Avoid these mattress store tricks

By Anthony GiorgianniConsumer Reports

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.

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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.

For tips on selecting a mattress, including ratings for subscribers, read the Consumer Reports Mattress Buying Guide.

It’s an amazing sale. Consumer Reports’ mattress shoppers found that you indeed may find better prices on holiday weekends. But don’t simply assume that a promise of huge savings, such as 50 percent off, is a great deal no matter when you see it advertised.

To find out for ourselves, we searched online for a queen-size Serta mattress that we knew had a manufacturer minimum price restriction of $1,074. Not surprisingly, every retailer we checked was advertising it for exactly that price. But while some stores also listed $1,074 as their regular price, others said they usually offered the mattress for much more. One website, for example listed its regular price as $2,148. Another showed a regular price of a whopping $2,685, representing its “sale” price of $1,074 as a savings of $1,611. “That’s the biggest farce,” Wholley said. “Nobody ever sells that bed for that much.”

What to do: Don’t get taken in by promises of huge savings. If you find your favorite mattress at other retailers, there’s a good chance it’s being marketed under a minimum price restriction. The price that most retailers are charging is likely the lowest the manufacturer allows. You should never pay more than that.

But don’t stop there. Try negotiating. A retailer might be willing to sell below the minimum allowed price and risk having the manufacturer find out. Or it might offer to throw in extras, such as pillows, that mattress protector it tried to get you to buy, delivery, and/or no-interest financing. For that minimum-price-restricted mattress we checked, Sam’s club was advertising 1,074, just like other retailers, but it was also offering a $300 Sam’s Club gift card.

If the mattress is being marketed as an exclusive label model or if it carries the name of the retailer (for example, the Sears-o-Pedic) instead of the manufacturer, the store probably can charge whatever it wants, which may give you plenty of room to negotiate. Even if you can’t find an equivalent mattress at a competing retailer, you can threaten to walk out of the store or actually do it. (Leave your phone number in case the store decides to agree to your price or make you a counter offer.) There’s probably little room for negotiation if you’re dealing with a discounter, such as Walmart or Costco, or with a mattress that’s being sold directly by the manufacturer, but you can try anyway.

Satisfaction guarantee. If you don’t like it you get your money back, right? Not necessarily. A satisfaction guarantee could mean that you’re allowed only to exchange the mattress for another model of up to equal value or one that costs more if you pay the difference. In addition, you could incur disposal and delivery fees that might leave you anything but satisfied.

What to do: Read the purchase terms and conditions carefully before buying, including the return and exchange policies. Compare the policies among retailers.

Anthony Giorgianni

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