How to Buy a Mattress: Expert Tips for Shopping Mattress Sales

By , dealnews contributor

Do you wake up in the morning feeling tired or with an aching back and a creaky neck? These issues might not be caused by getting older or by over-exerting yourself during exercise; they could be the effects of your mattress. Most of us don't give due credit or attention to this vital piece of furniture, although we spend a up to a third of our lives sleeping on it.

Mattresses wear out within 10 to 15 years, according to sleep expert Michael Brues, PhD. Does your mattress collapse beneath you when you sit on the edge to put on your shoes? Is its covering worn thin? Does the pillowtop permanently carry the imprint of your torso? Does it squeal like a piglet when you climb into bed? If your bed suffers from any of these issues, then it's time to scout out a mattress sale for a new and improved model.

For many people, though, the mere thought of shopping for a new mattress is intimidating, and for a good reason: the industry wants it that way. As Consumer Reports found, much of the mattress industry intentionally works to prevent consumers from comparison shopping by making different-but-similar lines of mattresses for a variety of distributors.

Manufacturers also bury their products in an avalanche of vague, undefined terms like "firm" or "ultraplush." How does one gauge firmness when there is no standardization? J. Talbot Sellers, DO from Spine Health also notes that orthopedic or medically-approved mattress claims mean nothing.

The Basics of Mattress Shopping

Most mattresses are made with an inner-spring construction; that is, the core of the mattress is devised from a set of steel springs that support the structure. Often, a single line of mattresses uses the same springs, regardless of price point.

On top of this foundation of springs is a foam pad, which provides much of the springiness of the mattress. Encasing the pad is the cover or ticking, the quality of which increases with the mattress's price tag. In pillow top mattresses, there's a second pad sewn into the top of the mattress.

There are a couple of other popular mattress types. The first is made of memory foam; Tempur-Pedic is the market leader of memory foam mattresses, which are composed of a solid brick of polyurethane foam that manufacturers claim provide better support for your body. But nowadays there are more brands available today than ever before. Traditional mattress manufacturers like Sealy, Simmons, and Serta have their own lines of memory foam beds, and also offer combo memory foam and inner-springs mattresses.

Air-filled mattress are a popular alternative to spring mattresses. Sleep Number is the most well-known brand that offers this type of mattress, which features individually adjustable firmness on either side of the mattress. However, most showrooms don't offer air-filled mattresses for testing.

When it comes to price, there is a marked difference between standard inner-spring mattresses and their two more expensive competitors. The leading memory foam and air-filled mattress providers rarely, if ever, discount their products; but the inner-spring mattress market is extremely competitive and full price is a price no one should every pay.

What to Look for When Shopping for a New Mattress

Before setting out to buy a new bed, consider this checklist of mattress questions from Good Bed:
  • Was your mattress comfortable when it was new?
  • In what position do you sleep most often?
  • If you share a bed, are you both comfortable?
  • What type of body do you have?
  • How old is your mattress?
  • How much space do you have for your bed?
  • Will your mattress need to go up stairways and through doorways?

While this checklist is good to keep in mind, no one's mattress decision should be reached by simply adding up sales points. It all boils down to something very subjective: how you feel lying on the mattress. But testing out mattresses can of course be time-consuming, since you'll want to spend more than a moment on each candidate bed. Consumer Reports recommends spending a full 15 minutes on each prospective bed: five on your back, five on your side, and five on your stomach. It's also smart to wear loose-fitting clothing, but avoid shopping in your pajamas!

First, however, we recommend spending 15 minutes on your old bed before going shopping. This will remind you of your bed's weaknesses and give you a baseline for comparison.

Know What Your Money Can Buy

There isn't a great correlation between price and quality in the mattress game, according to Consumer Reports. So, it's advisable to start testing out cheaper brand name mattresses, and work your way to the more expensive beds. According to a study referenced by WebMD, people who slept on a more-firm mattress suffered less back pain. A good mattress will offer support from your spine to your toes, helping keep your head, neck, shoulders, butt, and feet in alignment.

Because every person is shaped a little differently and has different sleep habits, it's a no-brainer than that mattress buying is generally a showroom shopping experience. Also, shipping costs can be hefty when buying a mattress online. For example, the Ikea Sultan Hansbo Memory Foam Pillowtop Mattress from IKEA is only $399, but shipping can cost up to $299, depending on location. However, there are fairly regular shipping deals to be had from department stores, if you know in advance what model you're interested in.

When shopping for your new mattress, don't limit yourself to just department stores. Mattress-only stores like The Original Mattress Factory offer competitive prices and may, according to Consumer Reports, provide more knowledgeable, attentive salespeople.

Speaking of mattress salespeople, it's likely that they will also try to promote buying a new box spring while you're mattress shopping. According to Consumer Reports, though, box springs don't necessarily age in lockstep with a mattress, so you might not need a new one, provided that its springs are still firm and don't creak.

Rest Easy and Don't Pay Full Price

When you're shopping for an inner-spring mattress know that you don't have to pay full price. Wait for sales, which can often take up to as much as 50% off. Did you know that May is the best time to buy a mattress?

If you opt for a memory foam mattress, be sure to comparison shop new products from traditional mattress makers like Sealy, Simmons, and Serta. If an air-filled mattress is what you're after, you'll likely have to shop exclusively online or over the phone to order.

But in case you don't love your new bed, some stores offer hassle-free return policies. You may have between 30 and 90 days to test out your new mattress and decide if it's right. Keep in mind, though, that each store has its own guidelines and associated restocking fees.

While there's inherent fun in shopping for a new mattress, it can be a daunting task. But given the amount of time we spend in bed, an investment of $500 to $4,000 will likely pay itself forward with a good night's sleep.

Front page photo credit: Mattress 1st
Photo credits top to bottom: Bed Mart, Groupon,
We Know Mattresses, Daily News, and Mattress All

Related dealnews Features:
Tom Barlow formerly wrote for AOL's WalletPop and DailyFinance, and in addition to his dealnews contributions, he currently writes about lifestyle topics for

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DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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This article really provides a quality, in-depth detailed approach to learning more about mattresses. I especially enjoyed he the "Rest Easy Don't Pay Full Price" section. The reality is the large companies like Tempurpedic or iComfort brands end to charge way more than necessary fo a great mattress. I purchased mine from a small family owned business and I love it Here was a comparison they provided on a Tempurpedic mattress: > <

I'm getting ready buy another mattress and hopefully this article helped you s much as it did me!
Thanks for sharing
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found it really useful.
Stearns and Foster requires dealers to stick MSRP, though occasionally they allow 10% off sales.  So, since the store usually can't discount the price of these mattresses, insist on free delivery and a free bed frame.  Also, you'll notice that manufacturers change the model names at every store to make price comparison difficult.  Fortunately, some manufacturers have a code.  With Stearns and Foster, every identical mattress will have a model name that starts with the same letter.  So, a model name of "Bambi" at one store is the same as "Brutus" at another store.
I also sold mattresses in a well to do community for a short while, and was amazed that so many people would pay less for their mattress, (where they spend a third of their life) than they would to upgrade the upholstery in their car.  It is no exaggeration to say that a great mattress can change your life.  You may think your old mattress was fine.  But, if the best nights sleep you ever had was 7/10, you would think a 7 WAS a 10, until you experienced a 10/10 for yourself.  If you have a $3,000 A/V system in your living room, don't buy a $799 mattress.
Also, there is at least one brand that strictly requires their dealers to stick to MSRP, so you will find that the price is the same everyday and everywhere.  That doesn't mean you can't bargain shop.  Just because they have to charge the same as the competition for the mattress, doesn't mean they can't sell you sheets for a penny to go with it, etc.
This article is oversimplified and misses a lot of key facts.  If you're buying a one-sided mattress (or any type of foam mattress) then the box spring is essentially just a platform.  It provides no value and doesn't need to be replaced very often.  You can just as easily ditch the box spring and place the mattress on plywood.  However, if you're using a two-sided innerspring mattress, you must always replace your box spring.  In these configurations, the box spring acts like shocks on a car, and it will actually break down before the mattress.  If you place a new mattress on an old box spring you'll destroy the mattress -- and void your warranty.

Also, be careful buying a 'discounted' memory foam bed.  Many of them only have a thin, thin layer of memory foam, and the rest is the same foam used on a freaking couch cushion.  Personally, I think memory foam and air beds are a scam.  Neither provide back support.  If you've got the $, latex foam beds are the way to go.  They don't transfer motion and they actually provide back support.

If you don't want (or can't afford) latex, buy a Sealy product.  Keep in mind that they own Stearns & Foster.  S&F is the Lincoln to their Ford.  Serta products feel great in stores but break down pretty quickly.  However, Serta gives some of the best bonuses to store employees, so the employees love to push 'em.

Also, mattresses typically feel firmer at home than they do in the store.  They also look much thicker at home than they do in the store.  (Mattresses these days are thicker than they were previously, it's all about perceived value.  So your new mattress will likely be thicker than your old one, but it's probably not much thicker than all the ones sitting next to it at the store)

Remember that firmness and support are not synonymous.  Plush mattresses can have just as much support as a firm mattress.  In fact, the plush mattresses usually have the exact same guts as the firm ones.  The only difference?  The stitching up top!  Look at it.  The firm mattresses have tighter stitching and the plush ones have looser, unconnected stitching.

Oh, and don't buy any Sealy mattress that isn't in their Posturepedic line.  If it's less than $599 it's usually not a Posturepedic, it's usually low-end crap that they advertise to get you in the store.
Lastly, never buy a full size mattress, always go with a queen.  The price difference is sometimes as little as $20, and you'll have a much wider selection of sheets and head boards available.  And really, if you can fit a full, you can fit a queen.

(I sold mattresses for years in college. Funnest job EVER, and I loved learning about the products)
Costco has very good prices, especially on memry foam mattresses.  Costco sometimes puts them on sale as well, usually with free delivery.  One my friends paid over $2000 for a memory foam from a national mattress chain.  I paid about one third of that for a comparable quality memory foam mattress from Costco around the same time that he bought his mattress.