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October 17, 2017 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Affiliate marketing is the seedy underbelly of online product reviews and commerce. That won't surprise anyone, but the extent of these momentary, modern gold rushes might. David Zax receives a free mattress from a reviewer who can't give them away fast enough and decides to peel back a few of the industry's less plush layers.
posted by gilrain (65 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well that was a rollercoaster.

So, now there's no way to get a neutral assessment of what's a good reasonably priced mattress? Or anything else?

Super.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:54 AM on October 17, 2017 [17 favorites]


For anyone thinking "gosh, mattresses, BORING" - this was a great article and you should read it. Whew.
posted by anastasiav at 7:57 AM on October 17, 2017 [5 favorites]


How do they sleep at night?


no, really, which mattress?
posted by Gyan at 8:03 AM on October 17, 2017 [34 favorites]


and this is why I don't bother with any customer reviews. They are as bad as the comments section. (and give the eye-roll to someone who says they bought this foobar dongle on Amzn because it was 4.8 stars)
posted by k5.user at 8:04 AM on October 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


Affiliate marketers have always seemed half a step up from infomercial pitch-people. This is the blood that runs deep in the Wirecutter’s veins, too. I’m surprised they aren’t more up front about their affiliate links.

I think the broad focus on a “category” like home electronics, rather than a single product, might help insulate them from some of this shadiness.
posted by JoeBlubaugh at 8:22 AM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


So, now there's no way to get a neutral assessment of what's a good reasonably priced mattress? Or anything else?

Not for free. Somebody has to pay for the work in reviewing things. And most people won't pay $35 for freedom from commercial bias.
posted by zabuni at 8:28 AM on October 17, 2017 [25 favorites]


This is the blood that runs deep in the Wirecutter’s veins, too. I’m surprised they aren’t more up front about their affiliate links.
Wirecutter supports our readers with thousands of hours of reporting and testing to help you find the stuff you need in order to live a better life. You support us through our independently chosen links, which earn us a commission.
That seems pretty up front to me.

Before the recent redesign:
The Wirecutter and The Sweethome (part of The New York Times Company) are lists of the best gadgets and gear for people who quickly want to know what to get. When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we earn affiliate commissions that support our work.
posted by zamboni at 8:32 AM on October 17, 2017 [5 favorites]


This is the blood that runs deep in the Wirecutter’s veins, too. I’m surprised they aren’t more up front about their affiliate links.

The site's current design puts a header on every single review which states that they earn commissions from links. That's rather up front as-is; I'm not sure what else you'd like to see them doing beyond that.
posted by cjelli at 8:39 AM on October 17, 2017 [10 favorites]


I had a friend back in the 80s in NYC who bounced from one sales job to another and he once told me that mattress sales was by far and away the single sleaziest business he had ever been involved with.
posted by lagomorphius at 8:40 AM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


I noticed when buying my foam mattress that all the review sites seemed, well, completely unreliable. I think I kind of tend to ignore all the coupons and disclaimers and take everything with a grain of salt to start with, but like--if you read between the lines, almost every mattress was basically fine within general pricing tiers, and the only ones they didn't recommend seemed to be the ones that weren't paying them. I think I find Wirecutter and Sweethome reasonably trustworthy just because they're perfectly willing to tell me NOT to buy something and they'll give me reasons why they distinguish between their picks that seem fairly concrete.

I wound up with a mattress from one of the online places that does get reviewed on those sites, but basically the one that was the cheapest in its tier at the time, and I think, in the end, that it's... fine. So maybe that's part of the trouble, that they're purporting to have in-depth reviews of products where the biggest question is whether you get foam/innerspring/latex/etc, and not which particular brand, but they wouldn't make any money off of just telling people, "eh, go with this one, it's the cheapest decent mattress of its type".
posted by Sequence at 8:43 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


I just liked the painlessness of getting a mattress delivered in a box, I didn't really care which of them it was. Mattress stores are as gross as car dealerships.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:58 AM on October 17, 2017 [6 favorites]


My product review strategy is to look at the 1-star reviews. If the complaints down there are all petty things that I don't care about, the product is probably pretty good.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:00 AM on October 17, 2017 [43 favorites]


There was a lot more intrigue than I expected, that's for sure. I figured there was money in those review site referrals, but I didn't realize how much is changing hands.
posted by wierdo at 9:06 AM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


FYI if anyone here wants to try a Casper mattress IRL, they have them on display at Target. I just noticed this.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:08 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


Is there any good nonfiction about why some retail ecosystems, at least in the US, are innately kind of scammy? I'm thinking of mattresses, hot tubs, wood stoves, cars, there must be more.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:25 AM on October 17, 2017 [12 favorites]


and this is why I don't bother with any customer reviews. They are as bad as the comments section. (and give the eye-roll to someone who says they bought this foobar dongle on Amzn because it was 4.8 stars)

I read reviews looking almost entirely for the negatives - I want to know what people didn't like, and if several people didn't like the same thing. I don't just read the one-stars, though, because it's hard to wade through all the "this sucks and is a ripoff" posts to get to the ones with content. And even five-star reveiws can have "well, it had this problem, but overall I like it." I want to know what that problem was.

Four people posting "it fell apart within a few weeks" is a big warning flag. Four people posting "it was smaller than it looked in the picture, and I thought it was wood but it was plastic" is useful info, but not a "don't buy this" warning for me. (Unless, of course, I thought it would cover the whole desk and be made of wood. Or whatever.)

But it may be time to renew my subscription to Consumer Reports; I'd noticed internet reviews getting sketchier but hadn't realized how far that had gone, esp for big-ticket items.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:25 AM on October 17, 2017 [8 favorites]


Last time I needed a mattress, I bought one from Costco. People, they deliver for FREE, and help setup, and take away the old one!
I am always amazed when I see people at Costco trying to fit the Giant Thing they bought into their obviously-too-small-car - anything at the store (especially the big stuff) can be found online, and delivered for free! (no, I don't work for Costco, but this one thing has been worth the membership more than one time)
posted by dbmcd at 9:37 AM on October 17, 2017 [9 favorites]


The online make-up and skin care reviews are full of this stuff. Although it's more accepted there to mention you got sent something from PR (free stuff) or you were asked to review (often mentioning you were asked to review but not told what to say) or that you're getting money from the links/codes. Plus there are the trips that people go on sponsored by brands (though they're not necessarily paid for the trip and/or they might have to do a certain amount of promoting through social media). There are some ways you can tell if someone is doing an ad even if the person doesn't mention it's an ad (full face of the same brand, holding products for a long time, etc.). It's fascinating. I learned a lot from this video by Samantha Ravndahl who is a beauty blogger from Vancouver.
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:37 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking of mattresses, hot tubs, wood stoves, cars, there must be more.

Supplements, skincare and most branded weight loss regimes are all pretty gross.

Both car stereos and office equipment (like xerox machines and phone systems) used to be pretty sleazy too, but both seem less of a thing these days.
posted by thivaia at 9:38 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


why some retail ecosystems, at least in the US, are innately kind of scammy? I'm thinking of mattresses, hot tubs, wood stoves, cars, there must be more.

You mean, high-price luxury goods that one-percenters can afford several of, and minimum-wage workers usually buy used if they have them at all? They have several shared features:
  • They need a factory for production - there is no "artisinal craftsman" version. (There may be for hot tubs, but even that's iffy; there's a lot of tech involved in a good hot tub.)
  • Low-end retail price is several hundred to several thousand dollars
  • The companies that produce them are opaque - actual ownership shifts hands at the stock-market level; you don't have a way of identifying when their sources, materials, or methods have changed
  • People don't exhort their friends to buy one - other than hypothetical multi-millionaire parties, there is no "We got a marble fireplace last month and it is divine; you simply must pick up one yourself."
  • In most cases, there are limited commercial uses - they are sold to individuals for personal use, not to companies in bulk. (Or, the commercial focus is a different branch. Hotels buy mattresses by the dozens or hundreds, but they're also looking for consistency more than matching a specific set of needs.)
All that means reviews are absolutely necessary to their economic survival; direct ads mean bombarding thousands of people who lack interest or money or both. The combination leads directly to "reviews" that are paid advertising that happens not to match the company's style guide.

If they can reliably sell by normal advertising methods, they'll try to avoid too-strong connections with reviewers, for exactly the reasons shown in this article: if the reviewer finds a better product, the strong connection can have backlash.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:45 AM on October 17, 2017 [8 favorites]


Is there any good nonfiction about why some retail ecosystems, at least in the US, are innately kind of scammy?

Imagine trying to set up a non-scammy way for people to know what's good. My only idea so far is to pay engineers to take stuff apart and comment on the quality of the component parts and the construction, and to test things for VOCs and robustness. I think this would be awesome, but it would be hard to fund. Most web sites seem to be funded by advertising.

Consumer Reports used to be pretty good, but a) do any of you have subscriptions? and b) most people probably can't budget for a subscription, and c) most purchasing decisions aren't about the kinds of things they review, and d) it's kind of a pain to go to Consumer Reports every time you want to buy something, even if that worked. Also e) they don't seem to be measuring durability/reliability anymore, maybe because it was too expensive.

So, given that it's nearly impossible for consumers to discover what is and isn't a high-quality product, all that's left is marketing.

At least that's the cynical account.

My non-cynical take: I see on Metafilter many people looking for simple, well-built, high-quality, actual-problem-solving products, so I _know_ there's a market for that.
posted by amtho at 9:46 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


Sleazy mattress business meets sleazy deceptive advertising bloggers all mediated through sleazy SEO. Fuck everything, set it all on fire.

OTOH Sweethome doesn't feel sleazy at all to me. For that matter I've been running Amazon affiliate links on my personal blog for 15 years now. (I've made about $200 in total, largely on referrals for a nose hair trimmer. Not kidding.) Metafilter runs Amazon affiliate links too.

The line in the sand is whether the text you're reading is influenced by the size of the affiliate bonus. I don't mean implicit bias because the author got free stuff; that matters but is pretty small potatoes. I mean explicit bias like "I endorse Leesa mattresses because they pay me more and oh btw I also do contract SEO for them". (Only you don't say that part out loud.) That is clearly sleazy.

Set it all on fire.
posted by Nelson at 9:47 AM on October 17, 2017 [5 favorites]


Very cute and innocent how the author has not realized that the internet has not been completely corrupted by financially incentivized reviews.
posted by ejoey at 9:48 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


OTOH Sweethome doesn't feel sleazy at all to me.

NYT ditched the Sweethome brand with the new redesign - everything's in the Wirecutter bucket now.
As we’ve grown over the last few years, we have expanded our coverage to encompass things beyond TVs, laptops, printers, headphones, and kitchen appliances. We’ve been feverishly adding coverage on outdoor gear, smart home devices, home furniture, and stuff for parents (of both children and pets)—the list goes on and on, and much of it blurs the line between our tech and home coverage.

That’s why we’ve retired The Wirecutter and The Sweethome names and launched a unified website in their place to be the definitive review source for our readers: Wirecutter.
posted by zamboni at 9:52 AM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


3 years ago, we bought a Tuft & Needle mattress, and we remain super happy about it. It was kind of a lark b/c their refund policy was so generous, and it didn't require us to go into a sleazy mattress store.

Seems like we missed the real craziness in that market. Not for nothing, though, but if our house burned down we'd buy another T&N without hesitation.
posted by uberchet at 9:53 AM on October 17, 2017


As may be expected, Old Bed Guy has a LOT to say on the subject of mattress reviews.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:03 AM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


The entire health and fitness, podcasting, home renovation, and mommy/daddy blogger industry is built off of affiliate marketing of the same type. I know one blogger personally who has reviewed three different running watches that are highly recommended and "ones they'll use" but in photos they are always running with their Apple Watch which was not one of the reviews and they sold one of the other ones to a friend. It's painful to watch people who started as authentic writers develop into semi-sleazy salespeople and not realize or care about it.
posted by notorious medium at 10:05 AM on October 17, 2017 [6 favorites]


Add me to the list of people who knew generally how affiliate marketing worked but had no idea how much money there was in it (in the case of mattresses anyway).
posted by quaking fajita at 10:19 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


Fascinating. I bought my current mattress off a dubious gentleman sporting an impressive handlbar mustache in a mildly dingy outlet, and it was fine for a few years but now has inspired a deep-set hatred in my partner, and more to the point sags alarmingly on my side of the bed. So I've been low-key thinking about replacing it, but also: broke.

(Whatever; up to that point, I'd been sleeping on an air mattress for the past year, since my apartment had burned down while I was out of the country. I was totally making a rushed decision, but in my defense it was much nicer than the air mattress was. Especially after it developed that huge lump in the middle that tended to catapault the unwary out of the bed.)

My roommate recently purchased a Purple, and we've been eyeing it and poking it and trying to work out if that might be a better replacement when we pay off some more of our house-repair debt. I'm pretty sure her choice came partly as a result of poring over Sleepopolis reviews (among others), and as I recall that was one of the places that spurred her to not even consider the Casper. I'm mostly hopeful because while I love memory foam, my partner hates the touch of it but seems to view the Purple's surface as more or less acceptable. We'll see how well it holds up, I suppose.
posted by sciatrix at 10:42 AM on October 17, 2017


I absolutely cannot sleep on foam mattresses without plush tops to protect me from the foam, and once you have plush protecting you from the foam, you might as well get a regular mattress.

I highly recommend buying mattresses at Big Lots. At least four times a year, you get the box spring for $10 or free with purchase of a mattress, if you still use the box spring. The mattresses are big name brands, and they usually have at least a few decent ones about the $300-$350 price point.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:50 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


Consumer Reports used to be pretty good, but a) do any of you have subscriptions? and b) most people probably can't budget for a subscription

For what it's worth, your public library might offer free access to the Consumer Reports website (mine does).
posted by uncleozzy at 10:52 AM on October 17, 2017 [15 favorites]


Most people can't budget the _time_ to go to the library every time they make a purchase.
posted by amtho at 10:54 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying the research isn't a time-sink (it is), but you usually don't have to actually go to the library to use the electronic resources.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:56 AM on October 17, 2017 [11 favorites]


Probably won't help you compare mattress reviews, but I usually check Fakespot when comparison shopping on Amazon.
posted by achrise at 10:58 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


Casper, Purple et al always seemed scammy to me. This sort of confirms my feelings.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:59 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


uncleozzy, I had no idea! Unfortunately my local library system only has consumer reports access up to 2009 :(
posted by quaking fajita at 11:00 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm sympathetic to budget constraints, but a Consumer Reports subscription costs a small fraction of the price of most things people would look to them for reviews of. Are the people who are trying to buy a new car or washer and dryer really going to say they can't afford $7 for a month of access to make a more informed choice? You can buy it for just a single month before making a big purchase.

That said, I haven't always been completely impressed with Consumer Reports' conclusions, and I don't know that I have ever bought their top pick. But I appreciate that they are at least trying to be unbiased. And they have a hard job. There are so many variables (including personal preferences) that make it very tricky to make long-term blanket recommendations.
posted by primethyme at 11:11 AM on October 17, 2017 [6 favorites]


Casper, Purple et al always seemed scammy to me

A whole lot of advertising rubs me the wrong way, but products advertised on podcasts have an extra whiff of "probably a scam" for me. I don't know why.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:14 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


Is there any good nonfiction about why some retail ecosystems, at least in the US, are innately kind of scammy? I'm thinking of mattresses, hot tubs, wood stoves, cars, there must be more.

Planet Money: Episode 435: Why Buying A Car Is So Awful
I remember that this was very interesting, although I don't know how well the insight transfers to anything that's not cars. I also don't remember what the insight was (it's from 2013). I think part of it was unintended consequences of government regulation? I guess I'll have to give it a fresh listen...
posted by polecat at 11:34 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


re: consumer reports - my library is subscribed on-line with CR and lets you view all the back issues easily. From home, you login with your library card # and there's an affiliate (hah) link to CR's site, so you don't even have to go down to the branch to use a terminal there.
posted by k5.user at 11:34 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


Consumer Reports used to be pretty good, but a) do any of you have subscriptions? and b) most people probably can't budget for a subscription

Yep, I do. I have for at least ten years now. It's never steered me wrong. In fact, I can't think of any purchase I've regretted that was CR-driven.
posted by holborne at 12:01 PM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


I love consumer reports and subscribe but I wish they could afford to have a better maintained and easier to use website. This article was depressing.
posted by latkes at 12:22 PM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


My question is are these companies really making their own mattresses or are they all selling the same product made in the same factory with minor branding changes?

Also who will fund podcasts once we're all making meals from boxes and sleeping on internet mattresses?
posted by vespabelle at 12:51 PM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


There is one mattress information site that doesn't take advertising from mattress companies. The catch: they don't do mattress-specific reviews and recommendations, either. The Mattress Underground instead provides extremely detailed explanations of mattress construction, the pros/cons of materials used in their manufacture, and recommendations for beginning your mattress selection based on your sleep style, BMI, and other factors.

Phoenix, the site's owner, is adamant that there is no single 'best' mattress for anyone, nor is any material/mattress type inherently superior to others, and cautions that selecting the proper mattress for oneself will take a lot of research and store time. He's always happy to answer questions and provide suggestions to help people searching for a new mattress. A select number of retailers (a few online, but mostly small independent stores around the country) who meet his criteria for offering quality products and customer support are acknowledged as "good guys" in the trade - but again, he neither promotes them nor permits them to promote themselves/their products on the site.

If you want to understand more about different materials used in mattresses and how to identify materials and mattress types that will most likely fit your sleep style/body shape/special needs, it is an excellent resource. The sheer volume of information means it can be a bit overwhelming at first (and second) glance.

Tl;dr: The Mattress Underground is a good first start for helping figure out what kind of materials and mattress you should begin to look at, but because it is so information-dense, it is best to hit the site well before you anticipate making your purchase, just to give yourself enough time to read and absorb the information.
posted by Lunaloon at 12:54 PM on October 17, 2017 [5 favorites]


I have a sub to Consumer Reports as well as Consumer Labs (for supplements etc) and the Cornucopia Institute (for stuff like milk, eggs, etc).

I also rely heavily on Wirecutter (not sure I like the redesign but the info is still there and I like tha itt's a single site now).
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:55 PM on October 17, 2017


Also who will fund podcasts once we're all making meals from boxes and sleeping on internet mattresses?

I was listening to Planet Money the other day and the ad was for some sort of uber-sketchy sounding investment, so, that, probably.
posted by quaking fajita at 12:56 PM on October 17, 2017


The last year of The Magnus Archive was sponsored by Thompson-Reuters, for some reason. I guess business analysis and news goes well with inexplicable horror?
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:27 PM on October 17, 2017


And when you get your new mattress, make sure it has the proper mattress stamps. Although I have a vague idea I read somewhere that these stamps were used to certify all-new stuffing in reconditioned mattresses. I found some of these stamps on the back of a mattress someone left behind in garage at a relative's home in Atlanta.
posted by lagomorphius at 1:36 PM on October 17, 2017


My question is are these companies really making their own mattresses or are they all selling the same product made in the same factory with minor branding changes?

All the rubber mattress folks use the same two factories, from what I understand, and they cost less to manufacture than they do to ship. All of the internet rubber mattress companies are more or less drop shippers.
posted by FakeFreyja at 1:43 PM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


My problem with the Consumer Reports subscription model is most everything is "good enough." For major purchases like cars and appliances, obviously I'll do some research, but I don't need to min/max, I dunno, microwaves or toaster ovens or other small things.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:08 PM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


really going to say they can't afford $7 for a month of access

Plus the mental wherewithal to unsubscribe after a month (we keep forgetting).

Plus: they don't evaluate the criteria that I actually care about, like durability, amount of plastic used (usually relates to durability), does it smell like toxic plastic (different products), how traceable is the supply chain, how hard will it be to dispose of later, is it easy to replace any batteries, will it be easy to store, will it be easy to keep _clean_, etc.
posted by amtho at 2:24 PM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


  Most people can't budget the _time_ to go to the library every time they make a purchase

Your library might give you access to CR at home, on your own computer. All you need is a library card.
posted by scruss at 6:02 PM on October 17, 2017


"Is there any good nonfiction about why some retail ecosystems, at least in the US, are innately kind of scammy?"

One of the sweet spots for scamminess is purchases that are infrequent, but not as expensive as a car or a wedding (which are also scam-riddled, but in a different way, like obscuring costs). If you're buying a car, you're much more likely to research pretty thoroughly -- buy that CR subscription or spend the hours in the library -- because it's so expensive. And if you're buying granola bars or paper towels, you're not going to research, but since you buy them every two weeks, you're going to remember which ones are shitty and which ones are great.

But if you're buying something like a vacuum cleaner that you buy once every ten years and most cost under $500, you don't have a super-strong incentive to spend all the time and money on deeply researching your vacuum, and if you get a shitty one, 99% of people who are pissed about their scammily-advertised, poorly-made vacuum are just going to live with it and do nothing because it's not worth the hassle to sort it out. And in ten years, the market will have shifted so completely that even if you remember that Vacuums R Us was a shitty, shitty company, they will carry an entirely different line of products, as will every other line, and you'll be starting from scratch on "wait, which ones are shitty?"

Relatedly, my PET PEEVE in the realm of scammy practices that are rotten for consumers is how small appliances -- and even large ones! -- assign different product numbers for their products for different retailers, precisely so you can't compare. Bed Bath & Beyond lost a sale today because I couldn't compare the product number of the hand-vac they sold with the product number of the one on Amazon that I had identified as being the one I wanted to purchase (but would have happily picked up at BB&B since I was there anyway and it would have provided immediate gratification), so while I'm pretty sure they were the same? I wasn't going to buy the wrong one because I couldn't compare product numbers and they went out of their way to obscure specifications data on the packaging, making it hard to do a direct comparison.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:10 PM on October 17, 2017 [18 favorites]


Relatedly, my PET PEEVE in the realm of scammy practices that are rotten for consumers is how small appliances -- and even large ones! -- assign different product numbers for their products for different retailers, precisely so you can't compare.

It seems like buying a mattress has always been a scam.

Going to the Mattresses (2000)

The Mattress Industry is One Big Scam (2008)


Busting the mattress racket (2014)

posted by ActingTheGoat at 7:25 PM on October 17, 2017


What's maddening to me is this stuff could be regulated by the government:

Regulation: Paid advertising must be clearly labeled as such. If you're going to have product placements or "consumer review" websites that are actually shilling, you must clearly state who is paying for it.

Regulation: Manufactures must name/label their products using a uniform system no matter which retail outlet they sell to.

Those two interventions would shut down a bunch of shenanigans.
posted by latkes at 7:43 PM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


I still don't understand why there are SO MANY mattress companies. Surely the mattress market is now saturated? I also bought an online mattress (by which I mean, I bought it online - I sleep offline) but I only needed one and now I won't need another for a long time.
posted by easternblot at 6:03 AM on October 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


I still don't understand why there are SO MANY mattress companies. Surely the mattress market is now saturated?

Marketplace: Why are there so many mattress stores?
In the past decade the number of stand-alone specialty mattress stores has jumped from 7,000 to nearly 10,000 stores nationwide.
...
[T]he majority of mattress purchases were once made inside department stores and mom-and-pop furniture outlets. Today, the specialty mattress chains have more than 50 percent of the market, compared to just 19 percent in 1993.
...
There's an ongoing awareness of the health benefits of a good night's sleep. That's led to shorter purchase cycles for new mattresses, once every 10 - 15 years. Baby boomers are upgrading to fancier and more expensive mattresses. The housing market's rebounding, and there's pent-up demand following the recession. And, despite some online startups, so far, mattress shopping is largely internet-proof.
...
Then there’s the cost factor. Mattress stores have low overhead, low labor costs and higher-than-usual profit margins, Sam Woods said, Senior Vice President of Sales and Operations for Mattress Firm.

“If you sold three or four beds a day, and your average ticket is $1,000, that’s a $4,000 day, times 365. All of a sudden you’ve got more than a million-dollar business there,” he said.

That, he added, is why a single store can get by on just a few customers a day.
If you start googling 'mattress market saturated,' you can find plenty of people wondering if this is a temporary bubble -- the combination of factors seemingly driving the current trend (department store closures pinching off the main prior sales avenue, pent-up demand post-recession, the baby-boomer generation aging into new housing, memory foam mattresses making a splash) all seem temporary, and online sales are an increasing share of the market.

If you're asking about mattress producing companies -- basically the same answer: people rushed in to meet demand. This is a trend of the last decade or two, not a natural law.
posted by cjelli at 7:50 AM on October 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


Not completely unexpectedly, since reading this article yesterday I have been besieged on multiple channels (YouTube ads, Twitter ads, FB ads) by ads for the Caspar mattress -- and only that product.

Sorry guys. Not going to bite.
posted by anastasiav at 9:41 AM on October 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


It’s my policy to not buy anything I see advertised on instagram. Get your trendy hip techy faux-genuine ads outta here.

If Facebook and Instagram make me look at them, I’ll be damned if I make it worth their while.

I see a lot of ads for Casper, MeUndies bras, and for those Allbirds wool shoes that definitely look like slippers in real life.

Although I’ll be honest, I just scroll through my feed and saw ads for cheese and laser tag, so I’ll probably have to revise my policy.
posted by Grandysaur at 11:33 AM on October 18, 2017


I definitely had a thought at first that hey, podcast advertisers, I should definitely patronize these companies that support my favorite media if I can. It's gotten so bad that I'm starting to assume that if someone's buying advertising on podcasts, there must be something shady about it. I don't think it bodes well.
posted by Sequence at 5:45 PM on October 18, 2017 [9 favorites]


Interestingly, I've just started to notice more established brands advertising on podcasts. Weirdly, there are Geico ads on the New Books Network now, which, hey, they have to pay the bills.
posted by latkes at 6:06 PM on October 18, 2017


There is one mattress information site that doesn't take advertising from mattress companies. The catch: they don't do mattress-specific reviews and recommendations, either. The Mattress Underground

As may be expected, Old Bed Guy has a LOT to say on the subject of mattress reviews.

And I believe something to say about TMU.
posted by bongo_x at 11:28 PM on October 24, 2017


Great article. Thanks for posting.

The moving industry comes to mind as something particularly scammy. It might even take the cake.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:43 PM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


“If you sold three or four beds a day, and your average ticket is $1,000, that’s a $4,000 day, times 365. All of a sudden you’ve got more than a million-dollar business there,” he said.

And it's crazy. When my wife and I last bought a mattress, we shopped around, tried some out. Got the usual salesman schtick. We found one we liked, and it was inexpensive (like 800 dollars) and we had one last store to check, so we went there. That store had a mattress we also liked, but it was 2500 dollars.

I told my wife we'll buy it for 900 or we go get the other one. She thought it was nuts, but what the hell. Sure as shit, I just kept saying "The other store has a mattress and box springs we like for 900". Dude eventually finally agreed after about 30 minutes of this. I couldn't even believe how easy it was.

They must be doing well enough to be able to take a hit like that so easy.

The mattress hasn't been that great. I'm super glad I didn't pay full price for it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:02 PM on November 1, 2017 [5 favorites]


Re podcast advertisers, I feel the same way about anyone who advertises on npr morning edition, they are universally crap products. But that may be local more than national. Also, I may be really pissed that I donated a 25,000 blue book value truck for their annual fundraiser, and they sent me a tax receipt for $300., and said that's what they auctioned it for. So, fuck npr forever.

Re mattress buying, it's a difficult thing to suss out value. I have found, over the years, that department stores tend to have better made products from familiar brands, and mattress stores tend to have the dollar store equivalent. I'd also throw in a hat tip to Old Bed Guy linked above. He has a ton of good info, and no affiliate links.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 1:47 PM on November 2, 2017


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