Saturday, February 13, 2010

Going to the Mattresses

This is the era of the smart consumer. With the internet as your pal, you can shop and compare, look at reviews and research features. There is no excuse anymore for buying anything, getting it home, and then discovering there are cheaper or better alternatives. There is one exception, however: bedding. As complex as health care and as jargon-ridden as monetary policy, it's the place where the patent medicine practitioners of yesteryear still ply their art.

Stop by a mattress store, and you'll see: there is no standard, no regulation, no benchmark of any aspect of the market. Purveyors are free to claim whatever they want about their product, its benefits and attributes, and set prices which are impossible to compare. And since 30 seconds of lying down in a store with your clothes on hardly portends the comfort factor for a night's sleep, let along the next ten years of use, it's a crap shoot no matter how you look at it.

In need of a replacement ourselves, we were passing a local discount chain one evening and decided to stop in. The salesperson was nice enough, and encouraged us to try any or all of the showroom models. When we asked how long he had been doing this, he allowed that it was a second career, after having sold cars for a living. Based on his approach, I suspect we might have been able to figure that one out on our own.

As we approached one model, he told us about the benefits of it having a continuous coil. We turned to another, and he extolled the superiority of the pocketed coil on that one, dising the feature on the last. We plopped down on a pillow top: that way to go, he exclaimed. Then we questioned how flipable it was, and he pointed out that that was indeed an issue. He first suggested from our comments that we would like "plush-ultra-firm," though the "firm-super soft" we said we liked was probably better. He dismissed the tagged prices as fiction, and offered to make us a great deal, throwing in all kinds of extras to make the sale. "I sleep on that one myself," he confided, though, when pressed, he admitted he told people he slept on whatever one they were buying.

In spite of all that, one did feel good. However, since it was from a boutique manufacturer, we only let him run our card for $25 to hold the merchandise pending some due diligence when we got to a computer. And indeed, a little research produced reviews that were less than stellar. True, negative reviews online almost always outweigh the positive. But the tenor and uniformity of the problems mentioned, along with some sleuthing on the manufacturer itself, led us to cancel the order and head back to the drawing board.

Since we tried had tried downscale, we decided to go the other way for the next round. We headed to Bloomingdales, and saw mattress-box spring sets that cost more than a week in Rome. There was no heat from the salesperson, though not much light either. "This one has tempered coils." What, I asked, does that mean? After a moment, he said, "Well, they're tempered." He continued: "It has hand-tied springs with the finest Italian twine." Maybe that would make a difference if I were buying a rope ladder, but in a mattress? He looked at me dumfounded: "Hand tied. Italian. Finest twine." Oh, that explains it all.

Still, we found one we liked. Some quick research confirmed that it was indeed was a winner, and had a good track record. Still, we passed because we didn't want to take out a second mortgage in order to make the purchase. But then a friend tipped us off to the Bloomingdales clearance center, where they had the same merchandise at drastically reduced prices. Try it in the real store, she said, then shop it in the discount place: it seemed like a way to game the system.

We took a ride, and indeed found the model we wanted. The size was wrong, however, so they took our name and promised to call. Not a week later they did, offering up a top of the line model with no imperfections short of torn shipping case. The cost? Less than a third of what we saw on the showroom floor, even less than the car salesman was willing to give us.

I'm happy to report it's been delivered, and feels great. A good bit thicker than our old mattress, the only complaint I have is that I all but fall out of bed in the morning, as I haven't yet internalized that I'm sleeping higher off the ground. On balance, I think we've got it licked, but if you want a more realistic appraisal, give me a call in about 10 years.


Marc Wollin of Bedford feels pretty good about his Kluft. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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