October 1, 2013

Buying a new mattress no bed of roses

Posted in Between Us column, Business at 8:11 pm by dinaheng

I was so looking forward to buying a new bed.

Having a 15-year-old mattress that had started to sag, I began looking at various options — department store sales, online offerings, and local mattress stores.  I eliminated the online option because I couldn’t see buying something to sleep on that I’d not tested out in person.

The department store prices seemed high, with no room for negotiation, so I went to several area mattress stores. In the Los Angeles area, that meant Sit ‘N’ Sleep, Leeds Mattress Stores, Ortho Mattress and Los Angeles Mattress Stores.Dinah Eng

While the sales staff at the Los Angeles Mattress Store and Ortho Mattress in my area were pleasant, the prices were on the steep side. Sit ‘N’ Sleep and Leeds Mattress had better deals, but the sales tactics were all aimed at upselling.

While you’d think a mattress store wouldn’t sell flimsy bed frames, one Sit ‘N’ Sleep salesman said I could either get “the standard” so-so frame with my bed “for free,” or pay a little more to get a sturdier frame that would last. I ended up going to Leeds Mattress, where one patient salesman let me lie on bed after bed, without offering any opinions.

Once I decided on a Stearns & Foster Tonya Luxury Plush at Leeds, I ordered a queen size mattress set, which comes with a 25 year warranty. The retail price at the time was $1,699. I haggled it down to $1,000, plus tax. (Retail prices change all the time, and mattress stores put things on sale at every holiday, so if you can, start shopping before you really need to buy to determine a pricing strategy.)

This column would have been about how to choose the best mattress and price strategies, except…

Within a week of delivery, I was changing the sheets on the bed when the phone rang.  I answered it, sat on a corner edge of the bed, and fell to the floor. Fortunately, the carpeting saved my rear end and nothing was injured.

I went around the three exposed edges of the bed, sitting on them, and discovered that one side and one corner were firm, while the other side and other corner immediately gave way  when I sat down. Not long after that, the bed started sagging underneath my body, and I’d wake up with backaches.

When I complained to the Leeds store manager, he said if it was defective, it could be exchanged at no charge, but to be frank, it would be very hard to prove that the mattress was defective because the industry standard is to measure the dip (without a body in the bed), and the sag must be at least 1 1/2 inches deep.  You can forget about edges that don’t hold up — the inspector won’t sit on the bed — so you’re stuck with that problem.

He insisted that customers must sleep in a new bed for at least 30 days, so that the body has time to adjust to the new mattress.  I can understand giving it a couple of weeks, but why give yourself a continual backache when you know the cause is the bed you bought?

Another option, he said, would be a “comfort exchange,” where I could give up the warranty claim and just pay a 20 percent restocking fee, a $50 delivery charge, and oh… any difference in cost between what I paid and the one I’d prefer (at the list price, not the sales price). As you can imagine, I hit the roof.  While the first two requirements  had been explained before the sale, no one mentioned having to also pay a difference in cost at the list price, making a “comfort exchange,” in essence, paying double for a new mattress set.

So I called Sealy — the manufacturer of Sealy, Sealy Posturepedic, Optimum and Stearns & Foster — to discuss the issue, and ended up filing a warranty claim.

Allen Platek, vice president of marketing for Sealy, explained that warranties are based on mattress defects, and are not based on the product being worn out over time.

“We rarely see defects beyond the first year,” Platek said. “The main reason products are returned are due to body impressions (that 1 1/2 inch sag). Stitches could have been missed when sewn, or come loose and become unraveled; an edge blows out.”

When it comes to choosing a new mattress, Platek offered some simple recommendations:

* Go online before you shop to see what’s on the marketplace. Read blogs and mattress reviews before you set foot in a store.

* Lay on the mattress for at least 10 minutes to see if it’s comfortable to you. Never buy a mattress based on how many springs are in it. One may have 1,000 springs made of light wire gauge, and another with 600 springs that are made of very heavy wire, making the latter the one with better quality.

* Do look for the quality of the foam and its density. The standard average density is 1 1/2 lb. per cubic feet.

* Comfort is king. You need to find the mattress that allows you to sleep the longest without waking up. For some people, that means sleeping on a plush or pillowtop mattress. Others may prefer a firm or ultra firm mattress.

Stephanie Sheron, supervisor of consumer support and contract at Sealy, says comfort is sometimes hard to determine because there may have been 300 to 400 people who have lay down on a floor model, making the mattress seem softer than a new one will be.

“We have some consumers who purchase online from Walmart or Amazon, who are getting a good price, but they’re not laying on it and touching it,” Sheron said. “When it comes to breaking in a new mattress, we ask people to sleep on it at least a couple of weeks. You can make a firm mattress softer with a bed topper, but you can’t make a soft mattress firmer.”

She says Sealy warranty replacements are less than 2 percent a year across all its brands.

Going through the warranty or comfort exchange is an extremely frustrating process. Since the retailer doesn’t want to lose money, customers are put through every hoop imaginable. What happens to the mattresses that are returned in “comfort exchanges”?

“We can resell a return if it’s sanitized and tagged,” said Mike Moshiri, a regional manager for Leeds Mattress Stores, “just like we can sell floor models where people have lay on them, but they’ve not been taken home and perspired on.

“For us, it’s a tax write-off when the mattress comes back. The 20 percent restocking fee covers the cost of buying you a new mattress and the profit from the first mattress sale. If you want a different mattress, it will cost you.”

As for my mattress, Leeds waived the inspection fee, and a third-party inspector came out to measure the sag in my Stearns & Foster bed. He found a one-inch sag on one side (the side I slept on) and a half-inch sag on the other side (where no one had slept). While it didn’t meet the 1 1/2 inch warranty standard, Sealy replaced the mattress as a courtesy.

The replacement mattress is great. The edges hold up, and after the first month, there’s been no sag and no backaches. Fingers crossed that it stays this way.

The bed buying nightmare is over, with a big lesson learned — it’s not just buyer beware of what you’re buying; it’s buyer beware of the retailer and manufacturer’s return policies.



  1. Steve Anderson said,

    Every person loses on average 250mls of sweat EVERY night in a five year old mattress.

  2. Very good and usable post. Thank’s to share your experience with us.

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