If you think shopping for a car is a nightmare, just try buying a mattress.
The industry uses lots of tricks to make it difficult to compare models and dicker for a better price.
For instance, sometimes manufacturers sell the identical or nearly identical mattresses to different retailers with exclusive model names. In other cases, all retailers get the same model names, but the manufacturer sets a minimum price below which stores are not permitted to advertise and/or sell. Retailers that violate the rules risk losing advertising support money from the manufacturer or having the mattress line yanked form their stores entirely.
And then there are the little tricks that some mattress stores use. “They’re pretty prevalent. The stores are out to gain as much of profit margin as possible," said Tom Wholley, president and owner of Connecticut Mattress.
Here are some of those tricks to watch for.
You’re required to buy a mattress protector or box spring. Even one of our own staffers fell for this one. The store tells you that if you don’t spend an extra $80 or so for a mattress protector covering, you’ll automatically void the manufacturer’s warranty. Don’t bet on it. (Of course, if you’re concerned that Fido might have an accident on your new $1,000 mattress, a protector might be a good idea. And your warranty claim could be denied if your mattress is so soiled and unsanitary that the company cannot conduct a safe inspection.)
We've also heard of retailers' trying a similar tactic to persuade customers to pay extra for a box spring. As long as the mattress is properly supported, for example on a platform bed, there’s no need for a box spring, and you won’t be voiding the warranty, Wholley says. (Check for extra support requirements for queen- and king-size frames, such as a rigid center bar and fifth leg.)
What to do: Don’t just listen to the salesperson. Read the warranty before buying. (Federal law requires a retailer to show it to you before you make a purchase.) If there’s anything you’re not sure about, ask for a written explanation or, better yet, contact the manufacturer.
We’ve got the same mattress for less. With some mattresses being sold with exclusive model names, a retailer may show you a mattress that it says is identical to a competitor’s model, offering to beat the other store’s price. But it may in fact be a lower-quality model, not an equivalent one.
What to do: If you've found a mattress you love and tried searching for it in other stores without success, it’s probably an exclusive label. If a competitor shows you what it says is an equivalent model by the same manufacturer, compare specifications. Among the attributes of an innerspring mattress, for example, that you should compare are the foam and padding and coil spring type and count. Of course, if you’re in a walk-in store, you should lie on the mattress to make sure it feels the same as the one you tried and liked elsewhere. If a retailer won’t show you the specifications, shop somewhere else. Remember that comparing specifications works only within the product line of a given manufacturer.