Posted on July 18 2017
Part Four: The Fourth Most Important Factor to Consider When Buying a Mattress: A System for Decision Making.
Most people decide to buy a mattress upon seeing an ad offering to save them a lot of cash on what is promoted as a great (maybe even an incredible!) mattress. You rush down to the showroom to begin the selection process, lying down on several different mattresses trying to discern which is the most comfortable for you. The sales person will most likely tell you about a bewildering number of features and benefits, many of which won’t be in precise written contractual form. This may not be the most effective approach to buying a mattress. Indeed, Consumer Reports points out that “… claims on mattresses range from the ethereal to the incomprehensible” (February, 2017, p. 18). So, the approach I am going to advocate is based less upon hype and more on mattress specifics.
First of all, we already know from Part Two of this blog that advertised savings are based upon the “manufacturer’s suggested retail price” (MSRP) which is unlikely to be a “real” price at which mattresses are typically sold, or often the hyped savings are calculated by comparison to an undefined “compare at” price (which is theoretically what competitors are selling the mattress for, but of course, we already know how difficult it is to actually compare mattress prices, so the “compare at” price is also a theoretical price). The “big savings” are based on fantasy prices so that the store can advertise the big sale and motivate you to come into the store. Secondly, we know how difficult it is to reliably discern differences in comfort among several different mattresses. They may feel different, but most are also likely to feel “OK” to you. It can be something like wine tasting. Several wines may taste different, but you may still be hard pressed to know which one of your top two you like best, because they are just different, not necessarily better than the other. So lying down on mattresses is not necessarily the best way to START comparing mattresses.
Besides, we know that Consumer Reports suggests lying down on a mattress for at least 15 minutes to know if you really like it or not. If you are going to be testing 5 or 6 different mattresses, it could take quite a lot of time. Testing the mattresses should come later.
So, what should you do first? The first step is to decide what is most important to you: Price? Quality? Comfort and “feel”? You should start with what is most important to you.
If it is price, decide what you want to spend. Forget about how much you can “save” (the savings are illusionary anyway) but rather decide based on your budget and resources what is the maximum you can spend on a mattress. Then start your search there, asking the showroom attendant to show you different mattresses at that price point or below.
If quality is most important to you, decide what length of warranty you want (the best proxy for quality). Is a standard 10 year non-prorated warranty sufficient for you? Or do you want a better quality mattress as indicated by a longer (non-prorated) warranty? Once you have decided that, then ask the sales person to show you mattresses with the desired warranty (warning, many chain stores only carry mattresses with a standard 10 year warranty, or less, because they only carry the “national brands” rather than mattresses manufactured by specialized, smaller, niche-oriented mattress companies which tend to make both 10 year and longer-warranty mattresses).
This raises the issue of what type of mattress store you want to focus your time and attention on. National chain mattress stores typically carry the national brands, and those brands will normally have a standard 10 year prorated, or non-prorated warranty (depending upon the quality of the mattress). However, if you are the type of consumer who wants a truly better quality mattress (either because you believe that you will enjoy a better quality sleep on a better quality mattress, or you are just the type of person who appreciates quality and is willing to pay for it) then you would probably be better off shopping at a regional or local store rather than a national chain. This is because you are more likely to find mattresses with 20 year warranties and other quality features in local or regional stores which are able to better tailor their product lines to the needs of individual customers instead of trying to appeal to a mass market. So, if quality is most important to you, then try to visit local or regional sellers rather than the national chains.
If it is comfort and feel that is most important to you, then you are on your own, as there is no precise metric to help you decide which mattress out of 5 or 6 possibilities is most comfortable. Besides, if you select a mattress just based on what feels comfortable to you in the showroom (and presumably is “reasonably” priced), but it doesn’t have a good warranty (so it isn’t a better quality mattress that will last) you may soon find that the comfort of the mattress begins to degrade as the mattress support system suffers from use. So, all things considered, it is not a good idea to pick a mattress based primarily upon perceived comfort. This is why you should resist the sales person’s initial suggestion to start trying mattresses as soon as you walk in the door. However, if you can hold on for just a minute, we will get to the comfort and feel part of the process at the end of the blog.
OK, you have made your first pass and found the five or so best candidates based upon your first criterion, either price or quality. Now, you should consider less obvious factors like where were the foams and other parts of the mattress manufactured? In the United States, or elsewhere? If it is a lower priced mattress, most likely “elsewhere” is China. Ask if the manufacturer offers any official certification about where the mattress components were manufactured, like a certification by the Made in the USA Industries Association (mentioned in Part Three of this blog) because you do not want to risk buying less than good quality components in your mattress. This may help eliminate one or two possibilities.
Then ask if the remaining mattresses offer any explicit written assurances regarding the absence of toxic chemicals and “off-gassing” like the CertiPUR-US certification mentioned in Part Three of this blog. This may help eliminate one or two other possibilities.
By following this systematic approach to buying a mattress, you ensure that you get what is most important to you because you start the whole process with that criterion in mind, then you refine your choices using the remaining objective criteria. And what you are left with is hopefully two, or maybe three mattresses that meet all of your criteria. Now, you can see which one is most comfortable by lying on each one of them. It is more reasonable to assume that you can differentiate which of 2 or 3 mattresses is the most comfortable, rather than starting out by trying 5 or 6 possible candidates. By employing all of your other, more objective key criteria first, the selection process based upon comfort and feel is made easier, more manageable, and more reliable.
By following this process you can be assured of getting a mattress that meets all of your needs, including comfort.