One of the biggest resources for mattress buyers, The Mattress Underground, has released an article that details the history and comparison of the different companies in what they are calling the “Simplified Choice” category of mattresses. You can read part one of the article below, and find the full piece here! The article is incredibly informative and will help anyone understand what sets us apart!
There has been a whole new group or “breed” of mattress companies that have appeared online in the last few years with many of them appearing in the last few months because of the success of companies such as Saatva, Casper, and Tuft & Needle and who together are likely to have close to to 200 million in sales this year.
Companies that specialize in online sales in the mattress industry are nothing new of course and online mattresses have been fairly widely available for over 15 years, but they are still only about 10 – 15% of the industry (depending on who you talk with because nobody knows for certain). As a subgroup of online sales … this new group is still less than 1% of the industry sales totals but they are growing quickly and are beginning to catch the attention of the industry and consumers in a way that belies their relatively small size.
This new group of companies have been called by many different names including “Disruptors”, “One Choice Fits All” mattresses, “Universal Comfort” mattresses, Millennial mattresses, “Bed In A Box” mattresses, and “Simplified Choice” mattresses (which is what I have been calling them most recently) and there are others as well (including one of my favorites which is “Counterculture” mattresses). They are also becoming more and more diverse but as a group they share a number of things in common …
– They are generally sold for between $600 and $1000 which is a “sweet spot” in the industry and are designed to attract consumers that are in a medium budget range and may not have the budget for more premium mattresses.
– They are targeted towards consumers that are comfortable ordering online and the segment is being driven by Millenials who have grown up online and are more comfortable ordering a mattress online than “older” generations.
– They are heavily focused on good customer service and on managing their online presence and reviews (for better or for worse).
– They are heavily focused on marketing and on marketing strategies such as (ads that look like news articles or interviews), social media, google Adwords, review sites, and other newer forms of marketing and advertising and in some cases have invested heavily in their marketing budget.
– They have free shipping
– They all have a generous trial period and a return/refund policy that is usually free (including return shipping) or in some cases involves a nominal cost (under $100) that lowers the risk of an online purchase so consumers can test a mattress in their bedroom instead of a showroom.
– They all sell a single mattress that have between 1 and 3 firmness choices (most have only one firmness choice) that has made the process of choosing and ordering a mattress much simpler for those that don’t have the time or the inclination to test mattresses locally and find the “best mattress” for their own specific needs and preferences.
– They generally claim that they are “factory direct” and that they are cutting out the middle manin the industry which they say is why they have such great value. In reality though … most of them (with a few notable exceptions) are actually resellers and don’t own their own factory and their mattresses are made by foam fabricators or manufacturers that make their mattresses with the resellers name on the mattress. While to their credit many of them have certainly streamlined the supply chain so there are cost savings involved … most of them are not truly “factory direct” and some of them make claims about industry or retailer profits in the range of 500% – 1000% as part of their story to validate their “value” which is nonsensical. The average profit margin in the industry averages less than 50% (which means that the selling price is about double the price that is paid by a retailer). This “story” is a significant part of what is driving their sales because consumers are so dissatisfied with the industry in general that they are predisposed to believe that these numbers and other claims that are made on some of their websites are more accurate than they really are.
– Many of these companies also claim that their mattresses are “universally comfortable” but these claims are also exaggerated because if there was such a thing as a single mattress that was universally comfortable then there would only be a few mattresses needed in the industry. The reality is that they are targeted to the part of the bell curve that is attractive or suitable for the largest percentage of people (which is in the medium to medium firm range) Those companies with multiple firmness choices will also cover a larger part of the bell curve than single firmness choices. You will generally find that any one of these mattresses will be the “best” match (in their budget range) for a relatively small percentage of the population, a “good” match for a larger percentage, and an “OK” match for a larger percentage yet. While the only reliable way to know which group you fit in will be based on your actual sleeping experience when you receive the mattress … for those where the mattress isn’t a “good enough” match (either too firm, too soft, or where you experience “symptoms” when you sleep on the mattress) then they all have a great return policy that lets you start all over again with choosing another mattress with little risk outside of the time you spent trying the mattress or returning it.
– Most of them are foam mattresses of various types (latex foam, memory foam, polyfoam) although there are a few that are innerspring mattresses as well.
– Most of them are shipped compressed to save shipping costs, but a few of them (mostly the innerspring versions) are also shipped through common carrier and aren’t compressed for shipping.
At first there were only a few online companies that sold mattresses in this category (Saatva was first in October 2011, Tuft & Needle was next in December 2013, Casper was next in April 2014, and the rest have followed this year (2015).
Since there were only a few companies at first (when there was only Saatva, Tuft & Needle, and Casper) and since Saatva was an innerspring mattress with 3 firmness choices which was easy to differentiate from the other two “foam” mattresses in the group (which were Tuft & Needle and Casper) and since both of the foam mattresses had a single firmness choice the group at that time really did represent “simplified choices”.
In 2015 though … primarily because of the success of the original three companies … many new startups began to appear and the category began to rapidly diversify until there is now over a dozen different companies in the category and from representing a “simplified choice” things are beginning to become less simple and more confusing. What was once a very simplified choice between only a few mattresses is now a choice between over a dozen competing manufacturers that all offer a single mattress. From the consumer perspective it has reached a point where there is no longer much difference in choosing between a dozen different mattresses made by a single company and single mattresses offered by over a dozen different companies.
This growing confusion and questions about the relative firmness/softness or “feel” of each of the many new startups and consumer efforts to differentiate them from each other has begun to spawn a whole new series of private or “expert” review sites that are trying to cash in on this growing group of new startups. Each of them is generally given a mattress to review by each new launch that is hungry for the publicity and then they “rate it” based on how firm or soft or how comfortable it feels to the reviewer or based on various other subjective criteria that each of them use to compare mattresses and give them a “rating” based on their opinions, on their subjective experiences, and who then provide a referral link for every mattress that they review which becomes their source of income.
While I certainly don’t object to efforts to earn an income (this is necessary for everyone of course) … there are several significant issues with this approach to “rating” mattresses that can end up contributing more to some of the issues in the industry than provide a solution. In effect … they are giving a new face to some very old problems in the industry.
The first of these is that their ratings are generally based on short term sleeping experiences that are very subjective and can vary widely from person to person. No matter what consumers may “want” to believe … the reality is that other people’s experiences or reviews on a mattress (either positive or negative) aren’t a reliable source of information or guidance about how you will feel on the same mattress or how suitable or how durable it may be for you and in many cases they can be more misleading than helpful because a mattress that would be a perfect choice for one person may be completely unsuitable for someone else to sleep on (see post #13 here).
The second is that there are no “standard” definitions or consensus of opinions for firmness ratings and different manufacturers can rate their mattresses very differently than others so a mattress that one manufacturer rates as being a specific firmness could be rated very differently by another manufacturer. Different people can also have very different perceptions of firmness and softness compared to others as well and a mattress that is firm for one can feel like “medium” for someone else or even “soft” for someone else (or vice versa) depending on their body type, sleeping style, physiology, their frame of reference based on what they are used to, and their individual sensitivity and perceptions. There are also different types of firmness and softness that different people may be sensitive to that can affect how they “rate” a mattress as well (see post #15 here) so even mattress comparisons done by a single person can be very misleading since different people can also have very different opinions on how two mattresses compare in terms of firmness as well and some people may rate one mattress as being firmer than another and someone else may rate them the other way around. In other words … this is all relative and very subjective and is as much an art as a science.
The third is that for the most part the mattresses that are being reviewed by most of these private or “expert” review sites are rated very close together so that there is very little to differentiate one mattress from another. In most cases this is based on a desire to maximize their revenue and affiliate income and referral fees because by rating each mattress close together they can earn income from the sales of all of them (or leave “room” for new startups that they may want to promote) rather than having people go to a different review site for the referral link for a mattress that they don’t review highly. In other words they aren’t providing any objective, “fact based” or quantifiable way to differentiate the mattresses and by being “nice” about all of them for the most part they aren’t doing any favors to consumers that are looking for a more legitimate or meaningful way to differentiate them.
Just as a point of reference … the only companies that would currently quality to become a member of The Mattress Underground out of the group so far have already been invited and become members and the rest have either been turned down or wouldn’t qualify yet because they are too new and don’t have a long enough track record or don’t yet meet all the criteria for membership in the site.
I also don’t accept free products in exchange for a review (although it’s been offered by most of these companies and many others) because I realize that my experience on a mattress won’t reflect the experience of other people and would be meaningless and that that the “weight” and “influence” of any reviews I did would cause too many of the members here to “follow my lead” instead of choosing the mattress that would be best for them based on their own unique criteria. This would go against all the reasons I started the site to educate people about “how” to choose a mattress that is the best choice for each individual person.
Finally … and perhaps most importantly … they don’t provide reliable “fact based” information about the quality and durability of the materials or the mattress “as a whole” in any meaningful way for any of the mattresses they are reviewing which is one of the most important parts of the “value” of a mattress purchase. Instead they end up implying that they are all good quality/value or promote the myth that the length of a warranty is an indication of the durability and useful life of a mattress before you will need to replace it which of course isn’t the case at all (see post #174 here).
Worse yet in an effort to cash in on this new group of rapidly growing startups they are promoting they are repeating many of the exaggerated stories on many of their websites so the stories “feed” each other and start to take on a life of their own. They also perpetuate and strengthen the myth that there are standardized firmness ratings that can be used to meaningfully compare mattresses, or that other people’s experiences or reviews on a mattress will be similar or meaningful enough to others to make them a significant part of a buying decision when the type of “research” that is mostly limited to reading reviews can lead to some very poor mattress choices.
There are much better ways to make comparisons between mattresses or to decide on which mattress is the best “match” for any particular person based on more “fact based” research into the type and quality of the materials in a mattress and all the other criteria that are important to each person. There is more about the most important parts of the “value” of a mattress purchase in post #13 here that can help anyone make more meaningful quality/value comparisons between mattresses and in most cases the “missing link” that most so called “professional” review sites or “expert” sites either can’t or won’t tell you is that there really is a meaningful difference in the quality, durability, and “value” of the mattresses that are being sold in this category.
From a personal perspective … I am grateful for the emergence of this new category of mattresses because most of them are reasonable to good (or in some cases great) quality/value mattresses compared to most of the mainstream alternatives (although some of them have do have some “weak links” in their design in terms of durability or for certain weight ranges) and they are shining some light on some of the worst practices in the industry so overall they are a positive influence in “cleaning up” an industry that is in great need of “cleaning up”. Unfortunately in in the process in some cases the exaggerated claims they are promoting along with some overzealous marketing practices and “stories” to some degree makes many of them part of the very problems they are saying they are trying to solve instead of being part of a real solution that is more “fact based”. Since they are so new, many consumers that haven’t read the information on this or other “fact based” sites that includes a focus on the quality and durability of the materials inside a mattress haven’t yet come to recognize this because with the amount of consumer frustration with the mainstream industry it is very easy to believe (or be predisposed to believe) a “counterculture” story that the whole industry is “corrupt” and that a new startup company is offering a “perfect” solution … even if the solution isn’t quite what it’s being made out to be.
Having said all that … in the next post there are some brief descriptions about each of the mattresses in the category where the materials are known and/or disclosed (and I would never purchase any mattress where you don’t know the type and quality of the materials inside it) and it also includes a table that will provide the highlights of the materials in each of the current mattresses in this category.
As you will see … there really are some objective differences that are “better or worse” in the quality and value of the mattresses that are being sold in this category.