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The Complete Guide to Choosing Your Next Mattress: Price, Firmness, Sales, & More

By Jeff Frank

Choosing and buying a new mattress can seem overwhelming. After all, you’ll be sleeping on it night after night for years to come. So how do you decide on firmness, coil-count, and the myriad of other factors? And are those “75% off” sales legitimate?

As it turns out, you don’t need to be a furniture insider to get the perfect mattress. You just need some advice from one.

In this guide, we’ll tackle

  • How is mattress quality related to price?
  • Where should I buy my next mattress?
  • Are mattress sales real?
  • What do mattress warranties cover?

There are ways to find the right mattress for you without having to lay on one in the store. When you know how a furniture insider shops for a mattress, you can learn to shop like a pro, too.

What You Need to Know Before Purchasing Your Next Mattress:

20 years ago, purchasing a new mattress in the U.S. was far simpler.

Only a dozen major brands existed. All were made in the USA.

Each brand featured a limited number of models, marketed in a “good,” “better,” “best” specification and pricing structure.

Most of these mattresses had innerspring coil construction, with only a small percentage of foam and other alternative technologies. Mattresses were sold primarily in bedding specialty stores, furniture stores and department stores.

Over the past 10 years, almost everything related to purchasing mattresses has changed.

Getting Started: Knowing What You Need

Where should I buy my mattress? What are the advantages and disadvantages of buying online? What are the advantages and disadvantages of buying from mattress specialty stores, mass merchant discounters or department stores?

How is quality related to price? Is a $2000 mattress twice as good as a $1000 mattress?

Are all those 50% off (or 75% off) advertised discounts legitimate?

What are the different types and brands of mattresses?

How can I tell which type will be best for me? Is there any way to compare different brands?

Imported mattresses vs. Made in the USA products: What are the advantages and disadvantages? What do I need to know about mattress warranties?

Where Should I Buy My Next Mattress?

Online Mattress Sources

21% of all mattresses are currently sold online, according to an April 14, 2020 Furniture Today article.

Over the past decade this percentage has been steadily increasing. The Covid-19 Pandemic is expected to accelerate this trend over the next 10 years.

Mattresses are available online through a wide selection of both retailers and manufacturers.

There are currently more than 100 Direct-to-consumer mattress manufacturers offering a baffling variety of alternative mattress technologies and product lines.

Major online retailers include Amazon, Wayfair, Overstock.com (and many others.)

Tuck.com is an independent website dedicated to everything and anything associated with sleep research and sleep-related products.

Independent reviews and product comparisons for over 100 different mattress brands can be found at Tuck.com/Mattress-brands.

Advantages of Buying Mattresses Online

More convenient and less time-consuming than physically shopping through multiple stores. Lower prices than comparable quality models in brick-and-mortar stores.

Online retailers and direct-to-consumer companies usually provide detailed (but not necessarily complete) product specifications on each mattress offered.

Product specs can be more difficult to find in a store. Information related by salespeople may not be complete or accurate.

In-store salespeople are trained to pressure you into buying more expensive models or unnecessary extras. Online mattress sellers usually include free delivery. Brick and mortar stores are more likely to charge an additional fee for shipping.

It is often easier to return mattresses to online retailers than to brick and mortar stores.

Online mattress sellers almost never argue about returns. Online customers generally assume they have the right to return products they do not want. (Most people would be very nervous about buying products they have not seen first.)

Furniture and mattress stores have a long history of disputing customer returns.

Since the customer has actually seen the product (and probably tried it out for a minute or two) most retailers feel no obligation to make returns easy.

Both retail stores and online retailers take substantial losses on returns.

Returned mattresses cannot be re-used. In most cases they are donated to charity.

This can be a substantial percentage of total sales. Most mattress companies claim their return rates (percentage of mattresses returned) are below 10%.

A recent public filing by Casper for 2018 indicated that their cost of returns was 13.6% of total sales. This suggests that the company’s return rate is actually above 20%.

Sanitizing and recovering mattresses is allowed in some states, but the cost of doing that is usually more than donating, except for some high end products.

Customer satisfaction rates for online and brick-and-mortar mattress shoppers are almost identical according to multiple consumer surveys.

Testing a mattress in the store for a few minutes gives very little information about how the mattress will feel over the long term.

In-home warranty trial periods are usually longer for online purchasers.

Most mattress returns are made during the trial period. 90 – 100-day trial periods are common for online retailers.

Stores often limit trial periods to 30 days.

Returning a mattress after the trial period can be expensive. After the trial period, returns and refunds can become far more difficult and costly.

Warranty fine print will include exclusions and restrictions that will limit your return or refund options. Keep your boxes until you are sure you like your new mattress.

Many mattress retailers will not accept returns without boxes.

Many of the mattresses sold online are imported. A large majority of total mattresses sold online are made in the USA. Although many imported mattresses are sold online, many imports are also sold through larger retail chains.

Buying a mattress on the web does have a few negatives compared to visiting a brick-and-mortar store.

Disadvantages of Buying Mattresses Online

You will not be able to test out the mattress unless you visit a store. (This is not a big disadvantage. A few minutes lying on a mattress gives very little information about how you will like it over the long term.)

Most online sellers do not offer personal customer assistance. You must conduct your own product research. (On the other hand, your research can give you a lot more information than most retail salespeople know.)

Some mattress websites feature ‘customer service chat windows’ that connect you with sales personnel. These people may or may not be knowledgeable about the products they are selling. They are rarely knowledgeable about competitive products. (Retail salespeople are also rarely knowledgeable about competitive products they do not sell.)

Brick and Mortar Retail Options

For customers who choose not to purchase their mattress online, there are four basic types of stores available.

Mattress Specialty Stores

Specialty stores generally carry two or three well known brand names and a generic (store brand.)

Salespeople will try to push you towards the store brand. Those usually have a higher profit margin, even when the item is “on sale.”

Store brands have labels designed by the store’s buyers. The prices listed on the label generally leave room for 50% off sales, with full profit margins.

Well-known brands will include a few models in the lineup with artificially high retail prices that can be discounted for weekly “sales.” But the most expensive “nationally advertised” models rarely have deep discounts.

Mass Merchant Discounters

Large discount chains such as Walmart, Costco, Sam’s etc. typically feature only a few low-price mattress models. In general these are an excellent value for people on a tight budget.

Most of these mattresses are imported from Asia. China used to be the primary supplier, but Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations are growing while China is shrinking.

Currently, there is ongoing litigation to put huge anti-dumping penalties on Vietnam and 6 other countries that account for 22% of US mattress sales. China was previously hit with anti-dumping tariffs, which is a major reason why its mattress sales to the U.S. have declined.

Later in this article I will try to include a section with a more comprehensive analysis of the current situation with mattress imports.

Department Stores

This is a rapidly shrinking source of mattresses for U.S. consumers. Traditionally, department stores concentrated on high end brands and models, offering only modest discounts.

One or more “super-premium” brands are usually available.

In addition, they carried lower cost models of well-known name brands, which were frequently advertised at deep discounts.

Furniture Stores

Mattresses typically account for 10% or less of furniture store sales.

Like the specialty stores they carry a mix of nationally known brands and usually a generic “store brand.”

Furniture stores tend to emphasize more expensive national brand mattresses than the specialty stores, but without going to the exotic “super-premium” brands found in department stores.

How is Quality Related to Price?

Queen size mattresses are available from Amazon Basics for under $300 to Kluft models priced at $30,000.

What are you paying for when you buy a high-priced mattress? Is a $3000 mattress really three times as good as a $1000 mattress?

According to my best estimate, here is what you are getting for your additional $2000:

$500 for quality improvements. $500 for cosmetic improvements. And $1000 extra profit for the retailer.

The Best Time to Buy a Mattress

Everybody wants to get the best price possible when buying a mattress. Finding the best deal can save hundreds of dollars without having to make any compromises on quality.

There are always mattress sales. The problem is that many (most) of these sales do not actually offer any special value.

High quality brand name mattresses rarely go on sale. When they do, the discount is minimal, rarely more than 10% – 20%.

Many mattress sales (especially those with big discounts) are scams. Advertised models often have artificially high “list” prices that are then heavily discounted to prices that are similar to equal value non-discounted mattresses. For example, mattresses that are actually worth $4000 are never discounted to $1000. They are $1000 mattresses with inflated “list” prices.

Although most mattress sellers advertise “sales” almost every week, there are a few times of the year when more legitimate discounts are available.

Holiday sales used to be a single day or weekend. More recently it seems as though retailers begin sales a week (or more) before the actual holiday date.

Holidays which seem to be particularly good for finding legitimate furniture and mattress discounts include:

  • President’s Day Weekend
  • Memorial Day Weekend
  • July 4
  • Labor Day
  • Black Friday/Cyber Monday Weekend

How to Tell Whether Those 50% (or 75%) Off Advertised Discounts Are Legitimate?

There are always Mattress Sales featuring deep discounts of 50% – 75% or even more.

Just about every retailer, both online and off, features mattresses that are “on sale”with discounts of 50%, 75%, even 80% off.

Psychologically, it is difficult for most people to resist. Even if the numbers are exaggerated, there must be some “extra” value to these products.

If the sale was completely fake, wouldn’t there be some law that would punish companies advertising such blatantly false discounts?

All Mattress Discounts of 50% Off or More Are Phony!

Many years ago, I was a buyer for a major furniture retailer. Over a 4-year period I purchased over $20 million of mattresses.

Every week we ran sales promotions, including mattress sales claiming 50% off or more.

Retailers do not lose money on mattresses sold at these deeply discounted prices. The profit margin is about the same as they get for non-discounted mattresses.

Last year I shopped for a mattress for personal use.

I was looking for an innerspring mattress that was 12 – 14″ thick, priced under $1000 and made by a major brand.

I wanted to buy the best value mattress available at that price.

Over a three month period, I researched and compared approximately 200 different innerspring queen-size mattresses, sold by more than a dozen different online retailers. Most were from Serta, Sealy and Simmons.

Nearly half had discounts of 50% or more. The others had no price reduction at all.

Mattresses have always been tough to compare across brands. I discovered that it is equally difficult now to compare models within a single brand.

Each individual mattress model had unique specifications. Different models that look identical in photos had completely different specs.

Each major brand offered hundreds of different models. Models offered by individual retailers were rarely available from their competitors.

My original plan had been to compare identical models across different retailers. That was not possible.

Despite this, I was eventually able to identify one universal measurement that enabled me to compare mattresses. Both across brands and with alternative models.

I compared the weights of the different mattress models.

In almost every case, queen-size mattresses selling between $799 – 999 weighed 80 – 100 lbs. — regardless of the original “list” price.

Mattresses at the lower end of the price range weighed 80 lbs – 90 lbs. Mattresses at the top of the price range weighed around 100 lbs.

This included mattresses with “list” prices of $1999 – $3999 that were selling at discounts of 50% – 75% off.

I subsequently examined several mattresses actually selling in the $1999 – $2999 price range. All of these weighed 110 – 130 lbs., including mattresses on sale for 50% – 75% off, selling with list prices ranging from $3999 – $8999.

There was absolutely no relationship between the “list” comparison price and the weight of any mattress.

Mattresses listed as $3999 values and selling for $999 weighed approximately the same as mattresses selling for $999 with no discount.

Mattresses listed at $8,999 values selling for $2999 weighed approximately the same as mattresses selling for $2999 with no discount.

Mattresses selling for $1999 weighed more than those selling for $999.

Mattresses selling for $2999 weighed more than those selling for $1999.

How to Find the Best Mattress For You

Many different factors are involved in choosing the best mattress for you. These include:

Mattress type, Firmness, Sleeping position, Weight, Cost

Mattress Support Layer

There are 4 different mattress support core technologies that are currently popular:

Innerspring, High Density polyurethane foam, Hybrid, Latex foam

Overall comfort is created by a combination of the mattress support layer and the comfort core layer. 

The comfort core layer includes the mattress ticking fabric with cushioning materials positioned above the springs or foam of the support layer.

The materials used in the comfort core, and their thickness, will affect how your mattress feels.

Mattress Comfort core layer cushioning materials include: Polyurethane foam, Memory foam, Latex foam, and Mini/Nano Coils

Innerspring support cores are the most popular, although memory foam is quickly catching up.

The following characteristics listed for innerspring mattresses are very general. Higher quality mattresses will have more advantages and fewer disadvantages.

Advantages of innersprings include:

  • Highly supportive
  • Good durability
  • Wide range of firmnesses available
  • Sleeps cool (good air circulation through coils)
  • Good edge support
  • Good for sex
  • Lowest average cost

Disadvantages of innersprings include:

  • Can be noisy with movement.
  • Does not conform to body as well as other mattress types.
  • Not as good at pain/pressure relief as other mattress types

Poly/Memory foam support cores are rapidly increasing in popularity and are expected to surpass innerspring in the next few years.

Poly/Memory foam support core advantages:

  • Conforms to the body well
  • Good motion isolation
  • Good pain/pressure relief
  • Not noisy with motion
  • Less expensive than latex and hybrid

Disadvantages of poly/memory foam include:

  • Less durable than other support cores
  • Gets hot (better when combined with gel)
  • More expensive than coil springs

Latex foam support cores are the least popular and most expensive type of support core.

Latex foam support core advantages:

  • Best durability of support cores
  • Conforms to the body well
  • Good motion isolation
  • Good pain/pressure relief
  • Good temperature neutrality
  • Not noisy with motion

Disadvantages of latex foam include:

  • Less durable than other support cores
  • Gets hot (better when combined with gel)
  • More expensive than coil springs and poly/memory foam

Hybrid support cores are the most popular, although memory foam is quickly catching up.

Advantages of hybrid include:

  • Hybrid mattresses combine the best features of other mattress types to offer a balanced sleep experience.
  • Pocketed coil cores provide better motion isolation, less noise, and longer lifespans than a traditional innerspring bed.
  • Thanks to thick comfort layers of pressure-relieving latex or memory foam, they also alleviate more aches and pains for sleepers, much like an all-foam bed.
  • Highly supportive
  • Good durability
  • Sleeps cool (good air circulation through coils)
  • Good edge support

Disadvantages of hybrid include:

  • Most expensive type of support core.

Other Features That Affect Mattress Comfort

Firmness, Sleeping position, Weight

These three features work together, affecting comfort. Here are a few general rules:
Individuals weighing less than 130 lbs who:

  • sleep on their sides prefer soft to medium-soft mattresses.
  • sleep on their back prefer medium soft to medium firm mattresses.
  • sleep on their stomach prefer medium soft to medium firm mattresses.

Individuals weighing 130 – 200 lbs who:

  • sleep on their sides prefer medium-soft to medium-firm mattresses.
  • sleep on their back prefer firm to very firm mattresses.
  • sleep on their stomach prefer medium-soft to medium-firm mattresses.

Individuals weighing 200+ lbs who:

  • sleep on their sides prefer medium-firm to firm mattresses.
  • sleep on their back prefer medium-firm to firm mattresses.
  • sleep on their stomach prefer medium-firm to firm mattresses.

The recommendations above are just a general guide. Firmness preferences are subjective and will differ for many individuals.

Are Mattress Warranties Worth It?

A mattress warranty may be anywhere from 1 to 25 years.

Mattress warranties give very little protection once the initial trial period is over. After the trial period there are substantial expenses involved if you want to return a mattress.

In addition, there are multiple exclusionary clauses and restrictions that exclude most common complaints.

On the other hand, if you still like your new mattress after a 60 – 90 day trial period, you probably won’t have any problems over the next 8 – 10 years.

How Long Will Your Mattress Actually Last?

Basically, mattress warranties are marketing gimmicks.

Estimating a realistic number of years that a mattress will last is impossible without accounting the size, weight, age and other characteristics of the person (or people) using the mattress.

If you spend more than $1000 for a mattress, most manufacturers and retailers currently encourage consumers to believe that high quality mattresses have a lifespan of about 8 – 10 years.

Less expensive mattresses are supposed to have shorter lifespans before replacement is needed.

Choosing the best number of years to list on mattress warranties has been a hotly debated topic within the mattress industry for the past 60 years. The answer changes periodically.

Over the past half century various brand name mattress manufacturers and “industry councils” have experimented with various warranty periods.

They have tried 10-year, 15-year, 20-year and 25-year warranty recommendations for top of the line mattresses — trying to find the best balance between perceptions of quality and encouraging obsolescence.

Typically, mattress manufacturers with well-known brand names try to encourage low warranty periods so that consumers will purchase their products more frequently.

On the other hand, generic and less well-known brands often promote higher warranty periods since that promotes an “image” of higher quality.

Which is better? — The name brand mattress with the 10-year warranty? Or the store brand mattress at the same price that features a 20-year warranty? (Typically, the store brand will have a higher profit margin.)

Warranty periods for brand name mattresses that are advertised are determined by the manufacturers.

Larger retailers sometimes have enough purchasing power to design their own exclusive mattress models that are not available anywhere else. In that case, the retailer decides the number of years to put on the warranty.

In almost all cases, your mattress should last far longer than the warranty period. The only exceptions are for unusual circumstances. 

That does not necessarily mean that the mattress will stay comfortable.

Changes in age, weight or physical health may decrease the comfort of the mattress you have been using. Replacing your mattress with an alternative that fits your specific needs, may be needed.

When considering whether it is time to get rid of your old mattress, you should ignore the number of years indicated on your warranty.

If you feel that you are not getting a good night’s sleep and that the problem can be corrected with a different mattress, it is time to upgrade to a new mattress.

What Is Not Covered in a Mattress Warranty?

Warranties are designed to protect consumers against product defects, but not normal wear and tear that occurs after prolonged use. For mattresses, normal wear and tear may include:

  • Sagging that does not reach the minimum depth threshold as covered in the warranty.
  • Lumpiness or uneven surfaces caused by long-term use.
  • Discoloration due to stains or soiling.

Warranties do not cover structural damage caused by the owner. Examples include scuffs or tears that occur when moving, pet-related scratches or bites.

Permanent indentations caused by someone jumping or falling on the mattress is also not covered.

Foundational support is another common consideration.

Mattress warranties may specify which types of bases or foundations are permitted. This may include details such as materials, number of legs, and slat gap measurements.

Placing a mattress on the floor may void the warranty.

Other Important Warranty Issues

Mattress warranties do not guarantee that the buyer will ‘like’ the mattress after using it beyond the trial period.

Problems like “reduced comfort” or “lack of firmness” are considered normal wear and tear. They will not be covered under the warranty unless you can prove they were caused by a measurable product defect.

Warranties will not cover the cost of replacing non-defective pieces or parts.

Many Things Can Void Your Mattress Warranty

Retailers and manufacturers have many possible reasons to deny warranty coverage. These include the following:

Removal of the Law Tag: All mattresses must be sold with a small tag attached, usually somewhere on the back surface.

This tag, referred to as the law tag, will read “Do not remove this tag under penalty of law”. 

The “penalty of law” applies to the seller or manufacturer. The buyer can remove the tag without facing any legal action – however, the law tag is considered proof of purchase. Removing it will automatically void the warranty.

Improper Support: Warranties assume the buyer will utilize a box spring and/or bed frame that provides adequate support for the mattress.

A warranty may be voided if the box spring is old, misshapen or damaged.

Bed frames that are not equipped with a stable metal bar that supports the center of the mattress may void the warranty.

Guidelines may be listed in the warranty specifying what type of foundation support is required.

Stains: Visible stains will void the warranty.

Sweat and other bodily fluids are considered unsanitary.

Many states have legal restrictions against stained mattresses being stored in company warehouses or transported in company trucks.

Even small stains from water, coffee and other non-harmful fluids can void the warranty.

Mattress protectors are recommended, beginning with the first night of use, to avoid stains.

Failure to Unpackage the Mattress Quickly:

This is a problem that is sometimes an issue with “Bed in a Box” products.

Although compressing mattresses for shipping will not damage the bed, you should remove mattresses from their boxes as quickly as possible.

Some brands stipulate that the mattress must be removed from its boxes within a certain time period, typically two to four weeks after the delivery date.

Failure to Follow Rotation Schedule:

In some cases, mattress warranties will require the buyer to periodically flip over the mattress. Theoretically, this prevents premature sagging.

Although most mattresses can be used throughout the entire warranty period without any noticeable problems, this clause gives companies a way to avoid warranty costs.

The Mattress is not in possession of the original owner: 

Warranties do not extend to anyone who buys or receives a mattress from the original purchaser.

Your mattress warranty will be void if you cannot prove you are the original owner.

Imported mattresses:

26% of all mattresses sold in the U.S. are currently being imported according to an April 2020 article in Furniture Today.

China was the primary source of imported mattresses for many years

Vietnam and other Asian sources have been growing rapidly in recent years, while China’s dominance has diminished.

Anti-dumping litigation against mattress imports is currently being pursued and may reduce the number of imported mattresses in the future. (More detailed information about this can be found later in this article.)

Although many imported mattresses are sold online, most are purchased through larger retail stores that purchase them by the container load.

Final Thoughts on Mattresses

To summarize, choosing and buying your next mattress can seem confusing. But when you know what you’re looking for, you can always end up with the right fit for you.

To avoid falling for gimmicky sales or flashy advertising, go into buying your mattress with a plan.

It’s important to know:

  • Your options for buying locations (online vs brick-and-mortar)
  • Which sales to take advantage of and which ones to avoid
  • The relationship between mattress quality and price

If you go into the buying process knowing what you want, then you can leave with exactly what you need. Take it from an expert.

Know someone who might benefit from this post? Please like and share it with them. If you have questions or comments about mattress buying or how to choose your next mattress, feel free to leave them below. Or, if you’d like personal help navigating the furniture market, check out our furniture consulting services.

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