Hoping to retire their decades-old mattress, a couple in their 50s explores the nuances of today’s bedding options. Here’s what they found
Knowledge is power in mattress retailing just like it is anywhere else, but there’s a fine line between educating shoppers and overwhelming them with information.
For this issue’s Undercover, we sent a 50-something couple living in a major Great Plains city out mattress shopping. They’ve slept on the same mattress for about 20 years, a queen-size pillow-top that still offers plenty of comfort and support. They admit it’s overdue for replacement, but they’ve had little incentive to do so since the current mattress still suites them. As a result, they’re unfamiliar with recent mattress trends.
We equipped them with a detailed checklist to assess factors ranging from store appearance to rest-testing and asked them to visit three mattress retailers in their area — a family-owned chain, a regional furniture chain and a small local sleep chain. They spent about an hour at each store and visited the retailers’ websites to evaluate the ease of online shopping. Here’s what they found.
Store 1: Family-owned chain keeps it light but thorough
This chain’s flagship furniture store is a sprawling, bustling facility that encompasses everything from furniture to lighting to rugs — and yes, mattresses — as well as a distribution center and clearance facility. It’s a busy place.
The retailers’ mattress centers, in contrast, are smaller and quieter. This ultimately proved to be a stroke of genius, as we learned in a later visit to another chain. But more on that in a moment.
One mattress center occupies a separate space adjoining the main store. Other centers are scattered throughout the metropolitan area, so we decided to visit one close to our suburban home.
Here’s the thing: Even though we had driven by it plenty of times, we were only dimly aware this mattress center was there. Situated in a shopping center along a congested stretch of road, its streetside signage is faded and gets lost among the other signs lined up there. That includes a sign for the dead shoe store that used to occupy the neighboring shop space. A semitractor-trailer parked alongside the building was covered with a promotional banner, but the banner faced the neighboring building instead of the street, so it was hard to see.
The store exterior itself, however, was clean and neat, with fresh paint and signage listing the brands the store carries. Likewise, the store interior appeared clean and well-organized, a big open space with the beds arranged by price and type.
Two people, including a retail sales associate, were at the counter in the back with customers. The RSA immediately left the counter to greet us. He was neatly dressed in business casual, and we quickly established we had mutual acquaintances. He urged us to look around as he finished up with the previous customers, assuring us he’d quickly return.
That gave us time to take in the store itself. The space is split between more conventional mattresses and memory foam mattresses, each clearly marked
with brand and price. Each also was outfitted with two pillows and a foot protector. Some also had mockups showing how the mattress interior is constructed.
More pillows were on display in the middle of the space with sheets and other accessories shelved on the back wall.
The RSA returned quickly, as he promised, and we began trying out beds. He let us set the pace, asking us questions about what we needed and explaining the merits of each bed as we tested it. His breadth and depth of knowledge was impressive. He even knew where the mattresses were manufactured — most just down the road as it turns out — and easily explained the pros and cons of each for our needs. I mentioned that I often got overheated at night and had to kick off the covers.
“Oh really?” he said. “Come check this out.”
He led us to the memory foam section and had us try out one with a cooling technology. He also had us test out a couple of adjustable bases, explaining that any of these mattresses could go onto such a base. And he introduced us to a world of pillows we didn’t even know existed, the sort that stay cool and are only as firm as you need them to be.
In between, he wove in explanations about financing and the chain’s latest promotions, as well as delivery timetable and charges. He also told us about a loyalty program that would give us free delivery.
He figured up the cost of two different systems, writing each down and included his business card.
At no point did we feel pressured or manipulated. In fact, our RSA offered a pleasant experience shaped around what we wanted, and when we got ready to leave, he didn’t even request contact information from us. He left that ball firmly in our court.
Online: Family-Owned Chain
The mattress centers don’t have their own websites. The mattress department is simply a part of the main store site. Still, it’s easy to navigate, and current promotions are prominently displayed on the mattress page. The sheer enormity of the selection can be daunting, but the site offers options to filter by either walking you through a sleep quiz or by brand, size, comfort level and price. A checklist on the results page enables you to further refine your selection, though that option isn’t available on the mobile site.
Sheets, pillows and other accessories also are available online, and so are boxed beds. Ordering is a simple matter, be it for delivery or pickup, and you can register your phone or invoice number to track your delivery.
The mattress centers aren’t individually reviewed on Google, though the main store is rated 3.7 out of 5 stars.
Report Card: Family-Owned Chain
+ Big selection with clearly marked prices
+ Well-organized store
+ Knowledgeable RSA with no sales pressure.
– The location has seen better days.
Store 2: Regional furniture chain turns quest for rest into hard work
Located in the heart of the city’s furniture district, this chain’s established flagship store lures would-be shoppers through use of high-resolution digital signs. Messaging about store’s offerings relies heavily on the personality of the owner, whose face dominates its advertising. When it comes to its mattresses, the store takes a unique approach, promoting the health benefits of a properly selected mattress and its ability to deliver on that promise.
The RSA met us at the door, as they all do at this store, and he led us upstairs to the mattress department. From the outset, his air was friendly and professional, dressed in business casual with a tie and carrying a clipboard. As he led us upstairs, he talked about the store’s emphasis on a healthy sleep experience and the proprietary assessment system the retailer uses to match customers and mattresses.
The first stop in the assessment was a split-king-size bed situated at the department’s entrance. The store’s in-house expert — probably a chiropractor and prominently featured in advertising — joined the RSA at this point. After entering some preliminary information in the computer — mainly dealing with sleep positions and pain — they asked us to lie flat so the system could scan us. We were given a “flat, properly aligned” pillow and a disposable, sterile cover for it, and the bed already featured heavy foot protectors. An overhead television showed an almost video gamelike image as the scan progressed.
Now, remember that stroke of genius that was the smaller, quieter mattress center? Here, we were lying flat on a bed as throngs of strangers pushed past us. We stayed on that bed as the computer printed out our color-coded results, and the in-house expert explained what constituted a healthy mattress and a good night’s sleep. It was an uncomfortable experience, and the one-size-fits-all explanation didn’t add much value for us because we didn’t need to alleviate any medical issues.
The mattresses on the sales floor are grouped by color — colored tags on the mattresses corresponding to the colors on the scan results. Though our RSA had us try others for comparison, he mostly kept us in our color code. This system, he said, eliminates mattresses that the customer would reject anyway.
We had to carry our pillows and covers from bed to bed as we tried them since the beds all had foot protectors but no pillows. The RSA shadowed us, pointing out the mattresses uniquely qualified to benefit our health. He didn’t ask about our budget or mention financing or delivery.
Mattress and base prices are displayed clearly, but those prices appear to be a starting point with the RSA empowered to offer discounts depending on the situation. Though he stayed close, the RSA never pressured us. “I’d like to help you find that perfect new mattress,” he told us when we left.
Overall, this store offered a decent shopping experience, though we felt hemmed in by the color coding and bothered by the hustle and bustle around us. In fairness, this was the only location we visited that was attached to a bigger store.
Online: Regional Furniture Chain
The webpage for this furniture retailer is clean and easy to navigate. The health-centered sales campaign is prominent online, along with links to supporting research. The website allows to you monitor your account, obtain credit and track orders. Store hours and addresses of all locations of the chain also are listed. Consumers can schedule an appointment to be scanned for the appropriate mattress type, and the site lists everything the store offers, including bedding accessories.
The one thing you can’t do at the website: actually order anything. Prices aren’t even listed, and this is probably because of the emphasis on technology matching customers to their perfect bed. It does offer numerous options to contact the store and have questions answered.
The store has a Google rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars with reviews ranging from those saying “it is a trusted, professional location” to those still waiting for concerns to be addressed. A store representative responded to many of the concerns, offering to correct the problems.
Report Card: Regional Furniture Chain
+ Wide selection of mattresses
+ Knowledgeable staff
+ Customers with health concerns may find the scan and consultation helpful.
– Emphasis on the scan results can feel limiting
– Busy atmosphere can detract from the experience.
Store 3: Small local sleep chain offers big advantages
Located around the corner from the city’s furniture district, this shop easily might be overlooked except its staff parked one of its delivery trucks at the corner to act as signage. It was a large truck with a bright logo on the side, so it was effective.
The small chain has less than a half-dozen stores in the area. It’s known for its humorous commercials featuring its young founder, who also serves as the face of the brand. In-store signage, though, emphasizes just the logo. In fact, of the three stores we visited, this is the only one not associated with a family name, and we soon found out why.
There were three RSAs in the store when we entered, and one immediately broke away to greet us. The feel was casual and friendly with the RSA dressed neatly in a store polo and slacks. He stayed close by and answered all of our questions but didn’t hover. He was knowledgeable about the mattress brands the store carried — established brands we normally don’t encounter in our part of the country.
Our RSA obviously was aware of how closely identified the chain’s brand is with its founder, and he told us how its group had worked together in sales at one of the larger chains before he struck out on his own and took them with him. So, even though he founded the chain and heavily promotes it on television, they are all part of the concept. Our RSA said one of the key improvements made was to put sales staff on salary plus commission, presumably eliminating the dreaded “shopper stalker.”
The store was clean and organized in rows going from softest to firmest, each bed outfitted with pillows and a foot protector, and prices clearly marked on each. Sheets and pillows were displayed in their own section. This location is the chain’s newest, so the paint was fresh and the carpet underfoot soft, all offering a hushed atmosphere that made mattress shopping easier.
Several people came in while we were there, and the RSAs all followed the same tactic of remaining close by but not hovering. Our RSA moved easily between us and another group that appeared to have even less of a clue than we did. He had us conduct side-by-side comparisons of beds to establish exactly what firmness we needed and guided us accordingly.
The RSA didn’t mention financing or promotions, though he did tell us about the chain’s policy allowing customers to trade in one purchased mattress set for another for a limited time. He also explained its delivery fee and timetable, lower priced and faster than other stores.
Like at the other stores, there was no effort to seal the deal here. He provided a business card at my request and urged us to call him if we had any questions.
Online: Small Local Sleep Chain
Its website was the least cluttered of the three, though in fairness it is the only truly standalone mattress shop of the three we visited. It’s designed to reflect the aesthetic of a local shop, with a timeline of its business and a full listing with pictures of its employees from all its locations. But the online product selection is robust, allowing you to order everything, including mattresses, pillows, sheets and bases online. Mattresses can be filtered by size, comfort level and type. It offers several options for financing, as well, all explained with an option to apply in the site’s financing section.
The store has a Google rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars with reviews largely praising the retailer for professionalism and no sales pressure. A store representative responded to most if not all the reviews, offering thanks.
Report Card: Small Local Sleep Chain
+ Quiet, well-organized store made it easy to shop and compare beds
+ No sales pressure.
– More information on financing would have been nice, even if just through signs.