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Why Your Next Mattress Might Come in a Box

E-commerce offerings threaten to disrupt the industry

Online Mattress Buying

Yana Paskova/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Casper is one retailer expanding its footprint in the highly competitive e-commerce mattress boom.

Not long ago, buying a mattress meant trudging to a specialty store or department store and going through the sometimes-awkward try-before-you-buy routine: Lie down on a mattress, roll around, try to decide if you're comfortable, repeat.

But no more. The old model for buying mattresses is facing a big new competitor: e-commerce.

Some of the hottest new mattress brands are available only online, many featuring modern foam models that are compressed, stuffed in a box and shipped directly to customers. There are generous return policies and, in some cases, prices that significantly undercut offerings from brick-and-mortar stores.

“The online mattress business really went from nothing to a $1.5 billion business in the blink of an eye,” Kathy Thornton-Bias, president of Verlo Mattress, recently told USA Today. “This whole industry has been disrupted by the idea that maybe you don’t have to try the mattress before you buy it.”

In a sign of how all of this is changing, e-mattress leader Casper announced recently that it had raised $170 million and is planning an initial public offering. Tech website Recode reported that $75 million of that came from big-box retailer Target, which will sell some of Casper's products in stores and also offer the mattresses on its website.

Casper is among the best-known retailers in the increasingly competitive e-commerce mattress world. Industry website Furniture Today reports there are now more than 150 companies in the space.

Here are some factors to consider if you’re buying a mattress through an e-commerce company:

  • Do you know what kind of mattress you want? Most (but not all) of the new companies offer various types of foam or hybrid mattresses. This allows them to compress the mattresses and roll them up in a box. But there are other options available, including some more traditional models.
  • Shopping is easy, but the rest … not so much. These mattresses may fit into a box, but they aren’t feather light, coming in at 70 pounds and up (with some king-size mattresses topping 100 pounds). That’s a weight that one person — or even two — might find challenging. And while traditional mattress stores often will haul away your old set, disposing of a mattress and foundation will be up to you if you purchase online.
  • Make sure you understand the return policies and warranties. Both are usually generous. Trial periods (where free or nearly free returns are allowed) typically run around 100 days — but be careful if you are buying through a third-party site, which could have a different return policy than that of the manufacturer. Warranties typically are for at least 10 years, although it’s worth noting that most of these companies haven’t been in business yet anywhere near that time.

And lest you think this is just a fad, some analysts disagree.

“I used to tell people they were the pet rock of the mattress industry,” Jerry Epperson, a founder of investment banker Mann, Armistead & Epperson, told USA Today. “But (now) I don’t think so.”