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Mattress No Longer Relegated To Bottom Of Shopping List

While Presidents Day is a time to think of America's commanders in chief, it is also a time when many stores have mattress sales.
Patrick Fallon
Bloomberg via Getty Images
While Presidents Day is a time to think of America's commanders in chief, it is also a time when many stores have mattress sales.

Presidents Day is a time to reflect on the giants. Lincoln. Jefferson. Washington.

And of course, mattress sales.

"You go hunting when the ducks are flying," says Kevin Damewood, the executive vice president of sales and marketing at Kingsdown, a mattress manufacturer.

He says three-day weekends are when people have time to shop for a new mattress. It's also when many people decide to move, and consequently when many people are in the market for a new mattress.

Yet despite the flashy advertisements, mattress shopping can be met with the same level of excitement as buying new tires.

"A mattress has often been considered what you might call a grudge purchase," says Mary Helen Rogers, the vice president of sales and marketing at the Better Sleep Council, a part of the International Sleep Products Association, which represents the mattress industry.

A new survey from the Better Sleep Council, however, suggests this is starting to change. It found consumers were replacing their mattresses more often, particularly younger people 18 to 35. They were expecting to replace their mattress about once every six years.

Younger shoppers experiencing more life-changing events, such as moving to a new city or getting married, can explain some of this. But it also reflects a different perception of buying mattresses.

"I think I had 50 friends comment on it," says Meg Massey, referring to a Facebook status she posted about shopping for a new mattress for her studio apartment in Washington, D.C. "They were talking about it like it was so easy."

Initially, Massey was apprehensive about the purchase, expecting to have to pay four figures. Yet after recommendations from friends and research online, she ordered a foam mattress on Amazon for $171. Her plan is to keep the mattress for a few years, before buying a higher-quality mattress.

"I'm actually kind of excited about the next purchase," she says, even though she only expects that mattress to last about five years, a significant shift from her parents' mattress habits.

"I'm pretty sure my mom has mattresses she bought when I was a child," Massey says. "That was something you kept for 10 or 20 years and you somehow made it work."

The ability to do her own research online and avoid having to shop at a mattress store changed the shopping experience from something she was dreading to one she enjoyed. And despite the savings being marketed for Presidents Day, Massey feels she wouldn't have received such a deal while working with a salesman.

"It's easier to kind of stick to your game plan when it's just you and your laptop and not you and like someone whose entire job is to try and get you to spend more money," she says.

Several new companies have taken note of the poor reputation of mattress stores and joined the online market.

"Buying a mattress when we did focus groups and surveys ranked as one of the worst consumer shopping experiences, period," says Philip Krim. He's the CEO of Casper, one of the most recognizable names in the online mattress market.

The site was designed to be the polar opposite of a mattress store. Instead of a physical location with dozens of mattresses to try, Casper sells only one mattress — though in different sizes — online with a simple return policy.

Several other companies also sell beds exclusively online. It's still a small slice of the market, but more and more companies are moving in that direction, seeing an opportunity.

"Look, it's an Amazon world, isn't it?" says Mark Quinn, the co-founder of Hero Bed, a new startup looking to sell beds online. He says online sales are about five percent of the market, though he expects that to double in the next few years.

"You can buy anything you want and have it shipped to your house in a couple of days," he says. "It's hitting the easy button."

While the lack of options — and salespersons — is one of the main selling points for shopping online, mattress stores argue the opposite serves as an advantage. Many stores have test beds and salespersons trained to use them to connect customers with the bed with the right kind of support.

"I don't know how you can really, thoroughly, 110 percent accomplish that online," says Damewood."How many consumers really understand what the different gauges of wire mean online and what that means to the support they're being given in a mattress?"

Support is a term used often by mattress stores. Tossing your current mattress for one with more support is often sold as the gateway to a better night's sleep and all the health benefits promised along with it.

"Even small changes in support that you may not necessarily perceive can actually impact pain you have the next day and the quality of sleep that you have," said Dr. Robert Oexman, the director of the Sleep to Live Institute, which is funded by Kingsdown. "The type of mattress you buy and the support characteristics of that mattress is critical."

But for Dr. Lisa Medalie, who works at the University of Chicago's Sleep Disorders Center, a new mattress is pretty low on her recommendations for her patients.

"I kind of go with, if it ain't broke don't fix it," she says.

If a mattress is uncomfortable, she says replacing it can lead to a better night's sleep and hunting for a mattress with adequate support makes sense.

Often, however, she says there are other ways to find that elusive restful night. She says try these tips first:

  • Avoid heavy and spicy foods three hours before bedtime.
  • Exercising regularly can help with sleep, but avoid exercising within three hours of sleep.
  • Cut off caffeine eight hours before sleep.
  • Turn off electronic devices an hour before bed.
  • Keep the bedroom temperature low.
  • Use white noise to cut down on ambient room noise.
  • If it's taking 30 minutes or more to fall asleep several times a week for months, consider visiting a sleep clinic.
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Stephan Bisaha
    Stephan Bisaha is a former NPR Kroc Fellow. Along with producing Weekend Edition, Stephan has reported on national stories for Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as other NPR programs. He provided data analysis for an investigation into the Department of Veteran Affairs and reported on topics ranging from Emojis to mattresses.