Is Buying a Mattress Online a Good Bet? These Shoppers Tell Us What to Expect

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Here’s one of those shocking facts you already know, but probably don’t think of often:

You spend about a third of your life asleep.

The eight(ish) hours a day you spend snoozing is more time than you spend doing just about anything else. And that fact, coupled with the growing evidence of sleep’s well-nigh unparalleled importance for human health, is good incentive for investing in a decent mattress.

But one walk through a mattress dealership can foil even the best-laid plans. Life is expensive, and dropping thousands of dollars on a mattress is sometimes simply impossible.

When companies like Casper, Zinus and Tuft & Needle started to sell mattresses online at a steep discount, my first thought was, “This must be some kind of scam.” After all, if mattresses often sold for around a thousand dollars, how could they possibly be made well for a few hundred?

The answer lies in the magic of direct-to-consumer shipping. By skipping the expenses of keeping the lights on in a showroom floor and the middlemen of a traditional mattress dealer, these companies can, ostensibly, deliver world-class bedding for a fraction of the traditional price – directly to your door, in fact, with no extra charge for shipping.  

Just one teeny, tiny problem: In most cases, you can’t actually lie on these mattresses before you order. And for many of us, beds are on the absolutely-must-try-before-you-buy list – along with shoes, cars and fancy cheeses. (OK, maybe I just like to get as many free samples at Trader Joe’s as possible. Sue me.)

But with hundreds of dollars in potential savings, is buying a bed sight unseen worth it?

Buying a Mattress Online: Brilliant or Blunder?

What was a temporary solution for TPH writer Carson Kohler, still loves her online mattress purchase. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

We asked some brave bed-buying souls for the lowdown on their experience. But first, let’s talk about what you can expect more generally from online mattress shops.

Casper is one of the most well-known of these direct-to-consumer mattress companies, and calls itself “America’s No. 1 Rated Mattress Brand*.” (Note: The accompanying asterisk states that this conclusion was drawn by a “leading independent consumer publication,” with no readily accessible information about which publication that might be.)

Although the mattresses do start as low as $350, you can spend upwards of $1,000 on their souped-up models. And you can’t get a queen for less than $600.

Predictably, “Don’t I need to try these products before buying them?” is high on the Casper FAQs. The company’s answer points you to its risk-free 100-night trial policy: If, in that time, you decide the bed isn’t for you, they’ll have a courier come and take it away for free. Your purchase price will be refunded 100% (though you won’t get any paid interest back if you chose to finance).

There are plenty of other online mattress options with similar 100-night trial periods, all promising to deliver cool, comfortable and supportive sleep directly to your door as cheaply as possible, including free shipping.

And to their credit, most of the companies do seem to have pretty stellar Amazon reviews: check out the star power, for instance, on these products from Zinus and Tuft & Needle.

Prices tend toward the low end of what you’d find at Mattress One, but they do vary depending on which extras you get. Zinus is the cheapest, with queen-sized mattresses starting at just $150. You’ll need to shell out at least $575 for a queen from Tuft & Needle.

Alright, now that we’ve debriefed, let’s get to the good stuff – some real-life bedtime stories.

These Folks Bought Mattresses Online

Here’s what these online bed buyers have to say about the mattress – er, matter.

Carson Kohler: A Risk Rewarded

Kohler works from home on her laptop. Kohler’s purchase only cost her $309.23 on Amazon. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Purchasing a Zinus was The Penny Hoarder Staff Writer Carson Kohler’s first experience buying a mattress. She’d had to rely on financial help from her parents to afford her beds before.

“I remember my first time realizing how insanely expensive these things are,” she wrote in an email. She wandered a Rooms To Go showroom with her mom before her sophomore year of college and saw a $700 option. On sale.

Soon, Kohler realized that expense isn’t the only cot conundrum. “The thing about mattresses is that they’re terribly difficult to move with,” she points out.

When she got accepted to a graduate program across the country, she realized she’d either need to haul it along with her – by way of a pricy truck rental – or purchase another one. She seriously considered roughing it on an air mattress for two years, before relying on mom yet again.

So when she got the job at The Penny Hoarder, which meant yet another lengthy move, she knew she needed to explore alternative options. Google led her first to Casper, and then to the less-expensive Zinus.

“When I purchased the Zinus, my total at checkout was $309.23,” she says. She made the purchase through Amazon, and her Prime membership got her free shipping. (Note: Zinus offers free shipping through its website as well.)

The low price blew Kohler’s mind, but it also made her understandably wary. She thought she’d probably replace it with something nicer in a year or so when she’d saved up more funds.

But nine months later, she hasn’t even needed to invest in a bed topper, let alone a new mattress. “As an avid fan of nine hours of sleep, my bed is my sanctuary. My Zinus has lived up to that. I feel like I’m just melting into the sheets each time I crawl in,” she says.

On top of helping her get her beauty sleep, Kohler estimates her Zinus purchase saved her a “bare minimum” of $400. She says she probably would have been convinced by a salesperson to spend $1,000 at a traditional dealership. Plus, the bed was delivered right to her door in a box, cutting down on the considerable stress of moving.

And even if it gave out tomorrow – which it shows no sign of doing – Kohler says she’d purchase the very same bed again.

“I know it’s only been nine months, but I use that thing every night. That’s 365 nights of sleep. Even if it only lasts a year, I got away with paying about 85 cents per good night of sleep. Worth it.”

Colleen Rice: Back Pain, Begone

TPH email marketing manager Colleen Rice adjust her pillows on her Zinus mattress purchased through Amazon. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Colleen Rice, The Penny Hoarder’s email marketing manager, also purchased a Zinus, which – thanks to Amazon’s fluctuations – cost her only $249 with free shipping.

But unlike Kohler, she was no stranger to shelling out expensive dealership prices.

The last mattress she’d purchased was a Tempur-Pedic, and it set her back a whopping $1,800. “I’d gone into the store to ask about their sale items with a budget of $400, but was talked into financing,” she writes, adding a stone-faced emoji.

Her budget was more limited this time around, and she didn’t want to repeat her pushy-salesperson experience. She also liked the idea of coming home to a mattress in a box on the front steps, as opposed to arranging a delivery window. (We all know they inevitably shift.)

Type A to the core, Rice created a spreadsheet of makes, models and review highlights – both positive and negative – before committing to the Zinus.

“I sleep better on this mattress than any other one I’ve used,” she writes. That’s including the $1,800 Tempur-Pedic. In fact, she’s even become something of an unintentional Zinus recruiter: Her roommate took a nap in her bed one day, and promptly purchased one for herself.

Darnel Preval: A Casper Convert

“I bought a Casper mattress because I have scoliosis,” photographer Darnel Preval writes in an email. He’d had a lot of issues with mattresses in the past. Most of them were too stiff for him to rest comfortably.

So when he had lain down on a friend’s bed and found it fit his Goldilocks zone perfectly – not too hard, not too soft – he knew he needed to invest in one of his own. “I didn’t consider any other mattress once I felt this one,” he says.

Preval’s Casper cost him almost $900, but that price included shipping – and was still at the lower-middle range of what you might expect to pay in a traditional store.

Plus, Preval notes, the boxed delivery was way better than dealing with movers. Rolling out his new bed and watching it expand was, he wrote, “pretty cool.”

Natalie Williams: Ditching the Dealership

Williams lays on her Zinus mattress with her dog Mellow. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

When The Penny Hoarder bookkeeper Natalie Williams and her fiance, Mike Diller, decided they wanted to upgrade to a memory foam mattress, they did the obvious thing: They headed to a traditional mattress dealership.

But after facing shockingly high prices, the couple decided to look online for other options – which is when they discovered Zinus.

They considered a Casper, but the Zinus’s price tag was too good to pass up, particularly when paired with thousands of five-star reviews. And a year and a half later, Williams and Diller are still thrilled with their purchase. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we kept this mattress for several years,” she writes.

Rest Easy – Buying a Mattress Online Is Legit

From the sounds of it, online mattress buying might be one of those rare instances that’s not actually too good to be true – even if you go with the least-expensive option.

And since most companies offer a 100-night trial policy, it’s relatively risk-free.

Both Kohler and Rice point out that they liked the additional ease of ordering through Amazon. Their existing Prime memberships guaranteed free shipping and customer service, and user ratings were from reliable third parties. Williams, on the other hand, said she saved $10 by ordering directly from the Zinus website.

Either way, it’s prudent to remember that Amazon’s prices fluctuate – so if you go that route, it’s a good idea to download an app like Paribus first, to ensure price protection.

Sweet dreams!

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a writer whose work has been featured at Fodor’s, Yahoo, SELF, Ms. Magazine, the Establishment, Roads & Kingdoms and other outlets.

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