Buying a Mattress Online Was Easy
Now, About the Return
Web-based mattress retailers vow they’ll take the product back if it flunks a comfy-sleep test. And they do, but it’s not simple.
Your Money By RON LIEBER SEPT. 16, 2016 Here is your mattress shopping bill of rights, 2016 edition:
- You are entitled to a multiple-night sleep test in your home.
- Returns should be free.
- Getting rid of the mattress should not require turning back flips and begging.
In recent years, a number of new companies, including Casper, Helix, Leesa, Saatva and Tuft & Needle, have declared that they will abide by these rules. This is great news, assuming they actually follow through. So this summer, I put the five companies to the test by ordering a mattress from each one, then returning them all, just to see how painful the process would be.
Why bother? Let’s begin with something that should have been obvious to mattress retailers decades ago but apparently was not: Buying bedding in a showroom is absurd. Most of us spend a quarter to a third of our lives on mattresses, and they are essential to our physical and mental health. So testing plastic-covered beds while fully clothed, under the florescent lights of a store with a commissioned salesclerk hovering over us, makes no sense whatsoever.
When I made a similar declaration (and conducted a similar test) in The Wall Street Journal in 2004, the process was painful and expensive. I paid several hundred dollars in return and “disposal” fees and spent a lot of time waiting.
Things are better now. All five of the companies I tested charged me nothing for the return. Only Saatva charges any shipping or delivery fee, and its $99 covered three guys showing up at my apartment with a plastic-wrapped mattress and carefully carrying it inside. The other four companies compress their mattresses and cram them into boxes for shipping, though Casper offers free courier delivery of the box in my neighborhood.
I offer no recommendations on comfort. Mattresses are like shoes or bras or chairs in that different people with different bodies will have different needs.
As for the hassle of returning an unwanted mattress, none of the companies flunked the test. Leesa normally requires customers to keep a mattress for at least 30 days before returning it, but it waived that rule when I sent an email questioning the logic of that policy when I knew I didn’t want it anymore.
The Times’s Your Money columnist, Ron Lieber, opening the Leesa mattress outside his apartment in Brooklyn. Credit Cole Wilson for The New York Times Saatva sent a crew to pick up its mattress, so there was no trouble there. (And it should have been hassle-free given that it snootily markets its product as a “luxury purchase, unlike other online mattress sellers who stuff their beds in a box and leave it for you to handle.”)
Still, many things happened during the return process that I never could have predicted. It’s not practical for individual consumers to re-compress their beds, shove them in the original boxes and hand them back over to UPS or FedEx, though one early Tuft & Needle customer did manage to box up his mattress for return and stick the company with a $300 shipping bill.
So the surprises began when Casper, Helix and Leesa dispatched the 1-800-Got-Junk truck to fetch my never-been-slept-on bedding. Under normal circumstances, the companies try to find a way to get returned mattresses to a needy person. Helix claims to have 3,000 donation partners in its database.
Like most online sellers, Tuft & Needle compresses the mattresses for shipping. Credit Cole Wilson for The New York TimesBut when it came to my mattresses, the local Salvation Army truck was booked until October, according to the customer service representatives at Tuft & Needle and Helix who tried to help me before calling in the junk haulers. Bedbug-fearing nonprofit groups and strict New York City regulations pose special challenges for the companies in my area, it turns out.
Evan Cohen, the general manager of the 1-800-Got-Junk franchise that covers Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island, says that it manages to completely recycle 30 to 40 percent of the mattresses. The other mattresses go to transfer stations, where some parts of them may be recycled before the rest of the material ends up in a landfill.
The potential environmental cost of returns is bad enough. But the companies must also pay 1-800-Got-Junk to haul the mattresses away. Mr. Cohen said that he would charge an individual $118 to haul away an old mattress. Mattress companies that hire the company to handle returned mattresses get a bulk discount.
Saatva guarantees that a local delivery company will bring your mattress. Ours came wrapped in plastic. Credit Cole Wilson for The New York Times Still, those costs are high enough on mattresses that ranged from about $550 to about $950 for my full-size models to have the potential to cause serious problems for the companies. David Wolfe, chief executive of Leesa, said he was all for the unalienable right to an in-home trial. “But it’s not going to be helpful for the industry if people start to order multiple mattresses,” he said.
He urged consumers to thoroughly research any mattress purchase before starting an in-home trial. And you can’t blame the guy for not wanting to end up like Zappos, where people frequently order piles of shoes with the intention of keeping just one or two pairs.
All of the companies claim return rates below 10 percent. 1-800-Got-Junk reports having taken in about 9,000 mattresses this year on behalf of the various direct-selling mattress retailers it works with.
Casper provided a tool to open its mattress. Credit Cole Wilson for The New York Times Tuft & Needle provided the most unusual return experience I’ve ever had as a consumer. Its website promises that “we” will work together to donate a returned mattress. “It’s that easy,” the site reads.
In reality, the company could not find a charity partner near me. So it posed a challenge of sorts. I could find a worthy organization on my own and send Tuft & Needle an ad hoc receipt of sorts, with a signature from the recipient. Failing that, I could give the mattress to a friend or family member in need and provide similar proof. If that didn’t work, I could post a note on Craigslist or Free cycle offering to give the mattress away. And if that wasn’t possible, the junk truck was an option.
Given that the other companies had already told me how hard it was to give a mattress away in New York City, I wasn’t optimistic. But I posted a note on my personal Facebook page, and a friend I’d made years ago and hadn’t seen since popped up to tell me about a sex-trafficking victim her organization was helping. The client had just moved to a new apartment with her family and was sleeping on the floor. Could I help her? And sorry but no, the organization had no moving truck or anything like that.
Helix claims to have 3,000 donation partners in its database. Credit Cole Wilson for The New York Times Which was how I found myself behind the wheel of a rental van a few nights later with a case manager from Sanctuary for Families, driving to a neighborhood in Queens that the organization asked me not to identify. We hauled the mattress up a narrow flight of stairs and dropped it off for the grateful recipient. “I will be able to sleep happy for once,” she said.
That was a heartwarming and unexpected ending to what was supposed to be a virtual shopping experience, but I need not have left my own apartment. Daehee Park, a co-founder of Tuft & Needle, said that if I had spoken up about the van rental bill and the time-consuming nature of the potential donation, the company might have hired a errand runner from Task rabbit to handle it. “We try to do what we can,” he said.
Like Mr. Wolfe at Leesa, however, he does worry about people abusing their in-home testing privileges (though he declined The New York Times’s offer to pay in full after all, as did the other companies). He and his competitors deserve enormous credit for trying to make free, in-home trials the price of admission for participating in the mattress industry, and all of us should demand the same deal from brick-and-mortar retailers.
So now that the mattress start-ups have proved that they’re serious about real-world sleep tests, please don’t take undue advantage of them. “You can never prevent people from gaming a system,” Mr. Park said.
A version of this article appears in print on September 17, 2016, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Mattress That’s Just Right.
Often imitated, never duplicated–
Buying a mattress online, getting it just right. Look at all the companies Ron Lieber of the New York Times has found that have tried to copy the FloBeds model. Of course Flobeds are 100% Talalay Latex… and do cost a bit more. You get what you pay for? (Oh… and of the 4% we can’t get just right… the return is very straight forward:) But then again, we’ve been shipping Dreams in a Box for 20 years!