a product line better than the one we saw at Mattress Discounters, even though they came out to the same price! Clearly Jordan’s had the better deal, but US-Mattress had an even better deal.

So I did something I never thought I could do, buy a mattress over the internet. I’m pretty sure it’s the same one we saw in the store and the free delivery and frame were a good deal. I’m sure that even if I’m getting it at half the price I saw it listed at elsewhere, they’re still making a decent profit on it.

Anne and I agree that buying a mattress is worse than buying a car. While both have sketchy salespeople, when you buy a car, you can compare them on MPG, size, features, etc. Multiple dealers have the same models so you can compare prices and make an informed decision based on their invoice prices. There’s none of that when buying a mattress.

Our mattress should arrive in a few weeks. Hopefully we’ll just find it comfortable enough to have to avoid going through buying a mattress again for at least another 11 years.

UPDATE: The mattress arrived quickly and in good condition. We’ve been sleeping on it for several nights and while it feels comfy, I’ve had some upper back soreness which seems to be related to the new mattress. I’m going to keep trying it for a few more weeks and see if my body adjusts as the US-mattress.com website suggests. Hopefully it will go away. Otherwise, we’ll have to find another one and do a $100 exchange I guess.

250 Comments

  1. I am sorry for all the problems everyone is having with beds. Having put off getting a new bed for our son for as long as possible, it is nice not to be alone in this though! His bed is over 25 years old, (he basically went from the crib to a queen bed that had been for guests) and he is 19 now, 6’2″ and has mentioned more than once “how comfortable the dorm beds are” so my husband and I figured it is really time to get him a new bed. I started to look in to it a few years ago, and just gave up because of all the confusion, and the horror stories I was hearing from friends whose new beds were shot within a few months, deep valleys they have to “work” to get out of, and ridges between the valleys. I am very glad I found this site before even beginning to try and get him a bed, thanks everyone for posting here, I’m learning a great deal.

  2. I think a 10 year warranty is a little long for something you (and your wife perhaps) sleep on some 10 hours a day. I wouldn’t expect to pay more than 500 to 700 dollars for a mattress, I can’t remember what I paid last time.

    After 5 years, I think I got my money’s worth. Spend more and then perhaps the warranty should go up a bit. Depending on how old you are, that mattress might be getting quite a workout and I’m not just talking about sleeping.

    I do agree that moel numers should be standard so peole can compare with other sellers. Most everything else you buy has them and you can shop for the best price. Just my opinion.

  3. Just wanted to give a quick feed back on everyone complaining about prices and wanting things cheaper. Not saying that I don’t agree that things have gotten more expensive but its gotten more expensive for everyone. Retailers have to pay employees, mattress companies have to pay for product and manufacturing. I have a friend who works at a mattress store and he told me that some of the mattresses that they have there they as a company had to pay over $1000 at cost just to get them. I personally have laid of a $400 dollar mattress in the store and a $4000 mattress and there is a huge difference between them. Go to the sales people who know about beds and how they can help your needs not how much it cost. What did you pay for the car your drive, the living room table? None of those things will benefit your health the way a bed will. Get all the facts before you complain.

    • “Get all the facts before you complain.”

      That’s funny. One of the things the writer of this post is pointing out is that you CAN’T get all the facts, because the stores and manufacturers won’t give them to you. They won’t even tell you CRITICAL information in making an informed choice, like the foam density of the foam used in support layers, which to large extent determines it’s durability.

      Just the fact “pillow top” mattresses are sold at all means mattress retailers have no interest in selling good products. Pillow tops wear out in a few years, leaving you with a sagging mattress that needs replacement. If they had any integrity at all they would sell you mattress with durable support core without a pillow top, and have you buy a 3″ topper (memory foam, etc) that can be easily replaced when it wears out.

      I’m done with them, and encourage everybody to abandon these charlatans . There are plenty of small companies now that will sell you a quality mattress online at a very good price, and they tell you EXACTLY what materials they are using in their mattress. It’s not rocket science. Spend an hour or so on a site like Mattress Underground and you’ll be an informed consumer that won’t get taken again.

      • Would you buy your car with out test driving it. Just saying. Making sure you buy the right mattress for you and your bodies needs requires laying on it and testing it out. There are very reputable large stores that do the right things for your health and wellness and are not out just for the buck

      • Okay, time for me to interject.

        This may come as a shock to you all, but whopper, I am part owner of a local mattress store! I have some information that will benefit EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU, in one way or another.

        Let me start with this:
        DO NOT BUY A BED UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT IS INSIDE OF IT!

        Now, here comes the part where the truth hurts a bit. YOU GUYS HAVE ALL THE INFORMATION YOU NEED RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Remember those tags that you can’t remove because of well, JAILTIME? Every single mattress MUST have one, which lists the EXACT components inside of your mattress by WEIGHT. Meaning, if your bed is a combination of Latex and Polyurethane foams, then your tag should say something along the lines of ‘Latex Foam Rubber ………. 60% – Polyurethane Foam ……….. 30% – Cotton Batting ……….. 10%.’ You can replace whatever values you want in that sentiment, and, by law, THE TAG MUST ACCURATELY REPRESENT THE BED.

        Now when it comes to sales, the industry has a standard, and unfortunately that standard is low. Personally, our sales team doesn’t worry about commission, as we don’t pay out commission based on sales. We pay them daily. Think of ANY retail salesman as a shark, and inform yourself on the materials in a bed and how/what they do, not what they tell you. If you hear rubber, that’s a good sign. If you hear foams, that’s a bad sign. If you hear NATURAL, that could mean anything from 10% – 90% Natural. There is no such thing as 100% Natural. Also, Natural DOES NOT MEAN ORGANIC. Don’t be played for a fool. A human being has the ability to discern and make their own decisions. Not doing the research is ignorance. Searching the name of a bed on Google is not research. Asking about what materials are in your bed and Googling how they react to body pressure over time is research.

        We manufacture beds, and therefore know the laws involved with them. This isn’t biased. We know there are scumbags, just as there are in ANY industry. What did you expect?

        MOVING on to the other main subject: Prices/Longevity.

        Mattresses with pillowtops are not the problem, and aren’t ‘purposefully’ created to create another purchase 4 years from your first. They simply are a cheap/effective way to create a comfortable feel for a small price. Your pillowtop in a $500 mattress versus a $1200 mattress will most likely be the exact same thing. THAT IS NOT WHAT YOU ARE PAYING FOR. Nowhere in this article do I see a mention of EDGE SUPPORTS, FOUNDATIONS, or PLATFORM BEDS. You are comparing apples to oranges when it comes to the price you mentioned. (At least, that’s what it’s made out to be when you leave out very important price-changers.)

        I always ask this question, as you’re in bed for roughly one-third of your LIFETIME.
        Do you drive? How much did you pay for your BMW 350i out there? That car will last you a much shorter time than your bed. Considering you paid $40k for that, and $600 on your bed. Is it worth buying something along the lines of $2k-3k for a mattress? YES, BUT ONLY IF YOU ARE BUYING LATEX, or ANYTHING WITHOUT POLYURETHANE FOAMS AND A GOOD COIL SYSTEM.

        The number of coils does NOT matter. For the love of God, PLEASE stop asking that ridiculous question to salespeople. They don’t know the answer, and frankly, the coil count has absolutely NOTHING to do with the bed. It’s simply an arbitrary number. They can fit 1200 smaller coils in the same space 900 ‘normal’ coils might fit. It DOES NOT MATTER. The coil system should be the last thing to break down on your bed if you bought anything with pocketed coils (or individually-wrapped coils, pick your term).

        Lastly, here comes the part about the markups in the industry. They’re median. It’s not a volume item. End of story. Anybody in business will understand that you simply cannot make a living if you’re selling a bed that lasts 8 years for a 10% margin.

        Anyway, best of luck with absolutely everything mattress related, and hopefully you’re sleeping well with what you ended up grabbing, but please do not trash on the mattress industry as a whole, because it’s not a ‘scam’.

        Congrats on the luck purchasing online, if I had a dollar for every customer who ‘just bought a bed online and it’s horrible,’ well, I wouldn’t have to sell any more beds.

        – Parker

    • All this begs the question: How can the materials and construction of a mattress POSSIBLY cost $1,000 and way up? It is patently insane. Regular, non-mechanical mattresses are wood, metal springs/supports of one kind or another, and fabrics. And they are MASS PRODUCED. It is absolutely crazy that they could cost any more than $500. Does everyone in the chain mark the product up 400% at each stage–from manufacturer to distributor, from distributor to chain, from chain to store and then from store to customer? IT IS UNDENIABLY WRONG and all the mattress retailers ARE IN COLLUSION.

      • What many people don’t understand is that big name brands such as Sealy, Simmons, and Serta have what is called a price lock. Retailers of their products HAVE to sell it at what they tell them to. The prices are marked up so high because you’re not just paying for the mattress. You’re paying for the sleep trials that some stores offer, the advertising, the higher management, the sales commission of all employees, and most of all the warranty. If you want a quality mattress at a decent price then find a store that has a brand you have never heard of. If you haven’t heard of it, then they aren’t putting thousands of dollars into advertising and you don’t have to pay for it in their mattress. I work for a mattress outlet store. If you can find a genuin outlet mattress store than you will save a ton of money. We get mattresses that are close outs, liquidations, mis-matched sets, or freight blemished (meaning a truck driver ripped the plastic as he took it off the truck and got a scuff mark on it). All of those things voids the warranty, so you don’t have to pay for it. We get big name brand mattresses through that process and sell them at least half price of what other stores sell them at. Never buy a mattress based on the warranty. You can pay 2,000 for a queen Sealy and as you carry it into your house put a scuff mark on it if you bump it into the wall or ground. That scuff mark voids your warranty. Warranties are useless. Find an outlet store. I’ve currently got a big name brand mattress on my floor for $800 that retails at $2,299 down the road. (We can’t mention the brand names we carry due to contracts with those companies.)

        • No longer a secret, mattress salesmen work off commission, and manufacturers give bonuses for selling their particular product or line. One month it might be Sealy, the next Simmons etc. Working for Macy’s mattress dept. I quickly learned from the other salesman what to push to make the most commission. Yes we were trained, and toured the major manufacturers facilities, but the bottom line, when all is said and done, none of them stood out as being better made. Only your back can tell. Find a reputable store that will give you as many days trial as you can get.. Get it in writing.

      • I own a family-ran mattress store and I can tell you that though many people believe this, it simply is not the case. While there are stores like sleepey’s that mark up the beds a ton before dropping them down for aggressive customers, there are also stores like ours that make a small margin that is the same across every mattress. With the new high density memory foams infused with gel, latex, and higher cost of steel wholesale costs can easily he to to the $1000 range on many sets. However. I don’t csrry tempurpedics, strerns and fosters, heirlooms, and some other high end brands because you really don’t get what you pay for. In my opinion Serta is the best large retailer out there in way of quality for the price and I especially have had a lot of success eith a bed lasting 15 plus years with the natural 100% Talalay latex line for side and back sleepers that our local Serta plant makes here in salt lake.. But the problem is that they don’t make it nationwide. Also, for people over 200 pounds each, 4″ of Talalay latex isn’t quite enough for a mattress to last more than 10 years. Unfortunately along with all of the other justified comments on here for problems in the mattress industry, there are also politics involved that make matters even worse. Even a lot of the review sites are biased and don’t offer a fair review of all categories.
        Hope that helps!

  4. Couldn’t agree more. My wife and I shopped for a new mattress for several months going into many brick-and-mortar type stores. It was insane that the “cheap” mattress was still $1,500. We were almost sold on a Tempurpedic, because you know…it’s a 3rd of your life when a co-worker told me about the Tuft & Needle mattress.

    The price was incredible and the reviews were good. We went ahead and ordered. The T&N ended up being a little too firm for us, so we returned it, but it opened our eyes to a litany of new online only companies. Ended up ordering from another company and are absolutely loving it.

    I’m really excited for the next year. Lots of new excited young companies. Going to be a great 2015 for mattress industry.

    • I’m going to buy any mattress I damn well feel like. Don’t tell people what they can and can’t buy. American companies an CEOs are all to eager to rip off their fellow Americans. I don’t owe them any loyalty. And competition is good, keeping the assholes honest.

    • Serta and Simmons may be shipped internationally and they may have factors in other countries but they are American companies just like Sealy, Tempurpedic and Stearns and Foster. I’m at work now looking at the law tags of my sertas made in temple, tx and my simmons made in phoenix, az. I will say that “traditional beds” are maybe 1-500 dollars marked up depending on the listed price but that’s just because consumers always want to feel like they are getting a deal. It is more important for me to match a customer with the right bed than right price. People don’t realize how important sleep is and how little sleep they are actually getting. Saying You spend 1/3 of life in bed isn’t a sales technic, it’s the truth. You spend $5 a day on coffee or energy drinks cause you didn’t sleep well but you think anything over $500 is too much?? That’s crazy to me. Also, the time and effort that goes into those beds! Mattresses are not mass produced in a traditional machine made way. There are people assembling them, stitching them together and all that good stuff. I’ve been several factories to see for myself. I’m glad that beds are different across manufactures because of online retailers… People come in lay on the bed before order it online and asking a million questions. Every salesperson makes commission or minimum wage. Don’t waste their time if you plan to order online. 10/10 times they will match the price if it’s similar. I know I’ve been all over the place I want people to value sleep and understand that every salesperson is NOT trying to deceive you.

  5. Really like the thorough review here – you definitely highlighted some of the major scam aspects of the mattress industry. I’m interested to see what will come in a few years – there are so many new companies selling online only, and plenty more to come. Maybe this will pressure the big guys to behave better, or just replace them entirely…

  6. I bought a Sealy Posturepedic Cushion Firm Queen Size Mattress 3/26/14 from Mattress.com by the end of the year it was starting to sag. So it got worse and I decided to contact them about the 10 warranty I was suppose to have. They said because I live in CA they cannot honor the warranty. Why when I placed the order and they saw that I lived in CA they did not have a problem with this issue?

    They finally agreed to replace the mattress and give me a credit but it cost me an additional $124.99 to have it shipped to me. I thought of contacting Sealy but I read all the scams and claims turned down by Sealy. So I opted to go with paying more money for supposedly a better mattress. This time it was a Sealy Posterpedic Plush Mattress and I was told this was a better mattress than the one I had originally bought. This mattress after paying $259.56 to get it, the mattress lasted 2 days! It was sagging worse than the other mattress, so I called them and they told me that they could not help me because it was a one time offer to replace the mattress since it is a National Delivery! So now with these two mattresses I have spent $901.55 and my only hope was going to Sealy.

    I got to reading all the complaints online over the weekend about Sleepy and Sealy, I knew I would never get anywhere and it would cost more money to have one of their people come out and inspect the problem. Plus you have to take pictures, measure, etc. and then pay more money for junk and they probably will deny your claim. I also found out that Sleepy owns the websites Mattress.com and 1800mattress.com

    So I decided to cut my losses. I contacted a local store Family Owned since 1954 Escondido Mattress and talked with them and they told me this mattress scam is a huge business. I also found on other sites that there are over 21,000 mattresses going to dump for sagging and other issues.

    So I went over to his store and they make their own mattresses right at their location and do not sell to stores. They make all kinds of mattresses that have the old kind of mattress that you can turn over! They have vibrating mattress with or without heat, they have regular mattresses of different firmness, etc. and frames anything your heart desires. I paid $900 for a queen size mattress that is beautiful! It is firm and comfortable. This is the best mattresses I highly recommend Escondido Mattress Co, Escondido, CA. I do not know if they deal out of State. They are located in the San Diego Area of CA. This is there website and they had no problem with a 10 year warranty! http://www.escondidomattress.com/

    Stop wasting your time any money trying to make the mattress you bought at wherever. It doesn’t matter either what brand you buy, Sealy, Stern Rogers, etc. they are all part of the same scam no matter what store you buy it from. I have a 1980’s Stern Rogers King Size and it is great! But I would not buy one today!

    Good luck to you and see if Escondido Mattress ships to your area. I am sure you would have to pay for shipping but I had to pay for that for the rotten junk I got. This mattress is like going back to the 50’s that lasted for years! You can flip it over turn it just like the old days. Not that bunch of junk in the stores. They make there mattresses right there in the place where I bought this mattress!

  7. After 15 years of sleeping happily on a Serta we went mattress shopping and this was our experience: I recently bought my Sealy mattress and box spring at Jordan’s Furniture. The mattress ended up being too hard. After only one week, my back was in pain and told them I wanted to re-select. They charged me $160 to re-select. After only 1 month I have noticed that my bed is making squeaking noises (like an old bed). We inspected the box spring and we noticed that it’s not a Sealy one, it’s not even a real box spring, it’s a piece of crap made of plywood and cardboard. I paid $170 for that. They sold me a Jordan’s box spring instead of a Sealy one. That’s very dishonest I think. I am contacting them right now to get a refund and get a real shock absorber box spring. Please, stay away from Jordan’s, there are many small family owned businesses everywhere. Get a real mattress and a real good box spring like a Gold Bond (two sided), made in Connecticut. Also if you don’t want to feel hot at night or smell toxic fumes, stay away from memory foam. I learned it the hard way. I hope this helps you take a better decision.

  8. Why do people pay in excess of 100,000 to drive a Mazeratti? Because you can’t build one yourself. The same is true for most any luxury item. Sleep on a cheap mattress for a week and it will destroy your back and health. Sleep is one of the four biological functions you can not live without. It has been proven that sleep deprivation causes severe health risks. Suffice it to say that I was willing to spend in excess $ 10,000 for my sleep system. The brand is not important, Because my preference may not be yours and what is comfortable is very subjective.

  9. We bought a temperpedic matress from Sleepys about 5 years ago. As it turns out, it was a huge mistake because of our like/dislike of the memory foam, not because the product was defective. We also had paid the additional amount to return the mattress if we did not like it. As it turns out (and they will not tell you this)…you cannot return the mattress and get another one unless you get a more expensive mattress. Its not a return policy, but and exchange policy for a more expensive product. what you do….try the store first, than call the home office. Have them put pressure on the store to return the product and they will.

    • Just FYI Mattress Firm, does allow exchanges down or up…100 days exchange sleep happy guarantee. I wish I was helping you, if a memory foam bed isnt for you I would have got you on the best bed for you, whether it was $100 or $3500. Comfort is subjective. Accurate about sleepys though. I hope they change that!

  10. We bought a king set from Sam’s Club 12 years ago for our seasonal (4 months a year) home. It was and remains the most comfortable mattress we have ever had, and we have a Stearns and Foster in our home at five times the Sam’s Club price. I’m going back to Sam’s or possibly Costco for our next one .

  11. My major concern after deciding ,based on my research about Tatalay vs Dunlop,has been the chemical cocktail the mattresses are subjected to. I believe that issue,over arches all other issues when it comes to buying a mattress in North America. It is difficult to determine what you will be exposed to. And what damage you are likely to suffer over time as a result of this exposure.

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