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What’s In The Box? Is The Online Mattress Craze All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

What’s In The Box?

The bed in a box mattress craze seems to be exploding at an exponential rate. And it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. But Big Mattress, or traditional mattress brands, doesn’t seem to be sweating any bullets at the moment either. The question remains: what is all the online mattress hype about? And is it merely that, hype? Just what is in the box when you order a one size fits all mattress online? Let’s dissect the mattress start-up craze and get to the core of our restless nights.

What Kinds Of Mattresses Are On The Market


Before we dive headfirst into a goose feather-stuffed queen size mattress discussion, we should first breakdown the popular forms of mattresses currently on the market. While there are many iterations of mattresses that populate online stores and traditional boutiques, there are 2 forms that are widely popular and one outlier hoping to steal the thunder of the top mattresses. Memory foam and innerspring are largely the two predominant subspecies of mattress you’ll encounter. Then there is the spoiler to the party, the latex hybrid.

Memory foam is the genre of mattress that claims to adhere to the mold and nuances of the body, using layers of foam (plant based, synthetic, etc.) to create anything from a lightweight to a dense composition. The bed in a box business model is centered around such mattresses. But memory foam mattresses aren’t unique to the online start-ups. Traditional mattress firms use anything from one-sided memory foam mattresses to full memory foam.

Then there are the innerspring mattresses. These predate the rather modern phenomenon of the memory foam. And given their time on the market, firms and designers have had a longer run at perfecting and finessing this mattress. However, we shouldn’t confuse a mattress’ performance potential as being uniquely linked to its design structure. There is always an exception to the rule.

Latex mattresses have been around since the ‘50s. And for their part, they offer a nice combination of firm comfort and durability. However, they are also the pricier genre of mattresses that populate the market. Latex mattresses are created from converting the “milk” sourced from rubber trees into foam. The happy medium seems to be the all natural memory foam mattress that uses a latex support and a cool, breathable memory foam core.

How Did We Get Here?

Today, the boom that is the online mattress industry averages around a respective few million dollars in profit each year for the top sellers. Yet that barely scratches the $14 billion US consumers alone spend every year on mattresses according to Furniture Today.

Online mattress industry averages around a respective few million dollars in profit each year

$14 billion US consumers alone spend every year on mattresses according to Furniture Today

And this is where it gets interesting. The 4 top traditional mattress brands are actually paired off to two private equity firms. Tempur-Sealy and Serta-Simmons are respectively owned by two private equity firms, thus cutting out any aggressive competition with each other. And these two firms effectively control 77% of the industry. The very same industry has seen more than 9% growth over the last 12 years.

Is it a monopoly? Maybe. Are there opportunities for huge markups before so-called huge markdown sales? Definitely. So naturally, Tuft & Needle’s young enterprising entrepreneurs began to chomp at the bit. They reasoned that customers wanted something more simple than the 30 plus varieties of mattresses to be found in traditional mattress stores. The startup laid the groundwork for a direct to customer business model with only online sales and no brick and mortar boutique. Then in the 2000s a flock of others noticed the growth potential and began to apply their own strategy.

Who Are The Cast Of Characters

While the biggest retailers of traditional mattresses can be counted on one hand, the top online retailers occupy an ever-evolving food chain. However, we can still identify the top 6 or 7 online sellers as of the close of 2016. Casper, Helix, Tuft & Needle, Eve, Leesa, and Saatva all are considered top 6 retailers with Casper and Tuft & Needle definitely holding on to the top 2 spots. The argument could equally be made for other such start-ups like Emma, Novosbed, and Bed In A Box.

1. Serta Simmons

Serta-Simmons has held steadfastly to one of the top 3 positions as a mattress manufacturer

Serta Simmons have a collection of mattresses that range from complete memory foam, latex, hybrid, and innerspring

Simmons Bedding Company was founded in 1870. And for years it has held steadfastly to one of the top 3 positions as a mattress manufacturer. However, Simmons filed for a puzzling Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009. According to reports, executives drained Simmons of $750 million in profits, leaving it to shrink into a suffocating debt totaling well over $1 billion. However the court agreed to reduce Simmons’ debt to $450 million.

But the debt brouhaha immediately came to an end with the recent acquisition of Serta and Simmons under private equity firm Advent in 2012. Simmons’ sales were $855 million in 2005, $1.13 billion in 2012, and a staggering $1.228 billion in 2013. Serta and Simmons still function independently of each other as two separate branding entities. And naturally they occupy the top 3 and 4 spots as retailers.

Serta Simmons have a collection of mattresses that range from complete memory foam, latex, hybrid, and innerspring. That variety of mattresses is in the double digits depending on the store. Their premium brand mattresses can price upwards of $3000.

2. Tempur Sealy

Tempur and Sealy function independently of one another

Tempur and Sealy also offer a huge variety of mattresses ranging from memory foam to hybrid to innerspring

Tempur-Sealy offers a much less dramatic rise to power. Tempur Pedic International was originally based on NASA foam tech. In fact, Swedish technical foam firm Fagerdala World Foams first introduced the Tempur Pedic mattress, then brought it to the US in 1992. And Tempur Pedic International, Inc. was founded. The company went public in 2003, charting a lightspeed trajectory to success.

That didn’t limit its notion of competition either. Tempur Pedic International decided to remove the one chink in its armor: its number one competitor Sealy. How? In 2012, only a few years after the Serta Simmons acquisition, Tempur Pedic International purchased its biggest rival Sealy Corporation for $228.6 million.

The merger created what they deemed “the world’s largest bedding company.” However, like Serta Simmons, Tempur and Sealy function independently of one another. Tempur-Sealy is said to make around $4 billion in sales each year. That leaves the “four brands” to focus on selling their line of mattresses without shaving down their prices.

For their part Tempur and Sealy also offer a huge variety of mattresses ranging from memory foam to hybrid to innerspring. And like their only true rivals Serta Simmons, Tempur-Sealy’s variety is also in the double digits. Premium mattresses can price upwards of $3000.

3. Tuft & Needle

Once the mattress is unboxed, it “inflates” and takes its natural shape

Tuft & Needle foam mattress comes vacuum packed in a box and then delivered for free

To hear some tell it, the mattress craze was years in the making. According to Tuft & Needle founder John Thomas Marino, one day he and his wife had become fed up with the $3000 mattress they purchased. So he reverse engineered the mattress components, sourced the material, and discovered that everything in his $3000 mattress actually cost only a total of $300 to $350 to produce. Essentially his expensive traditional mattress was yielding a tenfold profit for its distributor.

Marino suddenly decided to take the guesswork and frustration out of buying a mattress. He and business partner Daeshee Park founded Tuft & Needle, Amazon’s number one ranked online mattress company in 2015, with merely $6000 and the express purpose of cutting out any middlemen to deliver a foam mattress in a box to online customers.

The foam mattress comes vacuum packed in a box and then delivered for free. Once the mattress is unboxed, it “inflates” and takes its natural shape. You have a typical trial period of 100 days minimum and a free return policy if the mattress doesn’t fit your needs. Prices range from $500 to $1500

4. Casper

Casper bed in a box mattress

The features of this bed in a box mattress have become the DNA of the brand since its inception more than 2 years ago

And then there is the colossal success of Casper. After two years in operation since its inception in 2014, the online retailer has gone on to become a $100 million company. The idea is that one exceptional mattress that fits every size will outsell and outperform the plethora of traditional mattresses of a varying type that flood the market. And their bet has paid off.

Casper’s directive is: simply deliver the mattress across the continental United States free of charge, with 0% financing, a 10 year warranty and a 100 day trial period. Should you wish to return the mattress after your 100 days, it gets returned free of charge. And for good measure, the folks at Casper donate it to a local charity.

Those elements have become the DNA of the brand since its inception more than 2 years ago. In that time, the company has gone from a minuscule group of 12 marketing team employees to an impressive 120 employee outfit that has raised more than $70 million in venture capital. Its growth in the past 2 years has been astounding.

5. Eve

Eve bed in a box mattress

Eve claims to be world’s most convenient mattress

Meanwhile, Jas Bagniewski, founder of Eve, has seen a similar rate of growth and sales for his company. A one size fits all memory foam mattress gets shipped for free. And in turn, the company averages sales of 3800 mattresses per month. Bagniewski says Eve sees an average growth of 25% month to month.

The Eve mattress comes in 6 iterations and is available in 12 countries. That widens its stock and its net respectively. But its conception actually came from Bagniewski’s time working at another explosive startup, Groupon. “I joined when the company was making the transition from discounted services to products, so I spent a lot of time analysing the kinds of goods that could work for them. I started considering mattresses, because they traditionally have very high margins that lent themselves to a discount model.” And hence he launched the company with the help of friends and family.

But Bagniewski goes on to say to the Guardian that what separates Eve from Casper and Tuft & Needle is that Eve is essentially a tech company. Eve offers a 10 year warranty, 100 day trial and a money back guarantee if you return the mattress. Just what do they do with the mattress if you return it? They repurpose it or donate it.

How Do The Mattresses Stack Up
Traditional over online shipment methods

Consumers have a choice between upmarket prices for traditional mattresses or very affordable prices for online mattresses

The big question on everyone’s lips is do the new mattresses in town hold up to the traditional competition? And how do these e-commerce startups approach advertising? Should traditional mattress brands be shaking in their boots? Now that online retailers have burst upon the scene, consumers have a choice between upmarket prices for traditional mattresses or very affordable prices for online mattresses. Let’s have a look at the main contenders Casper, Tuft & Needle, Eve, Serta-Simmons, and Tempur-Sealy.

1. Advertising

Bed in a box mattress advertising
When it comes to advertising in a $14 billion industry, traditional mattress firms swallow up the startup competition handily. The big four readily spend on traditional print media, then couple it with digital media, TV, radio, viral campaigns and social networks. The result is a saturation of brand message across all platforms. The mild chance that you see a simple startup stealing the advertising thunder of a Tempur Pedic mattress campaign is slim to none.

2. Sealy Holds Reign

Sealy mattress

Tempur-Sealy’s profit margin has reportedly been hovering around the 53% mark since 2003.

Just to bring things into perspective, Sealy, Select Comfort and Mattress Firm (otherwise known as the big three “brands”) did $5.4 billion in sales in 2014, totaling $276 million in profit. That was up 11% for profit and 20% of sales. While online retailer Casper did $20 million in sales in its first 10 months and online brand Saatva did $29 million in 2014, Tempur-Sealy’s profit margin has reportedly been hovering around the 53% mark since 2003. In other words, the average 20 or so million dollars the top e-commerce brands are raking in is only a drop in the bucket to the multi-billion dollar profit the top traditional brands boast.

3. Casper’s Viral Campaign

No conversation about the online mattress startups would be complete without talking about how Casper has changed the game entirely. While it is not the first e-commerce mattress brand on the market, (Tuft & Needle would certainly attest to that) it is the one game-changer that has continually pumped money into its offline advertising campaigns. The New York based “alternative” mattress brand has strategically placed ads in subway stations and on taxis. Their humorous take on getting better sleep is further evidenced on social media, like their Twitter.

Co-founder Neil Parikh speaks admiringly of what he calls Casper’s “evangelists.” What started from a strong group of 15,000 plus customers who regularly tested Casper’s mattresses, supplied the company with sleep tracking data, and detailed their analysis has blossomed into a grassroots campaign of faithful customers sweeping the nation. Evangelists, as business insiders will note, go beyond the mark of being simply passionate customers, and they become the enthusiastic customers who sing the praises of the product everywhere they go.

4. Eve’s TV Presence

Eve’s clever advertising isn’t limited to ads on taxis or cheeky social media posts. Instead the company went straight for the jugular by offering a portion of the company to big UK TV network Channel 4. The result, Eve gets free TV advertising and Channel 4 gets a big piece of the online mattress pie. Given that TV advertising is as expensive as they come in the delicate game of marketing, Eve secured a coup. The payoff has been explosively rewarding.

Then there is the Nap Station phenomenon. Eve launched a co-working space at The Old Truman Brewery in East London where visitors can take power naps on the Eve mattress. The result, a grassroots viral campaign grows its own legs and puts Eve on a par with Casper for generating buzz.

Performance

Traditional mattresses can price upwards of $2000 in stark contrast to the average online mattress retailing for $500. It is only recently that the top tier traditional brands have begun to allow for a 100 day trial period. But they typically attach a return fee. Casper, Eve, and Tuft & Needle all boast a 10-year warranty for their respective mattresses. The top traditional brands boast a 10 or 20-year warranty. And while consumers usually phase out their mattress after 10 to 12 years, the argument for one warranty over the other is debatable. What the ultimate critique comes down to is how comfortable and adaptable are the mattresses in question.

The top traditional brands boast a 10 or 20-year warranty.

What the ultimate critique comes down to is how comfortable and adaptable are the mattresses in question

Sleep Like The Dead has run regular tests of mattress brands, rating everything from owner satisfaction to performance. Perhaps the most interesting initial finding is that memory foam mattresses are the most popular with a customer rating of 80%. Second most popular are latex mattresses at 79%. But this also should be taken into context. Design aesthetic really has no bearing on overall customer satisfaction. Futons and air mattresses performed just as high with 75% and 77% respectively.

1. Casper’s Pros And Cons

The general consensus says that the Casper mattress is comfortable and affordable. And that shows in Casper’s bottom line. Philip Krim, the CEO of Casper, secured more than $55 million in investment from a select group of investors that includes Hollywood heavyweights like Leonardo Dicaprio and Tobey Maguire. As a result, Casper expects to see growth average at 35% month to month. Essentially, it’s raking in $1 million in sales a month.

Casper uses more than one layer of glue chemicals to construct its multi-foam mattress

For a “universal mattress” Casper only supports 6 sizes

However the drawback to Casper is that for a “universal mattress” it only supports 6 sizes and it only recently within the past few months has expanded sales deeper into the European Union. Secondly, Casper uses more than one layer of glue chemicals to construct its multi-foam mattress. How environmentally friendly are they? While long term studies are yet to be conducted, there is a large community of researchers who suggest the chemicals can be toxic.

2. Tuft & Needle’s Pros And Cons

Largely credited as the pioneer in the e-commerce mattress revolution, Tuft & Needle has a small collection of mattresses according to size. Essentially one mattress and a few varying sizes fill the lookbook here. The final verdict says that while comfortable, these mattresses are not suited for heavier people.

Tuft & Needle lists every layer of its mattress’ composition, component by component

Tuft & Needle is more environmentally friendly than Casper

But for its part, Tuft & Needle lists every layer of its mattress’ composition, component by component. And it is more environmentally friendly than Casper, using only one layer of glue in the mattress’ construction. Also it gasses off a 0.05 parts per million of carbon dioxide after it is unboxed. And it uses no fire retardants or similar chemicals. Its carbon footprint is minimal at worst, making it a very environmentally friendly mattress. That level of transparency has come back in dividends. It raked in $1 million in net revenue in its first year, $9 million the next, then exploded into $75 plus million in 2015.

3. Eve’s Pros And Cons

Eve’s European sales performance pales a bit in contrast with its overall sales. It does a reported 800 mattresses a month with a turnover of 500,000 euros per month. And it is only available in 8 European countries, which is only a third of the 20 plus EU member countries. However, Eve purports to sell the “world’s most comfortable mattress.”

Eve mattress is really only suitable for lightweight people

Eve is only available in 8 European countries, which is only a third of the 20 plus EU member countries

The Stiftung Warentest Foundation tested the Eve mattress (scoring it at an abysmal 4.7 with a score of 1 being best) and found the Eve mattress really only suitable for lightweight people. Also, at the time of the test, the carcinogenic flame retardant TCPP was found in the mattress. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment listed TCPP as dangerous and to be regulated in Proposition 65. So naturally, Eve’s impact on the environment was damning according to the Stiftung Warentest.

Since the test, the brand has shifted production to a location in Germany where it will no longer include TCPP in the mattresses.

4. Tempur-Pedic’s Pros And Cons

Overall Tempur-Pedic has the second highest customer approval rating at 81% according to Sleep Like The Dead. The traditional mattress brand performed a bit better in terms of longevity and durability than even the top performer e-commerce brand Bed In A Box (83% customer approval). Customers report keeping their Tempur-Pedic mattress for an average of 8 years. And its Flex line scored solidly across the board for back support, conforming ability and even supporting heavy people. Where the brand falters is obviously with its higher price. And given that it is a traditional brand, should you decide to return your mattress, there could be a return fee. Tempur-Pedic hasn’t been completely forthcoming about what happens to returned mattresses. But the assumption is they are disposed of, donated or repurposed.

The synthetic foam mattresses come with a list of ingredients that may or may not be harmful to health

Tempur-Pedic Flex line scored solidly across the board for back support

How environmentally friendly are the mattresses? The all natural iterations are extremely eco-friendly but come with premium prices. The synthetic foam mattresses come with a list of ingredients that may or may not be harmful to your health and the environment in the long term.

5. Serta-Simmons Pros And Cons

Meanwhile, Serta-Simmons scored only in the 63% customer approval range. The number 3 and 4 ranked mattresses had average approval ratings for comfort and versatility. For durability and longevity, they fared much better. But ultimately what dogs the brand is its premium price and accessibility to heavier people. While they create a line of firm mattresses that can support heavy people, the prices can launch upwards of $2000 and $3000.

Serta-Simmons scored only in the 63% customer approval range

Serta Simmons range from very environmentally friendly all natural mattresses to innerspring and synthetic foam mattresses

On the plus side, Serta and Simmons have a very diverse collection of mattresses. They range from very environmentally friendly all natural mattresses to innerspring and synthetic foam mattresses that can have a heavy impact on the environment. The more natural the mattress, the more expensive it will be. Just like Tempur-Sealy, expect a return fee if you do return the mattress. And what becomes of that returned mattress? It gets donated or repurposed.

The Game Changers

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. A few e-tailers are looking at both traditional and the spate of startup business models with an eye towards long-term performance and staying power. Who are the spoilers to the game?

1. Latex Sense

The British brand Latex Sense is a relative newcomer

Unlike most e-commerce mattress companies, Latex Sense has a vast collection of mattresses, bedding and accessories

The British brand Latex Sense is a relative newcomer. But it hasn’t wasted any time creating just the kind of buzz that pushes it to the front of the conversation. Sourcing a combination of natural, synthetic and hybrid materials for their latex mattresses, the company boasts a line that is fully adaptable to every kind of body. Their Dunlop Mattress starts at $350. Their organic range tops out at about $1500.

But unlike most e-commerce mattress companies, Latex Sense has a vast collection of mattresses, bedding and accessories. And they’ve made it an express effort to have a minimal impact on the environment by sourcing only raw materials. That’s clearly evidenced in the wide range of 100% latex mattresses and fully organic ones. The result is a general consensus that says the mattresses are durable, comfortable and affordable.

2. Helix


Helix occupies a very peculiar space. It is essentially a hybrid form of mattress, using foam, mini coils and latex to create a mattress that is customizable. What that means in longevity is yet to be determined. But for warranty and price, it sits in the same discussion as the other e-tailers. It boasts a 10 year warranty, 100 plus day trial period, free delivery and return. The price ranges from $600 to $1195.

Helix hopes to take the best qualities of inner spring mattresses traditional brands curate and couple them with the memory foam qualities usually found with e-tailers. The result is a mix of the positives and negatives of both forms. But if you are a couple, you can optimize each side to suit your needs.

3. Bett1.de

So of the Warentest Foundation’s test flock of mattresses, who performed well? Believe it or not, a little-known brand called Bett1.de scored a strong 1.8 for its Bodyguard mattress. In fact, Bett1 has cited Stiftung in its promotional campaign. The Bodyguard offers a 100 day trial period and retails for 199 euros. The mattress itself uses a breathable, lightweight yet firm mixture of materials including a 100% polyester cover, 3D spacer knits and an upper layer of Hybreeze.

Bett1.de is the least expensive mattress on the market

The mattress uses a breathable, lightweight yet firm mixture of materials including a 100% polyester cover

The German brand has taken on board the fact that the majority of memory foam mattresses sold online don’t support heavy people. The mattress was tested with a 140 kg (309 pounds) roller that rolled over the mattress more than 60,000 times. It retained its form, resisted heat and moisture, and supported the weight easily. For possibly the least expensive mattress on the market, it outperforms the competition in leaps and bounds.

4. Bed In A Box

Bed In A Box performed best with an 83% customer rating

The brand offers a nice line of memory foam and hybrid mattresses

Similarly to its German peer Bett1, amongst a group of mattress giants tested by Sleep Like The Dead, Bed In A Box performed best with an 83% customer rating. It was found to last 6.5 years which is a little longer than average. And the memory foam did adhere to most body types. However just as mentioned earlier, this kind of mattress isn’t built to support heavier bodies. And customers reported an initial smell after unboxing the mattress.

The brand offers a nice line of memory foam and hybrid mattresses that start at a reasonable $649. Finding a personalized mattress suddenly becomes easier with this new take on e-commerce bedding.

Long Haul Or Short Term

The 
online mattress trend

Here’s where the results leave room for adjustment. Customers buy mattresses for many different reasons. But what separates one mattress’ performance from another is longevity. For how long do you intend to use the mattress? Naturally, a mattress that will be used for only a few years and then jettisoned into the bin or donated to charity will have different expectations of it than that of a mattress that will be in your home for a decade or more. The same comparison could be made of a home or a car for example. Starter homes and first cars won’t necessarily be the ones that we cling to through a solid chunk of our lives.

And the same argument can be made for the online mattress phenomenon. Online retailers have yet to be tested over a period beyond a decade given the phenomenon is still so new. Traditional mattress brands, however, are banking on customers buying their upmarket priced mattresses and sticking with them through the long haul of 10 years or more. Hence you have your minimum 10-year warranty for the big four at every turn. And quite a number of the traditional brands are offering 20-year warranties.

The jury is still out on the online mattress craze. A few more years will be needed to see how the mattresses evolved after long term use. And it will also be interesting to see how the big mattress brands have adjusted their game plans to suit the ever-evolving marketplace. In the meantime, online mattress brands seem to perform exceptionally well over the short term and for average body types. Traditional mattress brands still perform best overall in terms of sales and longevity. And they don’t look to be at risk of losing that mantle anytime in the near future.

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