Casper, Tuft & Needle, Leesa, and several other new mattress startup companies are aiming to change mattress shopping, and in the process each is following a one-bed-fits-all approach to their product lines. These new mattress startups believe something is wrong with the mattress industry, and that their models are the solution.
But might this diagnosis be a little off? The case could be made that the major issue in the mattress industry are not too many choices. Limited options certainly make it easier to choose, but comfort is highly subjective and the one choice model could be leaving out many consumers. Instead things like a lack of transparency, outdated sales models and inflated markups seem more pressing.
New Mattress Startups: Can One Type of Mattress For Everyone Work?
Casper CEO Philip Krim is quoted as saying,”We looked at the hotel industry, where they don’t ask you what kind of bed you need, and in general people love sleeping on hotel beds.” But are one-size-fits-all hotel beds really all that great?
Most hotels tend to buy beds in the firmer range for a couple reasons. One, a firmer mattress with lower gauge springs will last longer since it will be better at resisting sagging. Two, they can always offer a mattress pad to make it softer for people who prefer it, but you can’t make a soft bed firmer. Firm innersprings without pillow tops also tend to be more affordable, important when you’re filling lots of rooms.
The problem with that line of thinking is that people don’t spend years on hotel mattresses. One or two nights on a too-firm or too-soft bed generally isn’t a big deal, and when you’re on vacation it’s probably not your top priority anyways.
There’s also the fact that many people are sleeping on old beds at home. Estimates say people keep their beds over 10 years (about 2-5 years longer than the typical mattress is designed for), so any new bed likely feels better initially if your regular bed is past it’s expiration date.
When it comes to your bedroom, you should have a quality mattress with a firmness level and materials that support your specific sleep position and comfort needs, so you can get the best sleep possible. Settling for an “okay” fit can make for many nights of subpar slumber.
Why We Need Different Mattresses
Newer mattress companies like Tuft and Casper make the argument that the traditional model of mattress shopping is highly confusing and intimidating for many buyers, and this point does have merit. There are quite a few options between different mattress types and brands, but what makes it confusing is not choice.
Rather, the traditional lack of transparency regarding materials, quality, and pricing as well as high-pressure sales tactics can make hard for people to draw informed comparisons without quite a bit of research.
Offering only one mattress as a means to answer this concern definitely makes selection easier and it cuts costs on inventory and marketing, but it also restricts customers that don’t fall into the middle range.
Firmness and thickness of a mattress can significantly affect how it feels, as can what its made with. Different sleep positions, different body weights, and other factors mean that what feels comfortable to one person might not to their neighbor or even their partner. The fact that such a diverse range of mattress types and styles is thriving speaks to that.
For example, Sleep Like The Dead finds that while people under 250 lbs report similar satisfaction with 10 to 14 inch mattresses, people over 250 lbs report higher comfort and satisfaction with mattresses 12 inches or thicker. Most of the new “one-size” mattresses are around 10 inches, so people of above average weight may might find the best night’s sleep, especially over time.
Mattress Firmness and Sleep Position
Beyond differences in materials and types, people’s unique sleeping preferences mean that one single firmness will not cover all sleepers.
There have been a few studies comparing the effect of different sleep surfaces on sleep quality, finding that firmness can have an impact on pain and comfort levels. For example, one found medium-firm beds were better than firm for back pain. Another found that medium firmness meant better sleep and less pain for most people compared to very soft and very firm beds. For the most part, firmness can be seen as a bell curve – medium to medium firm will cover the majority of people, but there’s still people on either side preferring soft and firm as well.
Independent review sites and reviews on brand pages show differences in consumer firmness preferences in nearly every mattress line available. You won’t have to look far to to find competing reviewers saying a particular mattress is both too soft and too firm for their tastes, because we all have a different idea of what “comfortable” means.
Statistically, Sleep Like The Dead’s research finds that back and side sleepers tend to have better satisfaction with medium levels, while side sleepers prefer soft-medium levels. Firm mattresses are the runners up for back sleepers, but don’t tend to rate well with side and stomach sleepers. It makes sense, too. When you lie on your back or stomach, your weight is more evenly distributed and lumbar support is important. Side sleeping can focus more of your weight in certain areas like hips and shoulders, so a softer mattress will conform to the natural curves of the body without creating too much pressure.
One study of sleep positions in the UK found 69% of people slept on their sides, 13% on their back, 7% on their stomach and 11% varied. Other surveys also say side sleeping is most common as well, so it stands to reason that more people would be looking for soft to medium beds than firmer beds.
But, selling just one firmness cuts out everyone not compatible with that range. It can get even more complicated when couples prefer different positions or have significant weight differences. Not all startup brands are sticking to one bed either; brands like Amerisleep and Saatva don’t have huge lines but do still provide a wider selection to capture a larger customer base.
Here’s a look at the basic facts behind the main mattress brands leading the online startup category: Casper, Tuft and Needle, Leesa, Amerisleep, Saatva and Yogabed. Ratings are based on customer and independent reviews.
|Brand||Specs||Firmness Options||Price (Queen)||Reviews and Ratings|
Plant-based memory foam
|Soft to firm||$899 - $2,299||96%|
Synthetic latex over foam
1300 pocketed coils
1.25" foam comfort layer
|Soft to firm||$899||86%|
|Tuft & Needle||10" profile |
.75" response foam
1.75" gel foam
6.5" high-density foam
1" super-high-density foam
What Casper, Leesa and Others Have Right
There is something wrong with the mattress industry and these new mattress startups are addressing some of the issues. Over the last few decades, a few massive companies have come to rule most of the industry. The lack of competition among other things allowed prices to soar, but the internet is slowly changing things.
What most of the new mattress brands are doing right is being more open and transparent about their beds, which the industry giants are loathe to do. For the most part, the startups make quality details like foam density and layer materials easy to find, and have open warranty and return policies. They also all sell online, meaning shoppers can entirely skip sales pitches and shop at their own pace, another plus.
A new model was needed for selling mattresses. Technology is allowing entrepreneurs to take advantage of a market that has been hungry for a shakeup. By cutting out warehousing costs, salesperson commissions, storefront overhead and other expenses, a new company can save customers a lot of money.
One of the key features in the business models of most new mattress startups is innovative shipping methods. By compressing, folding and rolling mattresses, retailers can send these mattress more easily through shipping services and save a lot of money.
Many people prefer having products shipped to their doorstep after shopping from their tablets, phones and other devices. “Unboxing” is a cultural phenomenon now. You can watch countless videos of customers removing the packaging of their beds and watching them grow like those expandable dinosaur growing capsules.
While the business of beds is adapting to a new generation of buyers, one interesting thing to consider is that many people of this newer generation is also more used to a “my way” style of buying. Customization proves important in everything from phone color to clothing to cars, so will the new mattress brands be able to convince them one mattress is good for most?
New things are often desired simply for being new, and these companies have sold many mattresses in their opening years thanks to quite a bit of media buzz (and disdain for the old way). But, time will tell if this is a model customers can stick with or if they’ll want something more.
The Future of Mattress Shopping is Bright
Taking on industry behemoths like Serta, Sealy and Simmons is a lofty (some would say Sisyphean) endeavor. And, most people who have purchased a mattress in recent years will agree that a disruption was needed in the industry.
Inventive adaptations to existing concepts spring up from creative minds all the time. Some of these changes will be beneficial and others may not be so helpful or enduring. This is the endless march we call progress. Some steps are in the right direction and some may not be, but the wider selection and new approach offers quite a but of potential benefit to consumers.
The internet and companies like Amazon have changed the way we shop and the way products are distributed. Selling directly to consumers saves on money, time and infrastructure, but that doesn’t mean choice needs to be completely streamlined as well. Though more tech savvy, we all still have different sleep habits and preferences Since a mattress is one of the more expensive items people buy for their homes and where we spend the most time in the home, it’s a decision worthy of a bit of consideration and research.
The internet is helping people shop in better ways then ever before, since anyone can compare a vast number of brands without leaving home, read reviews, and educate themselves on beds and buying. You no longer have to take a salesperson’s word for it or settle for what your local mattress shop has in stock, and that’s perhaps one of the most powerful ways that new mattress startups are changing the industry.