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  • Buying the right mattress is crucial, but it is also confusing and complex. 
  • Mattress producers and sellers make it difficult to compare products. 
  • You need to understand their tricks to avoid being ripped off.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.


Buying a mattress is an important decision. Along with exercising and eating well, sound sleep is one of the fundamentals of good health. But it’s also one of the most confusing decisions you’ll likely make in your adult life. 

Considering that we sleep for one third of our lives, and will likely only purchase around a handful of mattresses during this time, it stands to reason that mattress purchases should get due consideration.

But, even with all the consideration and care in the world, you may find it difficult to make a decision.

Much of the complexity of buying a new mattress is fuelled by the very companies wanting you to make a decision.

Many mattress companies use a variety of tricks, which range from subtly sneaky to pure evil, in order to get you part with as much money possible.

Here are some of their tricks:

They make it difficult to compare prices among competitors

Price-savvy shoppers know that online comparisons can save you thousands, and help avoid dud products. 

Although price comparison websites are often dubious, it’s usually possible to get a good idea of products across an industry by doing manual online or multi-store checks.

But it is difficult to compare mattresses. That’s because most traditional mattress manufacturers leave their products nameless, and allow retailers to rebrand their mattresses.

Mattress manufacturer Sealy’s Collection range, for example, includes 9 different unnamed mattresses. The Sealy website lists these according to generalised specifications and comfort levels.

This allows each independent store that sells these mattresses to rebrand, and price, mattresses as they wish.

For example, the cheapest double Sealy mattress on The Mattress Warehouse website is the “Sealy Posturepedic Alon Firm”, at R4,199.

This mattress does not exist on competitor websites like Beds Direct, Beds On Line, or Dial A Bed.

However, Beds Direct has a similarly-named and priced “Amom Firm” mattress. And Beds On Line an “Alco Firm”.

The trend continues throughout the mattress ranges, and is not a tactic exclusive to Sealy.

Reviews are also hard to come by, and believe

Reviews of mattresses are difficult to find, mainly because of the naming issue, set out above.

Unlike with other products on sale online, the fractured naming system makes comprehensive reviews of mattresses difficult to come by.

The rise of online mattress companies like Casper in the US has changed how the industry works - including increasing the number of online reviews.

But take the plethora of rave reviews for this style of mattress with a pinch of salt, because most are reviewed by ‘mattress bloggers’, who receive free goods in exchange for positive reviews.

Most mattress review sites also make their money off referral fees, which means bad reviews don’t make for good business.

And for those independent review sites swimming upstream, mattress companies do their best to silence them. In 2016, Casper sued several bloggers who dared to leave vaguely critical reviews of their products.

They run so-called massive sales

Many mattress shops run regular sales with discounts of up to 50%.

These are designed to get feet through doors or clicks on websites. But they may not be as impressive as they seem.

Again, because it is difficult to compare mattresses, confirming whether an advertised discount is really a bargain, is complicated. It’s nearly impossible to compare discounted prices of all mattresses across stores.

When you can compare mattresses, the sale price of one store is often surprisingly similar to the retail price of others.

Much like South Africa’s daily deals websites, it appears many stores make use of elevated recommended retail prices to claim to be offering higher discounts than they actually are.

Many manufacturers also only allow retailers to sell a specific mattress at or above an agreed price. Because of this, it’s unlikely that the massive discount on your favourite brand mattress is all that significant after all.

They’ll try to make you purchase a mattress protector or bed frame

Most mattress companies offer extended warranties in order to persuade you to part with your cash.

But salespeople may tell you that unless you purchase an expensive mattress protector or a base or boxspring you’re not covered by their warranty, and you won’t be able to return the mattress.

According to South Africa’s Consumer Protection Act, they’re required to accept returns of certain defective and unwanted goods. The CPA doesn’t cover you if you try to return an unsanitary mattress or one that you damaged, and so it may be a good idea to purchase one anyway. Some special comfort guarantees are also dependent on you purchasing a protector of some kind.

Still - you’re also not under any obligation to buy expensive accessories in order to receive standard consumer protection offered by the law, but read the extended warranty carefully before making the decision.

If you already have a bed, there’s usually no need to include the base, and you should receive a discount on the purchase price if you choose to exclude it. Beware that the salespeople may try to tell you that your base may damage the new mattress, or that purchasing a boxspring included with the mattress does add much to the price.

‘Comfort returns’ aren’t as easy as they sound

It’s almost impossible to feel comfortable with a mattress decision after lying on one in a store for five minutes.

Mattress stores know this, and so they’ll attempt to ease your decision-making process by offering a “comfort guarantee”.

In most cases these guarantees offer shallow little peace of mind, because they seldom come without conditions or as a full refund option.

They often come with a list of onerous conditions - such as the mattress must not be marked or soiled in any way, and you can only exchange for products in the same price range or higher.

There may also be hidden costs associated - either to activate the guarantee, or for collection and delivery.

Although mattress companies make bold claims about comfort guarantees, it’s important to read the terms and conditions of these carefully before believing them as they’re advertised.

They are trying to get the most commission

Many mattress salespeople make commission on mattress sales. This means you may be in danger of not getting an honest opinion based on your exact needs, but rather on which mattresses pay the most commission.

It also means salespeople will often turn their noses up at certain in-store brands for being “inferior”, when in actual fact they may be perfectly good beds that simply pay less commission.

Go into the process with this in mind, and you might be able to work it to your advantage, though. The displayed prices are often a starting point for negotiation - even if the store is running a so-called sale.

You can try to bargain with the salesperson, and ask them to throw in extras like pillows, bed bases or mattress protectors as an incentive.

They ask you your budget and then sell accordingly

Because mattress sales are so cutthroat, most salespeople are skilled at working out what customers are willing to spend.

And because few people are regular mattress buyers, it’s also very difficult to know what a fair price would be.

Mattress salespeople know this, and some will pitch the products according to your budget, rather than actual requirements.

Despite what the salesperson might tell you, there’s often very little difference between mid-level and the top-of-the-line mattresses. The most expensive, which are marketed as the top of the line, aren’t necessarily the best.

Understanding the tricks to avoid being ripped off

As frustrating as mattress purchases are, they are a necessary evil. If you’re in need of a new mattress and don’t want to fall for the tricks of the industry, your first step should be to compare like with like.

Most major brands have various “lines”. Within each there are usually 3 different types of mattresses - named along the lines of firm, medium, and plush.

With this in mind, you can then more easily compare prices across stores, and online.

Sleep experts recommend you visit several stores in-person and lie down on each, to find which specific type of mattress suits you best.

Although salespeople may attempt to close the deal on the spot, resist the urge.

Instead, request that the store provides you with a quote on the best prices possible (preferably with a discount included), and then go compare that offer at other stores. In many cases it may also be cheaper to purchase your mattress online.

Once you’ve made up your mind, be sure to read the fine print regarding comfort guarantees, delivery and return fees. And then sleep somewhat easy, knowing that you’ve saved yourself a few hundred rand.

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