An Insider's Guide To Buying A Mattress -- How To Avoid The Common Mattress Industry Scams To Get The Best Possible Deal On A Mattress

I've been in the mattress industry since 1994. And I was sad to see, but not surprised, a recent survey that likened buying a mattress to buying a used car. People are just put off by the mattress buying experience and rightly so. The mattresses all have different names at different stores, the range of choices can be overwhelming, a money-back guarantee often isn't really a money-back guarantee, and all the jargon and hype thrown around by salesmen just really puts people off.

We hear all the time from people that one reason they shop online is to get away from this high pressure, used car type of experience.

This guide is our attempt to change things. I hope by throwing back the curtain and exposing the common scams used in the mattress industry that you can find the right kind of mattress for you -- at the best possible price.

Step 1: Don't Get Caught Up In The Hype -- Look For Real Results, Rather Than The Latest, Greatest Innovation

Unfortunately, a lot of the mattress industry is driven by hype. The manufacturers are always coming out with new mattress featuring the latest in sleep technology. One year it is memory foam, then gel memory foam, then mattresses that somehow automatically adjust to your body's temperature, then ... well, you get the picture.

And while I've seen these new products come and go at the industry shows, I'm always skeptical until I see some real proof that these innovations really provide a more comfortable sleep.

In my own case, gel foam has been the big innovation in the memory foam market. And while I hear that these new gel mattresses are hot sellers, I've stayed with our classic memory foam mattress for one reason -- comfort.

With over 300+ reviews it gets a 96% customer satisfaction rating, while the gel foam mattresses just haven't gotten these sort of high reviews for comfort. So while adding gel to memory foam may be great for sales and hype, in my experience true memory foams just have a much better track record for comfort.

And this hasn't been just my experience. In an analysis of over 135,000 mattress reviews,

Based on 135,000 real people's responses, the meta site Sleep Like the Dead found that memory foam beds had the highest rate of customer satisfaction was 81%. In contrast, innersprings received only 63% of their owners said they were satisfied.

So before buying, spend some time looking over real reviews and ratings so that you will be able to clearly understand the comfort of the mattress option you are considering and not be unduly swayed by the hype.

Step 2: But Beware, Not All Mattress Reviews of Equal Credibility!

In Step 1 I urged you to read over reviews rather than buy on hype or impulse.

But now I'm telling you not to believe the reviews?

Am I trying to make you crazy?

The answer is no I'm not. But I am trying to make sure you don't get scammed by unscrupulous sellers cherry picking just the best reviews or putting up fake reviews.

Overall, I think reviews are probably the most important information you will find about any mattress. I've heard over and over again from my customers that our reviews are the most important content on our site since, after reading over a few, they are able to get a fairly accurate minds' eye of whether our mattress might have the feel and support they are looking for in a mattress.

In addition, it helps them to see whether people with similar issues liked our mattress. And, of course, to check on whether we really do back up our money-back trial and provide good customer service.

But all online reviews aren't created equal. Unfortunately, some sites cherry pick just the best reviews and don't show the ones that didn't get such high ratings. And by doing this, they distort the overall impression people can get about a mattress

And, unfortunately, some reviews are just fake. I hate this, and hopefully it is a small % of reviews. But it does happen and you need to be wary of sites that only have good reviews for this reason as well.

So what to do -- both to get the most out of reviews, so you can make the best possible buying decision, and not get scammed by cherry picked or fake reviews?

First, read any reviews carefully -- other people may have similar sleep issues to yours, and their stories may help you understand if a particular mattress might help you as well. When I ask our customers to post a review, I ask them to share their stories of what problems they were experiencing and how our mattress helped them with these issues. These kind of reviews can really help you get a minds' eye of whether a mattress might work for you.

In general, I tell people to read over 10 - 15 reviews to get a sense of whether a mattress might work for them. But I've had people tell me that they have read over 100's of our reviews before buying, and I think that is because they just want to make sure they are covering all their bases before buying.

How to tell if the reviews are cherry picked or faked? Take a look at the distribution of the ratings. If almost all the reviews are 4 and 5 star, or the site only shows good reviews, then you may not be getting the full picture.

While I don't get many bad reviews for our mattress, I do post them all -- just to make sure people get a full picture of how our mattress works for people. So in a strange way bad reviews actually build credibility of a product. They show the seller isn't trying to pull a fast one on you, and is one that has integrity.

In addition, look to see if the seller offers a true money-back trial. Ours is a full 1 year, and while most don't get nearly that long, look for at least a 90 day trial. Why? You'll read more about the import of a money-back trial later in Step 3 of this guide, but in the context of reviews having a money-back trial is a big incentive to keep the reviews real and inclusive of negative reviews.

That is because any seller offering a money-back trial wants people to buy with a very clear idea of what to expect from the mattress. The good and the bad. In my case, given that I offer a 1 year money-back trial, I don't want anyone to buy unless they really think our mattress suits their needs. Returns are very expensive, and my intention is to be as transparent as possible about our mattress in order to get customers who are most likely to like our mattress and less likely to need to return it.

So sellers with a great money-back return policy have very little incentive to fake returns and instead a big incentive to keep them real. And I don't mean comfort returns here -- this only holds for sellers offering real money-back returns.

Another way to get a gauge on whether a seller is on the up and up in regards to reviews is whether they participate in any independent 3rd party review sites (like that we participate in). This way you can see if the merchant has had any problems and what type of customer service they offer. It is really important that the online merchant be transparent -- so you know exactly who you are dealing with and what type of service and money-back trial to expect.

One last thing -- before buying make sure you understand all the specific charges you may end up paying on a return. Unfortunately, some sellers hide in their small print that you may pay a return shipping fee on a mattress return (which can be $350 and up), a restocking fee, or other return fees. We hear about this type of thing often, so don't get stuck by not knowing the return fees up front (for the record, we have just a $75 return fee on a mattress -- and no other surprise fees).

Step 3: Get A Real money-back Return -- Don't Settle For A Comfort Return, In Store Credit, Etc.

This is a huge trap. People often mistake mattress store's comfort return policies as being money-back policies. And they for the most part are not.

No matter how you chose to buy your mattress, it is essential that you have a true money-back return. Because the bottom line is that regardless of how much research you do or mattresses you lay on, you just won't know if a particular mattress works for you till you try it out in your own home.

And the longer the trial the better. I've found that many people takes weeks to months to adjust to a new mattress. So a 30 day money-back return doesn't really cut it. I think you should shoot for 90 days at least, and I'm so serious about this I offer our customers a full 1 year money-back trial.

You will need to ask very direct questions about what the retailer's return policy is and exactly what this means. Because the language can be confusing. A "comfort guarantee" is not a money-back return policy.

And other sellers offer some sort of trial, but only offer you store credit if you want to return the mattress(and this may be reduced by a return fee). And if there is no other mattress in the store you want, or if the return fee is unreasonably high (sometimes these have very high restocking fees), you are stuck.

I hear from customers all the time that got scammed this way and ended up paying hundreds or thousands for mattresses they couldn't return.

So ask up front what the stores return policy is if you don't like the mattress. And if they do have a true money-back trial, which can be hard to find from brick and mortar retail stores (they are much more common from internet sellers, since we have to offer them in order to have any chance of making a sale), make sure you get all the costs associated with returning a mattress under the money-back period (again restocking fees, etc. can be very high, so make sure you get them on the front side). Our return fee, for example, is just $75 -- which we waive if people make a donation of the returned mattress to a charity.

And ... check out that they really do honor the money-back trial. That is one reason I've been a member of the BBB for all these years. Our A+ rating is a testament to the fact that I do honor our 1 year money-back trial. Make sure whoever you buy from also has this sort of independent, third party ratings that show they really do honor their money-back return policy.

Step 4: Make Sure A Mattress' Warranty Really Stands For Something -- And Isn't Instead Just A Worthless Piece Of Paper

Ever read a mattress warranty? They can be so dense that they are practically unreadable.

One key thing to look for is whether the warranty period is pro-rated or non-prorated. The best is non-prorated. This means that during the replacement period the mattress will be replaced without you having to pay (although the warranty may specify a shipping fee, etc.).

In contrast, with a pro-rated warranty you will pay an ever increasing portion of the cost of the mattress to replace it if you run into a warranty issue.

Another issue is the length of the warranty. My personal opinion is that warranties that have super long lengths are suspect and just marketing tools to sell a bed.

I say this because I know that the average useful life of a mattress is 7 - 10 years. And that those manufacturers offering 20+ year warranties do so in order to get a sale, but often the fine print in the warranties make it so that no one can ever really qualify for a warranty replacement.

Here's the problem. These warranties often define a certain amount of indentation as being required before a warranty replacement. And the amount of indentation is absurd -- often 1.5" or more.

So most people get stiffed, even if their mattress forms a dip.

And here's the part you may not know -- the comfort layers of a mattress, often the foam layers, can soften and break down over time without their actually forming an indentation. And in these cases, again you usually get nothing.

So make sure, when you are looking at mattresses, to look over the actual language of the warranty to understand what exactly it covers and if you are likely to be left out in the cold if you have a problem.

What I was getting our new 10" Memory Foam Mattress put together, I worked with the manufacturer to get a real warranty. Instead of going with a 20 year warranty that would have so many restrictions it would be almost worthless, I went with a 10-yearwarranty that really would cover issues that came up.

I kept the language purposefully vague and didn't define the amount of body indentation -- so customers having a problem wouldn't get stiffed if they only had 1" of impression instead of 1.5".

By doing this, I've been able to take the few warranty issues that have come up and really try to get a sense of what the problem is and whether it was a warranty issue. And our manufacturer has been great about stepping up to cover them because they understand how important it is to take care of customers that have invested in you (and that is rare to find in a mattress manufacturer).

Step 5: Arm Yourself With Information So You Can Have The Best Chance Of Finding The Right Mattress For You.

Now that you are ready to go out and shop for your mattress, it is important to arm yourself with knowledge so you aren't overwhelmed by all the hype surrounding the vast array of mattress options.

Because while in the good old days there were just a few innerspring bed choices -- a standard model and perhaps an upgraded one with a few more springs or a bit more cushiony feel -- today there are literally dozens of choices of different innerspring configurations as well as all the new specialty bedding choices that are the fastest growing part of the mattress market - memory foam mattresses, air beds, and latex mattresses.

It is literally enough to make you crazy. A good example is the industry leader in the mattress niche we specialize in, memory foam mattresses. While Tempur-Pedic tm started with just one model years ago and offered just this one model for many years, today it offers 11 different models. I've gone into their showrooms at the industry shows and, even though I'm in the industry, it is enough to make my head swim. I really sympathize with consumers trying to wade through this sea of mattress possibilities. The whole thing is a bit overwhelming.

I have to say my bias is towards the specialty mattresses. Even before I was in the business, I had slept on foam since college. I just don't find metal coils comfortable, and no matter how you dress them up with "comfort" layers of cotton, wool and foam I still feel the coils (the "princess and the pea" have nothing on me). But comfort is a very individual thing, and you may well feel that coils are the most comfortable or yet a different type of mattress surface (latex or air, for example).

So my general advice to people is to find a basic mattress "core" that they find comfortable -- whether that "core" (the basic support structure of a mattress, usually 6+" or so thick) is made out of springs, foam, latex or air.

All of these different "core" options have their distinctive feels and properties, so start by testing out basic models of each to see what feels comfortable. Then once you know what type of "core" you like, try out these type of mattresses with different comfort layer options.

So after the basic option, try one with high density foam or latex foam (a more expensive comfort layer option), then perhaps one with memory foam (often on top of one or more layers of a more basic foam), etc. This way, you can get an idea for what feels comfortable to you, and hopefully avoid paying for all the frills -- just for the comfort layers that really make a difference for you.

The key to making sure you get what you want at the best possible price is to come into the mattress buying experience armed with the facts. If you go in blind, chances are you will either be overwhelmed by the whole thing or end up at the mercy of the salesperson (and while many are knowledgeable, don't kid yourself -- they are interested in selling you the upgraded, more expensive mattresses with the highest profit margins, since most, if not all, work on sales commission).

So here's what I've done: in my areas of specialty I've put together buying guides to give you the essential information you need to see if these kind of mattresses might make sense for you and what to look for when buying them. And for those outside my area of expertise, I've looked across the net to find guides that really seem to know their stuff and are very informative.

Arm Yourself With These Essential Guides --

  • Innerspring Mattresses

    Innerspring mattresses remain the biggest sellers in the mattress industry, although the specialty mattress area (memory foam, air beds, latex mattresses) is growing rapidly. In fact, if you look at the type of materials used in many innerspring mattresses these days, you will see that memory foam and latex are increasingly used in innersprings.

    Innerspring mattresses have become progressively thicker over the years, and now commonly run 11" high and many are 13 - 15" and up. I recently went on vacation and the innerspring bed was so thick that they provided a footstool to be able to climb into bed.

    What is responsible for this blowing up of the innerspring mattress? I think the basic issue is that metal isn't comfortable. And while a metal spring does compress and give, it still isn't something you would want to sleep directly on. So as consumers have looked for a more comfortable mattress, manufacturers have added increasingly thick layers of "comfort" material (as it is known in the industry). So these days it is common for innersprings to have multiple layers of foam and other cushioning materials. And in the better innersprings, these layers often include the more comfortable and dense comfort layers that have come into the industry over the last few years -- memory foam and now latex.

    So what should you look for when shopping for an innerspring mattress? Again, this isn't my area of expertise, but I found a good, common sense article "Going to The Mattresses". I couldn't agree more with the writer's assessment that pillow tops are a waste of money and a ripoff. Honestly, if you want a pillow top feel it is better to just buy a good quality, comfortable innerspring mattress and then buy a quality topper to put on it (not like the low quality foams they use in a typical pillow top that break down after a few years). If you are interested in memory foam topper we offer 4 lb density memory foam pads (2" and 3"). And to make sure you don't get burned, we do offer our 365-day money-back guarantee on all our pads (and mattresses also for that matter).

  • Memory Foam Mattresses

    I've been sleeping on memory foam for 14 years now -- it was the first thing that really helped ease my severe back pain (from a snow skiing accident). This was back when memory foam first started to become available to consumers (before that it was just used in the medical industry), and it was so new and "cool" that I had all sorts of people coming over to lie on my bed. When a few got so comfy they didn't want to get off, I knew this was something big and contacted the company to see if I could be a reseller.

    The memory foam business has come a long way since then, and now every major manufacturer has their brand -- and we hear from people all the time that are so confused about the varying brand's options and claims. That is why I put together my Buyer's Guide To Memory Foam, and in it I put all the answers to the frequently asked questions we get about memory foam.

    One other thing we spent a lot of time on was sorting through all the different memory foam mattress options to pick just the best of the lot -- so you didn't have to. And believe me it wasn't easy. We spent over two years looking and tested 29 different memory foam mattresses before we found the ones we wanted to carry. Our goal was to do the leg work for you and just present you with what we feel are the best of the best.

    After testing dozens of memory foam mattresses, we finally found one we feel comfortable offering on our web site.

    For those gear heads out there (and I can be one), the mattress is 10" in height made of 4 layers - at the bottom two layers of 3" convoluted 2.3 lb density poly foam (the bottom layer a firmer feel than the 2nd layer), next a 2" layer of 5 lb memory foam on top of this, and a top 2" layer of 4 lb memory foam. The quality and comfort really made it stand out from the dozens of mattresses we've tested in the last couple of years. We are offering a 365-day, no questions asked money-back trial, so if you are in the market for a memory foam mattress we hope you will check out our The Healthy Foundations 10" Memory Foam Mattress.

    Do we really back this up? The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. We are a longtime member of the BBB with an A+ rating -- and have never had a customer complaint. And we also have earned a 5 star rated Trusted Store with with over 500 ratings. We have always honored our money-back trial, and our committment to customer service has been the reason we have earned such high customer satisfaction marks.

    So if you are interested in a memory foam mattress, I hope check out our Memory Foam Mattresses. We have in-depth information on both of our models including videos giving you a detailed overview of their features and benefits.

  • Latex Mattresses

    Latex mattresses have been around since the '40s and '50s -- there was a popular Sears model that people still talk about. Latex beds have become a hot trend as of late since latex has a very firm, resilient feel that makes a terrific sleep surface.

    Latex mattresses have become very big in Europe over the last 10 -15 years, and now are the latex hot trend in the U.S. The reason is their comfort and also that they are seen as an all-natural product. So latex appeals to not only those looking for comfort, but also those concerned about getting a "green", sustainable mattress or one that is all natural for allergy or other health reasons.

    The downside of latex is that it is expensive to make and latex mattresses sell at a premium over standard innersprings or even the more moderate memory foam mattresses (such as the one we carry).

    But beware, not all latex is created equal. Strangely, while latex mattresses started off being made of natural latex, they now are often made primarily of synthetic "latex" (chemically similar to natural latex, but made from petrochemicals rather than natural latex (which is made from the sap of the rubber tree)). Synthetic latex and natural latex feel a bit different, so it is important to ask what type of latex a particular "latex mattress" is made of so that you can compare apples to apples.

    Personally, I like natural latex. All-natural latex can be difficult to find, though, and for those wanting latex for eco or allergy reasons you really need to make sure that the latex you are looking at is really all-natural.

    For a lot more in-depth information on latex mattresses, I've put together a Latex Buyer's Guide to help you arm yourself when shopping for a latex mattress.

  • Air Beds

    The nice thing about an air bed is its adjustability. With a touch of a button you can change the softness/firmness of your bed. This flexibility has made air beds very popular, although we often see that all the different options and configurations of air beds can make your head spin.

    That is why I put together our Air Bed Buyer's Guide. It offers 9 key points to consider when buying an air bed. Hopefully, after reading this you will have a much better idea what to shop for in an air bed and get the best possible deal.


I hope this guide has been helpful and arms you in finding the mattress you want with the best possible deal.