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.

374 Comments

  1. The misconception consumers have is that there is one “best” mattress or a mattress that is the “top of the line.” The true best mattress for you is one that is custom tailored to you and your partners shape and weight. This information is not something that can be passed over the internet. There are some honest companies who believe in “Open Architecture” mattress systems in which the covers are zippered and you have the ability to see each layer of the mattress. This ensures that you are not being sold “mystery meat” trademarked technologies that you have no ability to research. Also note that in terms of long term support your mattress will only be as strong as its weakest link, meaning anytime you introduce a synthetic foam, mattress cover, or inferior coil system, (ie: coils tied together,) your mattress will likely break down much sooner than a mattress made of more natural materials like, 100% cotton, 100% wool, 100% natural latex – (don’t buy into organic latex as there is no such thing, all latex has synthetic materials, soaps and sulfurs, honest companies will be forthright with this info and not claim organic. Be wary of blended latex however (SBR latex), biggest tell-tale sign is they are a lot lower price.

    Beyond the mattress it is also important to have a friend or partner with you to check your spinal alignment for neutrality. The ability to unload the spine on your side/back will give you much better quality sleep. Comfort is subjective, proper support is not, and the best long term option will be finding the right balance between the two.

    2 big red flags –

    1. never buy a mattress because of the warranty, even the best long lasting bed will truly only last around 8-12 years before a notice in change of firmness. No bed will last you 40 years and still be supportive. It may last 40 years with a big sag in the middle though. 🙂

    2. Ask about allowance for sag in the warranty as a direct indication of what they really think about their mattresses. IE: “This is the best bed ever and will last you 40+ years but just so you know in the first 2 years if you see an 1.5″ sag, or body impression in the mattress that is totally normal.”
    If there is any allowance for sag in the bed over a 10 year period I highly advise staying away from the bed regardless of the price as if will likely only work for a very short period.

  2. Best buy a bed with 100 day trial offer with complete refund if not satisfied. That’s what we did.

    Also, although you probably can’t buy from them as they are based in UK, this site has masses of invaluable generic mattress construction info that will gear you up with info and tips before you even start venturing into the showrooms. No matter what you end up buying, the info here will put you steps ahead in your hunt. http://www.factory-beds-direct.co.uk/understanding-beds

  3. I bought a Simmons Natural Care Latex Cypress Pillow Top in 2008 and was told it had a 25 year warranty. Hubby and I are currently shopping for a new mattress as this one has dips on his and my side of the bed, where we sleep and a lump in the middle, where neither of us sleeps! We paid over $3000 for this mattress and feel like we were ripped off. Plus when I went to do some research on Simmons Latex mattresses, they don’t make this line anymore. Maybe because they wear out quicker than we were told??? We used to have a Tempurpedic and that lasted 15 years. We are thinking of going back to those again.

  4. This is a depressing thread to say the least, I too am a victim of the sears grand canyon special mattress with a sag that is about 4 inches after 2 years…………………I had a simmons beaty rest set made in 1974 until 1994 and it was still comfortable with no sag and no springs sticking through when the top fabric actually began to wear out………darn I miss it………I’m a side sleeper and right now you can not find a soft spring mattress anywhere……….softness comes from quality springs correctly rated and made from quality spring steel…………….they don’t make quality spring steel in china…………………believe me as I am a mechanic. Toppers and foam toppers should not be necessary. I do have to say that my sister did buy some matresses from Crate and Barrel that cost a fortune but are high quality………..but still modern day too damn stiff………….

    • The construction of Simmons Beautyrest mattress looks pretty cool. The drawback I felt about Simmons beautyrest is its one-sided feature. The mattress uses high temper spring coils and 3 layers of cooling foam to regulate the temperature on the surface. The body conformity, spinal support and motion transfer are all sticked on to this arrangement. The mattress uses 15.5 gauge steel coils to give a firmer feel. Although the company provides 25 years of warranty, an average life span of a mattress is said to be 8-10 years. A mattress that goes more than that can come up with sinkage and back pain issues. But apart from that, a simmons beautyrest mattress is worth the money you pay for.

  5. you change your mattress every 10 to 11 years, so for 11 years you wont buy a single mattress, a single shopkeeper if he wont get 5k per mattress why would he manage a shop, its just useless ! you want mattress at manufacturing price thats not possible.

    Because of the long duration price has to be little high… its like buying a maruti and bmw you talking about. Than you should call bmw also a scam.

    • If the mattresses actually lasted 10-11 years, that would be a valid point. However, my wife and I (neither of us overweight) get 2 years max. from name brand, middle-of-the-line mattresses before the pits and hump form. We finally started buying inexpensive twin-XL mattresses, putting them side by side on our king foundations, and stretching the king fitted sheet over them. That way we get new mattresses cheaply every couple of years. With two in the bed, you never really have the luxury of sleeping in the middle any way.

      When we bought our first king mattress 25 years ago, we had a solid, “flip-able” mattress that was comfortable and functional for well over ten years. We donated it to a relative that couldn’t afford to buy a king. Ever after, we have only found single-sided (unflip-able) mattresses that simply don’t last. As stated above, matters manufacturers have turned the entire industry into a crappy used car scam. 1.5-2″ of sag is not acceptable wear-in of the mattress. That’s a pit. The multitude of seller-specific models is there only to make comparisons impossible.

      Look for a local manufacturer. At least there you can evaluated models across multiple years without intentional obfuscation.

  6. We’ve gone through 4 mattresses in 4 years. We only weigh like 135 and 150. They get indented in 3-6 months. My moms mattresses are 10 years old and no indentations and are great. What has changed in recent years?

  7. I told the mattress I was buying was “all organic” and it turns out that was not true. The mattress contains synthetic material, the latex contains chemicals, and more.

    When I realized the mattress was not ‘all organic’ like I was told, I checked the other dealers and they too didn’t disclose the synthetic material all the while they advertise the mattress as being “all natual”, “organic” and more.

    The manufacture has been so horrible to deal with, I made a web site to warn others so they don’t get duped like I did. It is http://www.mymattressreview-berkeley.com It is my hope others can learn from my mistake.

    Plus I hate the comfort and durability of the bed. It has a VERY THICK QUILTED top that I HATE. I also noticed the latex is breaking down real fast and its HOT to sleep on, maybe due to all the wool in the exterior cover (?).

    Next time I’m getting an all latex mattress with a very THIN, very STRETCHY, top with NO wool.

    • It’s the latex that would’ve made you hot. Wool self regulates the temperature, so it’s not too hot or too cold. I’m looking into making my own wool mattress, since they are made to last a lifetime

  8. It is always good to buy a mattress from a retail store. This helps you to try out the mattress and know the level of comfort and support. But if you go for an online purchase, you can get confused. There are online sellers who sell mattresses of different companies. While there are manufacturers who sell their own product (mattress). One of the drawbacks of online mattress purchase is that you cannot try the product. Online stores, who sell mattresses of different companies, offer limited returns and refunds. But if you buy from Saatva, you get refund within 75 days, less the original delivery fee. Tuft and Needle accepts returns within 30 days of purchase. So personally, I feel that it’s good to buy either from a retail store or from direct manufacturers online.

  9. Buying a mattress is a nightmare. It’s confusing, misleading, high pressure. The return scam is even worse. Restocking fee, plus a charge to pick it up, and some other, unnamed charge. It would be funny if it weren’t so expensive. Coil count. Wire gauge. Cooling foam (really?)
    a spring mattress is just springs with layers of soft stuff on top. I don’t care if it costs $300 or $3000, it’s the same animal, just more hype. Good luck.

  10. I have been to 3 mattressfirms in the last few days and everyone I went to said I was there only customer. I was in there for literally 2 hours talking to the salesman and trying out different mattresses and nobody came in….he was straight with me and told me that it’s not unusual to have only 1 customer or 2 customers a day. So if these stores can afford to take a loss for 2, 3 days in a row without selling a mattress and paying to keep the store open and pay the salesman (hourly rate for 10 hours or so) then obviously they are making a huge profit on every mattress that they do end up selling….They are marked up big time…The mattress companies are making out because they make exclusive deals so you can’t price shop and have to purchase that one from that store…

    also they give you little add ins that you really don’t care about like pillows etc…I didn’t come in to a mattress store to buy a pillow, I came in to buy a mattress…I don’t want a pillow I want a mattress so I want the mattress for less than the list price….

    Then they get you with the 0% apr for 60 months…or whatever you qualify for…I qualified for 3300/36 months….problem is I can’t use the 36 months on a 1200 dollar mattress so they force you to buy a more expensive (and much greater return on investment for them) mattress….Most people would rather pay 2500 if they get in for 36 month finance deal vs 2200 for a 24 month deal…they don’t care about the total price and just care about the monthly payments…that’s how they get you too…

  11. I believe my theory is true on how these mattress companies stay afloat. They open a store with new product. They have people come in and sit on said product, yielding a “floor sample”. They wrap up the ” floor model” as “never owned” and sell out the back door to people who peddle them on Craigslist or at flea markets or out of the back of a truck as “still in package”. The mattress company covered their cost, plus some and the peddler pushes a huge savings. I bought one 11 years ago and I swear that’s where it came from. I even wonder if the mattress companies have their own fleet of people pushing the “still packaged” ones. Every once in a while they make a sale in the showroom and then it’s a bonus.

  12. I like how you say that a 100-200% markup is a “scam” Surprise…. literally EVERY retail good or service has that much mark-up…. Guess what… your burger at applebee’s is prices at $10.99, but do you think there is actually more than $5 in food cost on that plate? NO, but they’ve got to pay for the rent, employees, etc… And the $9 graphicTshirt you buy at walmart, do you think that cost them $5? NO, a simple single color silk screen Tshirt made in Malaysia and shipped over here in a container cost less than $1.50 LANDED at the warehouse door. Of course an internet sale would be cheaper, because they don’t have to pay for a store or a sales person, just a warehouse and driver, but you don’t get the benefit of seeing, touching, testing the product before you buy if it’s from a webpage.

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