The 5 Most Insidious Scams That Mattress Retailers Use - How To Avoid Them And Get The Most Mattress For Your Money And A Comfortable Night's Sleep.
Buying a mattress can be a challenging experience. That is a nice way of saying that buying a mattress can feel exactly like buying a used car. While not all mattress retailers are trying to pull a fast one, there are some insidious scams that mattress retailers have used for years that are still being commonly used in mattress stores and on e-commerce sites, every day.
That isn't to say you can't find the mattress that you want and also get a good price. But your chances of getting both the right mattress for you at a great price will go up drastically if you come armed with the rarely revealed information from this page.
On this page we will lay out the 5 Most Insidious Scams of the Mattress Industry. Then we will teach you how to avoid being scammed. I have been researching mattresses and mattress shopping ploys for years now, after a bad shopping experience myself. Take my advice; an educated customer will put you on an equal playing field with even the most seasoned hovering mattress sales guy around. To get started, we will begin with the longest running scam in the mattress industry.
1. The “Ever Changing Name” Scam
This is a classic maneuver employed by most mattress manufacturers and retailers. This has been going on for decades, and is a basic way mattress retailers try to keep customers from comparison shopping. Here's the deal - while all mattresses of a particular name brand manufacturer (Serta, Sealy, Simmons, etc.) are made at the same factory, the factory will put different names on the exact same mattress that is going to different retailers.
That way, if you shop for a mattress with a particular dealer, you will find that you can't comparison shop the same mattress (by name) with another dealer. So, even though the other dealer will have the exact same mattress, they will have it with another name (and perhaps a different outside cover as well, to better throw you off).
This little trick protects each retailer and also allows them to try to sell you on their own "personalized" line as somehow better than the identical mattress from their competitors. Since it has a different name, the consumer usually has no idea.
In fact, manufacturers will create exclusive names and slap a label or sew the name of the model right on to the top of the mattress so it appears as if it were totally different than an identical mattress sold up the street, either for a few dollars more or less.
The first thing to remember is to simply forget about the outside of the mattress, and try to make an educated purchase based on the internal components of the mattress, the return policy, the warranty, and third party reviews found online. Of course the problem with this approach is…
2. The “Mystery Components” Scam
Now, with competition so intense, especially on e-commerce sites, companies that use almost identical materials in their beds are doing anything they can to differentiate their product from the competition. One popular company, as an example, markets a polyurethane foam line of mattresses, and recently added to their one mattress lineup by creating their so-called "Mint" mattress, and uses a green colorant in one layer of their foam to give it a unique look, and to enhance the fact that the material is different as well. Other companies have had to employ creative design and marketing techniques to stretch the use of polyurethane foam, which is fairly ubiquitous in the industry, and really doesn't vary much in feel or comfort or support. Not really much of a scam, but it is stretching the reality and limitation of materials that you can use to create only so many models and designs. Be aware that when you are shopping for foam mattresses, virtually all of the material that can be used to create a comfortable bed, is essentially identical. It might be infused with charcoal and colored grey, or it may have a unique pattern molded into the material, but when it boils down to it, it's all the same, petroleum based, extruded foam.
The bottom line is, if you are buying a mattress and have no idea what is inside of the bed, and you really aren't that concerned about it, and are really just interested in the overall comfort and durability of the mattress, just make sure you get a decent trial period and a solid 10 year warranty out of the deal. With a foam bed, I always suggest making sure one of the layers is latex, if at all possible. If you need pressure relief, look for memory foam that is at least 4lb density, instead of the inferior and less reliable 2 lb or 3lb density material.
So now that you are a bit up to speed about the brand name scam, and are aware that across the board, the recipe is pretty much the same regardless of the cake, you can relax a bit, and figure you are going to spend about $800 for a queen, or $1,000 for a king mattress, from a company that has lots of third party reviews, a high BBB rating, and a strong web presence. With innersprings and digital air bed mattresses, you do your research, and you know to look for a particular coil count, check out the layers of good quality foam or maybe even latex or memory foam. You quickly learn to buy 4 lb. memory foam vs. 3lb, and to buy natural latex vs synthetic, especially if you are looking for more high-end quality components. Read through our Beds By Type pages to get into the details regarding components and what to look for, as well as red flags.
You can read more about the individual components to look for in many specialty mattresses simply be reviewing the other pages on this site which focus on the most popular types of specialty mattresses.
So now you are aware that lots of new companies with earthy, sparkly names like Purple, Zenhaven, Tuft&Needle, Loom& Leaf, Casper, etc., are basically selling the same thing, with different gimmicks, and bells and whistles. Some of these companies are toddlers when you compare them to established businesses. I say do not do business with any mattress company less than 10 years old, simply because you want them to be around long enough to insure they can handle a warranty or return issue.
So, you quickly find yourself drowning in a bunch of mattress mumbo jumbo. For example, if you ask about the foam used in a mattress, you may be told that the foam is "medical" grade - whatever that means. Be wary of terms like “therapeutic” and “recommended by chiropractors”, since this typically involves simply paying a fee to get the practitioner to parrot whatever the mattress company wants them to say.
Or, you could be told that it is their special, proprietary "super soft cell" foam. As opposed to their "super hard cell" foam, that no one else on earth can sell you. And, it just goes on and on. If it sounds like something you could have made up just as easily, it’s probably total nonsense.
It’s often difficult to get a straight answer out of a typical mattress salesman to basic questions that might allow you to compare one mattress' ingredients to another. When I asked a salesman about the density of the foam used in their memory foam pillow-top mattress, for example, he looked at me like a deer caught in headlights. After 15 minutes of him looking in the mattress retailers “selling tips” notebook, and calling their main office, he finally told me he'd “have to get back to me on that”.
Being unable to get the basic specs on a mattress' innards just makes comparison shopping about impossible. But even if you somehow can pry the information out of them, you run into the next hurdle…
3. The “Comfort” Scam
If you are lucky enough to get the details on a mattress' construction, the next step would be to lie down on some mattresses to see which one might be comfortable for you. But, again the mattress industry is ahead of you - unfortunately, for many mattresses, the feel and comfort of the mattress in the store just isn't what you can expect on that particular mattress in your own home.
This seems to make no sense - why would a mattress feel different in the store than in your own home? Here's the inside scoop:
- Mattress manufacturers use layers of comfort material (foam, cotton batting, etc.) on the top of the mattress to give it a nice comfortable, even luxurious feel. But they have found that they can use relatively inexpensive foams, and layer them, to get the same comfortable feel of a more expensive comfort layer made of the good stuff (high density polyurethane foam, natural latex, or high quality memory foam). This way, the mattress manufacturer makes a lot more money on a mattress, since the lower quality foams cost a lot less than the good stuff.
Also, because of the layering technique, you really can't feel much, if any, difference between the two mattresses when they are new at the store. But the one made of lower quality comfort layers will break down pretty quickly and leave the bed feeling much firmer when depressions start to form.
So you can end up buying a "premium" bed that feels great in the store, only to find that in a relatively short time you are back to a too firm, lumpy, uncomfortable bed that packs down in weeks or months. Also, things seem to look and feel more comfortable when they aren’t in your house, right? The novelty may wear off really fast, and making sure you can return the mattress for whatever reason is essential to insure you don’t get taken for a ride, and can’t return it without a hefty return fee- if at all. We’ll discuss this next.
- Some materials either take time to break in or they may be harder or softer in different environments. An example of this kind of problem is the components used in memory foam mattresses (both the dense "core" support foam layer and the memory foam top layers). In a show room, a memory foam mattress may feel pretty comfortable, but often people find that the new bed that arrives at their home is much firmer.
This is because the core support foam layers near the bottom have not been broken in unlike the one in the store, which was broken in from all the previous customers that were lying on the bed. Another variation of this has to do with the memory foam layers. Some memory foams are much firmer at certain temperatures - even temperatures just a bit below 70 degrees. So the memory foam mattress that felt great in the store, where it is a cozy 75 degrees under bright spotlights, may end up feeling hard and unforgiving when you get it home to your 70 or 68 degree bedroom.
What you need to realize is that you can only tell so much about a mattress in the showroom - and that the feel of the mattress at home may be very different. This means that it really is vitally important to be able to try the mattress in your own home, in your own bedroom's environment, to really know if the mattress will work for you or not.
Since it may take a bit of time for the different layers to break in, you need to be able try it out for a period of time - it can take a month or even two for some of the denser core foam layers to really break in. But that isn't a problem, right? The retailer always has a "money back guarantee". That is where they get you with the next one…
4. The “Money Back Guarantee” Scam
So, what you thought was your perfect mattress suddenly is no longer comfortable after two weeks. You can take it back to the retailer and get your money back - right? If only it were so. In most cases, what you will find instead is that the dealer will let you exchange the mattress for another of equal value. You may have to pay delivery charges all over again or you might get a store credit if no other mattress suits your taste.
But in many cases, you will not get your money refunded to you. It has just been one of the bedrock principles that the mattress industry has been built on - there should be no money back trials on a mattress. For most dealers, the idea of a money back guarantee is almost physically painful. What would they do with the mattresses that came back? It is best not to get them back- and avoid the whole thing. And that, for the most part, is what they do - a money back guarantee is simply something most retailers don't offer.
More and more though, this is beginning to change due to fierce internet competition, so make absolutely sure you can take advantage of a return process of some kind.
So ask upfront - can I get my money back if I don't like the mattress? If there is a chance that they would offer this, ask if they would have any fees they might take out such as a restocking fee, or any requirements about the mattress such as it has to be in new re-sellable condition, which in reality means they will never take it back (since a dealer can't legally re-sell a used mattress). Bottom line - you really need to watch your back on this one. I've talked with lots of people that ended up eating the cost of their mattress, and sometimes more than one, when their new, expensive mattress ended up being uncomfortable.
- When you get a new mattress home, use a mattress protector, in the event you need to return it, so it stays in pristine condition, with no scuff marks, stains, or other signs of use or wear.
- Have a delivery crew bring and set it up for you if you buy locally so that the store and its delivery crew will be held responsible for any damage or mishandling.
5. The “Innerspring” Scam
I've saved the most industry wide, insidious mattress sales scam for last, because it is one that pervades the entire industry. What most people in the U.S. consider the standard mattress - the innerspring mattress - just isn't inherently a comfortable bed.
If you think about it for a minute you'll understand what I mean. Sleeping on a bunch of steel springs by themselves just wouldn't be comfortable at all. Steel is a pretty unforgiving substance, and even when you put it in coil form it still isn't something you are going to want to lie down on all night.
As the years have gone by since the introduction of the innerspring mattress, people have demanded a more comfortable and luxurious feeling bed. As a result, innerspring mattresses have become absolutely gigantic in size because of all the comfort layers that manufacturers put on their mattresses to overcome the inherently uncomfortable steel spring core of the mattress.
This has gotten completely out of control in the last 10 years or so. While the average thickness of a mattress used to be 6 inches, maybe 8 inches if it was "plush", now innerspring mattresses routinely clock in at 12 - 14 inches or more. And they weigh exponentially more than they used to as well, since they are double the height and use denser comfort layers. So just try flipping these poofy pillow-top innersprings – better get your back brace and bottle of Advil standing by.
The overbuilding of the innerspring is all due to the inherent design flaw of using an uncomfortable material (steel) as the core support feature in a bed. But technology has come a long way since the innerspring mattress was first developed in the 30's, and these days you have lots of options for a more comfortable mattress.
Getting To “The Core” Of The Problem
In my research, I was surprised to find out that the fastest growing segment of the mattress industry in the last 10 years has been what it termed the "specialty mattress" segment. What is this? The specialty mattress term encompasses the latest technologies in the bedding industry: memory foam mattresses, latex mattresses, gel foam, hybrid mattresses, and digital air beds.
While these specialty mattresses do differ greatly from each other in both construction and what types of sleep issues they may work best for, they share one common bond. Unlike the innerspring mattresses, they are comfortable at their cores, that is, from the bottom up.
That is to say, while you wouldn't find it comfortable at all to sleep on just a bed of steel springs, sleeping on a mattress just made of foam, latex, or air is astonishingly comfortable.
The foundation, or bottom section, of these new generation specialty beds just offers a huge improvement in comfort over steel springs, and so this comfortable core means that you can add highly specialized materials on top of them to create unique mattresses that truly offer variety and durability, since many of these foams are made using more advanced materials designed to resist packing down and rutting.
That isn't to say all memory foam mattresses, latex mattresses, hybrid beds, and air beds are alike. These different groups of specialty mattresses offer a wide array of comfort levels, designed to appeal to a broader market.
And with an aging population showing much more wear and tear with back and neck problems, and just the effects of gravity over time, more buyers are willing to be more adventurous, and trade up their traditional innerspring mattress for something more high tech, using newer, more beneficial ingredients.
Memory foam is still one of the hottest segments in the mattress industry today, even though it’s been around now for a good 25 years, and for good reason. The unique way that memory foam cells spread pressure and conform to your body make memory foam beds a good match for those with sleep problems, pain issues, or those looking for a mattress that custom molds to their shape. Memory foam mattresses can be very comfortable, but there are huge variations in the feel of different manufacturers' memory foams. And the quality of memory foams used in mattresses vary dramatically as well.
Nowadays, you will likely find memory foam infused with gel foams to help with heat dispersion and to provide a spongier, softer feel that helps with pressure points, as well as other unique materials that make these mattresses sleep less hot, and last much longer.
Natural Latex mattresses are a great alternative for those looking for a livelier, more supportive and more responsive surface, that doesn’t have that highly body conforming feel that memory foam tends to have.
Further, they are also a terrific choice for those looking for an environmentally safe mattress, since a natural latex mattress is made using strictly plant based materials and no volatile organic compounds.
To my surprise, I learned that not all latex mattresses are the same. It is a little told fact that most latex mattresses actually are made of a combination of real latex (made from the white fluid collected from the bark of the rubber tree) and artificial latex (made from petro-chemicals). But, you can buy purely natural latex mattresses from several respectable online stores, and in some brick and mortar stores.
I never got a great answer to why many latex beds are made of this blend of artificial and natural latex. The best I came away with was that this is just how it has mainly been done because of cost. It is much cheaper to make a synthetic latex blend. But I found the natural latex to be much more comfortable, and as long as you are paying for latex, you might as well get the real deal. Of course, if you are wanting the environmental benefits of sleeping on latex you will want to make sure that what you are looking at is made from all-natural latex.
If you think latex might be the solution for you, please check out the recommendations section below for a dealer that only carries all-natural latex mattresses with a 120 day money back guarantee.
Finally, air beds are a nice option for those who want to be able to adjust the firmness of their mattress to their own unique preferences. Make sure you get an air bed with a dual chamber if you sleep with a partner - this will allow you to each individually adjust the firmness of your own side.
Like all other mattresses, there are lots of ins and outs of buying an air bed. One thing that I came away with was that, if possible, to get an air bed that has a top layer of memory foam or the pure latex.
A good quality air bed will likely have more than one layer of different foams on top of the air chambers below. In most digital air bed systems, the pressure can be controlled within the air chambers to make the underlying support of the bed feel softer or firmer on either side.
These beds are great for couples who prefer different degrees of softness or firmness, and they can sleep on the same bed, while customizing each side.
The air chamber is the support layer - the core of the bed. Think of it this way - the air chamber replaces the springs. So you can tweak the air chamber to be fairly firm and supportive, or softer and cushier.
This is why additional comfort layers, like memory foam, latex, or other softer or firmer layers, can make an air bed much more adaptable and versatile. It lets you use the air chambers as the support layer, and the memory foam, latex, and other foam layers provide the cushioning and comfort for the mattress.
Unfortunately, it can be very expensive to get an air bed with these comfort layers, especially the big name brands who have a lot of overhead to support. But there are smaller boutique size companies that custom build them at much lower prices. They also back their air beds up with a money back guarantee, so you won't get burned.