Mattress Reviews: How The Bed In A Box Marketplace Reinvented The Bedding Business, Literally Overnight, And Why You Should Buy One.
Why taking a hard look at today's foam mattresses that arrive pre-compressed and ready to use might be your best bet for a great bed...
Why is buying a mattress so complicated these days? How can it be that difficult? If you have to ask, you haven’t been shopping for a new mattress in quite some time. Hundreds of new online mattress stores have opened up in the last five years, and brick and mortar bedding operations have been hit hard by this sudden wave of competition. It began in 2014 when a small startup company reinvented a technique for packaging and delivering beds that although wasn't brand new, was marketed, branded, and presented to consumers so perfectly that the company sold $1million worth of these pre-compressed and rolled beds in the their first month in business. It was like ordering a Domino's pizza, click, BUY, and wait for your bed to show up at your door. Soon, dozens of new companies knocked off the concept and created new models, with a slight variation in the recipe, each with their own unique brand characteristics.
Instead of schlepping from one cavernous bedding store to another, confronted by row after row of overpriced mattresses and pinky ring wearing sales guys who whisper, “I have such a deal for you", and then holding your newly purchased mattress down on the roof of your car as you attempt to get it home, the ability to order a comfortable mattress online without ever walking into a mattress showroom became a delightful and refreshing experience instead of that "once every twenty years" nightmare. Almost overnight, the bedding industry was reinvented. The few innovators who resurrected the lumbering and sleepy mattress industry were referred to as "mattress disruptors" and turned the business upside down. But was it for the better? Is a bed in a box mattress option the best way to go? We think it just might be. And we'll tell you why.
Seizing the opportunity and realizing that mattresses were a huge commodity that everybody had to have but nobody seemed to find very appealing or fun to buy, a new breed of entrepreneurs connected two dots, the pizza delivery business and polished tech, and soon the snoozing bed business was taken on with the promise of delivering- directly to your door- the perfect bed at the perfect price—without the all of the hassle. The downside? Well, there really isn't one. You order the mattress online, and it arrives on your doorstep compressed into a box about the size of a conventional dining room table chair. You open the box, cut away the plastic around it, and it rapidly expands, or should we say, deploys, like an inflatable snowman lawn decoration.
While a few companies gets a lot of the credit for the concept, the first company to roll out pre-compressed mattresses was actually a machinist from Johnson City, Tennessee, named Bill Bradley, founder and CEO of "Bed in a Box". He built a machine that could compress and roll foam mattresses to a size small enough to fit in a shipping box. He trademarked the name and ran with it. A few other companies owned European versions of the same machines, and other companies soon followed with rolled and compressed mattresses. Our founder and senior editor, Marc Anderson, owned one of the first companies to roll and compress natural latex mattresses, starting in August 2008.
Bill Bradley’s business didn’t make that big a dent in an industry still dominated by long-established players like 1-800-Mattress and Mattress Firm. Even Marc Anderson's company had a hard time convincing people that rolling and compressing a mattress wouldn't hurt it, and in fact, made the mattress easy to handle with shipping companies, and less likely to be damaged before it arrived at the customers door. "It was a big hurdle at first. You had to convince customers that a compressed mattress wouldn't damage it. No one even questions it now, because it works, everyone does it, and it's opened up a huge marketplace", says Anderson. It wasn’t until new companies like Casper and early competitors like Tuft & Needle came on to the scene, that shoppers began to realize it was routine, and practical, to buy a pre-compressed bed without dwelling on the technical aspects of it. These companies took the idea and turned it into an experience for the customer, rather than a hurdle you had to cross.
“The idea of ordering a mattress online, the same way you make much smaller purchases, is still a novelty, even though it has been an option for several years,” says Claudette Ennis, the analyst who follows the mattress market for Consumer Reports. “Beds-in-a-box represent just a small part of the market today, but we’ve seen some pretty remarkable growth in this category.”
According to a report by the trade publication Furniture Today, direct-to-consumer mattress companies now command at least 20 percent of the market, accounting for a vast chunk of the bedding industry when you consider how many retail stores and chains there. Most beds-in-a-box are foam, but some manufacturers have found inventive ways to cram innerspring and adjustable air mattresses into cartons, too.
To make the process as pain-free as possible, many bed-in-a-box firms offer free shipping, and generous trial periods—usually 100 days, sometimes longer—and return policies. (Policies may differ if the mattress is purchased from a third-party retailer, such as Amazon.) Compare that with Macy’s, where returns must be made within 60 days of purchase.
The success of a few major bed-in-a-box dealers that have come along in the last few years has inspired a tsunami of copycat companies that have imitated and pirated their ideas, and are not really as knowledgeable about the complex subject of polyurethane foam construction and how to effectively design and engineer durable sleep surfaces. Marc Anderson puts it like this- "It's one of the easiest businesses to start. Create a web site, partner up with a fabricator who has a roll pack machine, and if you have some cash to invest in marketing and you know the ropes of social media, it's a good little enterprise. But I've seen companies come and go that don't offer decent trial periods, solid warranties, and truly back their vision with action". Industry sources report that the number of online mattress retailers is now approaching 300, and many are struggling to be seen and heard above the background noise of endless web sites and sales hype. “Goldilocks found the bed that’s just right, and now you can too,” Purple touts. “The internet’s most comfortable mattress,” Tuft & Needle declares. “Tirelessly engineered sleep products for your best rest,” Casper claims. The hardest part? Sorting through hundreds of bed in a box options and choosing a quality bed at a decent price that's backed up with integrity..and a lot of happy customers with true, genuine, and honest reviews.
The biggest problem is the rapidly expanding and seedy "mattress review" business. This site and our sister site, www.mattressreports.com, were the first legitimate academically postured mattress buyers guides, designed to educate consumers about mattress options, originally launched in 2007. As recently as 2015, dozens of so-called review sites popped up out of nowhere, all with the intent of redirecting unwary consumers to mattress companies that had developed cozy relationships receiving huge kickbacks with mattress manufacturers. Several court cases were spawned, lawsuits flew back and forth, and eventually several sites were forced to display court ordered disclosures at the top of their web pages advising consumers that their reviews were compromised. Fake reviews are everywhere, and we advise to be extremely wary of many sites that allegedly purport to offer "honest mattress reviews" and to search for unbiased sites such as this site, or even longstanding, reputable sites like Sleep Like The Dead, Consumer Reports, or other recognized authorities on bedding.
That's why it is important to find a truly third party resource that knows the highly technical nature of the mattress business. And if you are shopping for a bed in a box, you're looking at hundreds of options and every company is pitching their recipe, their bed, as the one mattress that will give you the support and comfort you've been dreaming of. The problem is that most of the foam mattresses out there are extremely similar. Almost all of them are made using a simple, highly repetitive pattern of design. The bottom layer is always a stiffer polyurethane foam, and the middle and top layers are variations of latex foam, memory foam, and other novelty foams like graphite infused urethane, gel type memory foams, and others. There's a lot the retailers don't share with you, such as the kinds of adhesives that are used, the technical details about the textiles and fabrics that are used to cover the mattress, the densities and ILD's of the foam layers used (if they are not "spec'd" ok correctly, a mattress will fail, sometimes within months, developing indentations, dents, and ruts). You can actually read a lot of detail about foam mattress options on our Hybrid Bed page, if you want to learn about the nomenclature and a bit more information about the kinds of foam that make up a really good foam "bed in a box". Definitely, though, comparison shopping is something you want to do, just to give you an idea of what's out there. We highly recommend our dealer page to help you narrow down the hundreds of options to around 40 reputable, vetted, and outstanding dealers.
A Workaround for Comparison Shopping
One of the most frustrating things about buying a mattress has long been how difficult manufacturers make it to comparison shop. Unlike products that have the same name or model number no matter where they’re sold (a Samsung Family Hub refrigerator, for example, or a Vitamix blender), mattress makers often give the same model different names depending on where it’s sold, making it almost impossible for a consumer to compare prices. (They might also make slight changes in construction or materials from one retailer to another.) So don’t expect a salesperson to be able to guide you to a comparable model. And if you are shopping online, rest assured, many dealers are playing cups and balls with you by switching out layers of foam using colored dyes to make them appear more glamorous or technical, and by changing the outer cover to ramp up the price. All in all though, today's online retailers generally keep things simple, since they want the user experience to be the total opposite of the gauntlet like experience we became accustomed to when walking into a mattress showroom. Hundreds of choices, dozens of manufacturers, listening to pinky ring wearing sales guys, who know little or nothing about the components or technical information trying to sell you the most important and intimate product in your life, something you will spend a third of you life using, at any given moment.
Bed-in-a-box sellers have eliminated this frustration from the buying process by paring down the choices. Many of these companies sell just one mattress, betting that it will suit most sleepers. Independent testing results shows that in theory, at least, this approach can work.
“We’ve seen several bed-in-a-box mattresses come through the lab that perform consistently, at a level of Good to Excellent, for sleepers of every body size and sleeping style,” says Chris Regan, a test engineer who oversees Consumer Reports mattress testing program. In fact, the top-rated foam beds-in-a-box score Very Good or Excellent in our support tests for petite, average, and large and/or tall sleeper
Say Goodbye to ‘Try Before You Buy’
Consumer Reports, for example, has long advised readers to lie on a mattress in a store for at least 10 to 15 minutes before buying. However, buying online eliminates the ability to do this. The workaround is simple. Really amazing trial periods, and solid warranties, along with a free shipping and return policy, Our most recent mattress survey showed that the longer people try out a mattress before buying it, the more likely they are to be satisfied with their purchase. Ordering online prevents this opportunity. But
Certain companies have worked around this limitation by teaming up with walk-in retailers. For example, you can now try a Leesa mattress at West Elm and buy it there for the same price offered at leesa.com. Casper has twin-size mattresses on display at Target that you can curl up on to see how they perform. However, the vast majority of online dealers do not have a retail presence but have a strong online presence. Our dealer page gives you the opportunity to shop for alternatives other than the most commonly advertised brands. We've found many small companies that we believe offer a superior foam mattress with great discounts, stellar reviews, and terrific trial periods and warranties. The Puffy Mattress, for example, is a great example of a hybrid foam mattress made with just the right recipe of a gel infused memory foam and a super high quality polyurethane foam base. The company, featured on the Ellen show, uses the highest grades of forward thinking foam and an outstanding fabric covering. In addition, they use a non-toxic, clean and heavy metal free foam construction, using a graded foam made using a process called Certi-Pur®. The foam is used by several retailers we recommend, and is the safest material to use for bedding that reduces exposure to harmful ingredient.
A handful of the large bed-in-a-box companies have showrooms in large metropolitan areas, so if you’re interested in a different brand but you’re not ready to buy a mattress sight unseen, check the company’s website to see whether it has a showroom nearby. If it doesn’t, you can refer to our recommended dealer program to see if the manufacturer is on our list. If it isn't, you may want to consider someone we recommend. Find your size and favorite sleep position, and note the models that provide adequate support for you—and for your sleeping partner.
Unlike mattresses sold at retail, which are usually marked up significantly and offer more price flexibility, bed-in-a-box mattresses are generally sold at a fixed price, making it difficult to haggle. However, we've found that the pricing, because it is so competitive in this category, are extremely reasonable and now is the time to get a great deal.
And, there are other ways to save. Check the sellers’ websites for special offers such as a free pillows, sheets, comforters, or other specials. Get on the chat with every site you visit, tell them you were referred by The Mattress Buyer Guide, and you may get added discounts and benefits. Plenty of bed-in-a-box firms offer discounts around the same holidays that traditional retailers do—Presidents Day, Labor Day, and Black Friday. Use a website’s customer-service chat feature to ask about coming promotions or discounts.
Making Your Mattress Feel at Home
Mattresses usually arrive a few days to a week after an order is placed. Although the cartons are compact (the queen-size Lull, for example, comes in a 19x19x43-inch box), they can be heavy, ranging from 60 to 150 pounds, and difficult for someone to wrangle alone.
Shipping is often free, but for an additional fee almost all of these companies offer white-glove delivery, similar to the services offered by a traditional retailer. A bed-in-a-box type mattress, which is usually foam, is compressed and rolled or folded (or both) before shipping. Most manufacturers recommend unboxing a new mattress within a month or two after it’s delivered. If you’re setting it up yourself, follow the steps outlined by the manufacturer. If you bought a bed frame or platform, put that together first. Also, many dealers sell quality hybrid mattresses which feature pocketed coils, latex, and other components. Check out our recommended dealers, and you 'll see the component description on every vendor we recommend. We also offer a rating, from 3-5, with the occasional 6, for mattresses we deem to be of superior quality.
Because it can be heavy and unwieldy when fully open, always take the mattress to the bedroom while it’s still in the box, Regan says. “Once you take it out of the box, put it on your box spring or platform before removing the plastic.” (See “Do You Need a Box Spring?” below.)
“Some will be wrapped in multiple layers of plastic; others have only one,” Regan says. “You can use scissors or a knife to open them, but take care not to puncture the mattress.”
Once the wrapping is removed, the mattress regains the volume that was lost when compressed for shipment. It can take a few minutes to a few hours for the mattress to regain its full shape.
The materials in new mattresses can give off an odor, some of which is caused by the breakdown of volatile organic compounds in the foam. “More research is needed to determine whether or not there are any chronic health risks from long-term exposure to VOCs in mattresses,” says Don Huber, CR’s director of product safety. “The odor should dissipate in a few hours or, at most, a few days. You may want to wait until the odor goes away to sleep on your new mattress.” Opening a window could help the odor dissipate more rapidly.
Do You Need a Box Spring?
A box spring, which serves as a foundation for a mattress, adds to the cost of new bedding, tempting many to do without one. Opinions vary on whether a box spring is really necessary. The International Sleep Products Association says the box spring is responsible for much of the comfort and support a mattress provides, but some mattress sellers say all that many of today’s models require is a sturdy surface, such as a platform bed. Our advice is simple. Any hard, rigid surface that does not compress more than one inch when you sink most of your weight into the edge or center, is fine, regardless of the material.
Certain retailers press the issue harder than others. Most retailers recommend that buyers of its mattresses use their proprietary foundation or bed frame. "We've always said our mattresses will work with everything from box springs to a slatted bed frame to the floor, which really is true for any bed in a box type mattress. You do not need to purchase a matching foundation from the same manufacturer to either improve or maintain the lifespan of the mattress", Marc Anderson says. Remember this, there is even more profit in selling you a matching foundation, which can often sell for $300-400, and cost $50 to make. We know, because we've manufactured them ourselves.
How to Have Many Happy Returns
As the old saying goes, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The same is true for beds-in-a-box. Return policies vary, but if you decide you don’t like your mattress during the trial period, you can usually get your money back. Fortunately, you won’t have to put the mattress back in the box.
Some sellers provide a full refund but don’t want the mattress back. Instead, they’ll help you donate it to a charity or nonprofit in your area. A lot of online companies for example, as well as other companies, say they will even help you find a charity that will pick it up. If there is no group in your area that will take it, these companies and others will arrange for the mattress to be picked up.
Many bed-in-a-box companies observe similar trial periods of 100 days or more, but some, such as GhostBed and WinkBeds, require you to keep the mattress for at least 30 days before arranging a return. In the end, only a surprising 7 percent of the beds-in-a-box that are purchased are returned, according to 1010 Data, a data analytics company. That’s more than the 2.2 percent returned at Mattress Firm but an indication that most consumers are pleased with their purchase.
In case you’re not one of them, be sure you understand the company’s return policy before you buy. And if you have the space and really want to be on the safe side, hang on to your old mattress until you’re sure that you’re going to stick with your new one.