A change is brewing in the U.S. retail mattress space.
Like consumers have seen in most other markets over the last few years, mattress sales have begun to move online.
To some, the transition may seem a bit odd. Unlike purchasing digital goods, food or a new winter coat on the web, the customer journey toward a mattress requires a test run, much like when in the market for a new car or housing.
In these cases, physical presence and experience matter.
A mattress is a long-term investment on which most spend one-third of their day. Consumers don’t want to get stuck with the wrong one. But is a journey to the local store to lie down on a few different models for five minutes each the best way to test an item which most will use all night, every night for 10 years?
Online mattress startups with direct-to-consumer models say no, and from the looks of things, buyers in the mattress market are starting to come around.
“Two years ago, many in the market saw low single digits of people willing to buy online,” said Alex McArthur, CMO at online mattress startup Purple. “Into this year, many analysts are saying it’s closer to 30 percent.”
Data from Statistica lends credence to this estimate. Some 18 percent of consumers reported they’d consider buying from a direct-to-consumer mattress company, and 15 percent reported they’d buy from another online channel, such as Amazon.
While these data points are still lower than the number who would buy in-store, it indicates that comfort with the idea of online mattress shopping is growing. By next year, McArthur said that some even expect consumer willingness to make an online mattress purchase to double.
For a $16 billion — largely brick-and-mortar — industry, the prospect of a transformation wherein 60 percent of customers don’t look to physical retail first represents a truly massive amount of disruption for legacy players.
Historically, the mattress industry has been dominated by three main companies: Sealy, Serta and Simmons, or the “S” companies.
Entrenched consumer mattress-buying behavior — like the perceived need for an in-store test run — has kept these companies largely immune to eCommerce disruption for longer than other retail segments. But the past few years, a huge number of online mattress startups has popped up.
“We’re far from the only ones doing it,” McArthur noted. “I’ve seen over 100 bed-in-a-box companies come up. It’s as if almost every week there’s a new one.”
Still, only a fraction of the startups — like Casper, Saatva, Tuft & Needle and Purple — have seen significant attention. Casper especially helped educate the space as one of the earliest major online sellers, McArthrur noted.
The startups that are really looking to change the mattress industry are innovating not just selling models, but mattress materials as well — another area where the legacy industry had lagged.
“Memory foam was invented 40 years ago,” McArthur said, “and people are still acting like it’s a new technology.”
But even bed-in-a-box companies rebranding older mattress technology are still changing the way sales happen. Most online companies ship direct-to-consumer and offer a 100-day, full refund trial period.
“The experience is totally different having it in your own home,” McArthur said, “when you’re comfortable — sleeping however you want and without a salesperson looking over you.”
For Purple, which launched in January 2016, growth was immediate and exponential. Its founders had been working on comfort technology for 20 years in a medical and therapeutic capacity. They’ve leveraged their experience and product in the direct-to-consumer market.
One testament to the growing consumer demand for online mattress sales is that Purple has been on back order since day one. To meet demand, the company recently purchased a 574,000 sq. ft. facility, which will enable the startup to boost production.
“In the year and a half since we started, we’re well on track to a nine-figure run rate,” McArthur said. “We can see our revenues doubling, quadrupling in the next few months through within the year.”
All of this without outside funding.
While there’s obviously a growing number of willing buyers out there, McArthur doesn’t see the old-fashioned mattress-buying process disappearing anytime soon.
“There’s a certain amount of people that will need to try in-store — they want to try 100 different beds for five minutes each,” McArthur said. “But we find that more and more people are getting comfortable with the idea of trying in their home.”
As a final note, it’s time to address a myth — or really a misconception — that has propagated around the Purple product in particular. The material the company uses is comprised of food-grade polymer, a means to have their mattresses be non-toxic and hypoallergenic. Some have run with this idea, making claims that the mattress is edible.
“Our fans have stretched that one a little bit,” McArthur said, noting that while the material Purple uses is food-grade, the whole bed set isn’t. “The goal was to make it non-toxic, since some foams can off-gas and some consumers have latex allergies.”
While, technically, the act of taking a bite out of a Purple mattress wouldn’t be toxic, that doesn’t mean it would be good. It’s far from recommended, not at all advisable and certainly not encouraged.
So, in closing, please, please don’t try to eat your mattress.