BSC Study Confirms a Divided Nation

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Possibly a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers favor softer mattresses, especially among young shoppers, according to a Better Sleep Council survey

The country is divided. One side is getting softer. The other is holding firm.

No, we are not talking politics, my friends. We are talking mattress firmness or the lack thereof. 

One of the many interesting points to emerge from my reading of a big Better Sleep Council consumer survey is that the nation is split almost right down the middle on mattress firmness, with 51% putting themselves in the very firm or firm camp, and 49% describing themselves as favoring a soft or very soft mattress. So the firm side wins by a slender margin, for the time being anyway. (The BSC is the consumer education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.)

But the fact is the BSC study reveals that the soft crowd is gaining ground. In 2016, 42% of consumers favored a softer mattress. Now, as I just noted, that percentage has climbed to 49%. It looks like the softer side of the country is poised to take the majority in the midterm elections — er, the next major BSC survey.

One of the reasons for that shift just may be the Covid-19 pandemic. Tellingly, the BSC study found that consumers under stay-at-home orders are more than twice as likely as other consumers to prefer a very soft mattress (45% vs. 19%). That makes sense to me. I see the pandemic as encouraging consumers to find extra comfort in their homes — and that especially includes their mattresses.

One of the reasons for that shift just may be the Covid-19 pandemic. Tellingly, the BSC study found that consumers under stay-at-home orders are more than twice as likely as other consumers to prefer a very soft mattress (45% vs. 19%).

It also is significant to note that age factors come to play on the firmness question. Almost half of consumers ages 18 to 35 prefer a soft mattress, compared with 22% of those ages 36 to 55, and just 7% of those 56 and older. I confess being puzzled by those findings. I always thought it was younger consumers who could “sleep on anything,” which presumably would include everything from the floor to a hard bed. I welcome your thoughts on the connection between age and mattress firmness.

The BSC study also finds the country fairly evenly divided on spring and foam beds. Twenty-two percent of consumers described hybrids made with both springs and foam as being described as the best mattress. That same percentage says a foam mattress is best, and almost that same percentage (21%) say that spring mattresses are the best. 

Surprisingly, 7% of consumers say that waterbeds — remember them? — are the best mattresses. That’s almost as many (8%) who say that adjustable air chamber mattresses are best.

A key finding of the BSC consumer study is that the mattress replacement cycle remains about the same as it was in 2016, the last time the BSC conducted a similar broad consumer survey. In 2020, the expected replacement mean was 9.5 years, and the actual replacement mean was 9 years. In 2016, the expected replacement mean was 9.4 years, and the actual replacement mean was 8.9 years.

Back in 2007, the expected and actual replacement means were both in double digits, which means, in my view, that too many consumers were holding onto their old mattresses for far too long. Back then, 18% of consumers expected a mattress to last for 16 years or longer. Now, thankfully, that number is down to 8%.

Mattresses are personal comfort products that are not designed to be used for decades. Yes, mattresses are usually out of sight, but they should never be out of mind. It’s important to encourage consumers to regularly evaluate their current mattress, especially when the mattress is doing double duty in many homes these days as a sleeping surface and as a home office surface.