How the mattress-in-a-box industry came to be

4 months ago by Amy Lamare

You cannot listen to the radio or a podcast, watch TV, or browse the internet without being served an ad for one of the plethora of online mattress-in-a-box companies that have sprouted up since 2014.

It seems odd. Why wouldn’t you want to test a mattress out by laying on it in a store before you buy it? Most mattress makers advise that you replace your mattress every seven years. How can you make a seven-year commitment without trying it first?

And, seriously, how many online mattress companies does the world need? Let's count: there’s Casper ($CASPERSLEEP), Leesa ($LEESA_, Purple ($PURPLEMATTRESS) (I seriously thought this was a parody at first), Tuft and Needle ($TUFTANDNEEDLE), Saatva ($SAATVAMATTRESS), Tulo, Layla, Helix, Snuz… I could go on and on. Most, if not all, offer a 100-night free trial of the mattress. What if you hate it? Isn’t it all just more difficult to stuff it back in that tiny box and send it back (maybe that's the stragegy)?

I have so many questions! So let’s look at some data.

2014: Enter Casper

Casper started the mattress-in-a-box trend when it launched in 2014. Mattresses were one of the last things to make the transition to e-commerce. Traditionally, mom and pop stores and chains like Mattress Firm and Sit and Sleep were the place to go for mattresses. Let’s face it, buying a mattress is a pretty rare event. It’s not like you replace it once a year.

One theory is that the rise of the online mattress-in-a-box came about partly due to the global financial crisis of 2008. For a period of about six years people stopped buying mattresses. When the economy recovered, there were a ton of people around the world with old mattresses. Brick and mortar mattress stores also proliferated during the same time frame for the same reason: demand.

That makes sense in a way, but these mattress-in-a-box companies continue to multiply like gremlins. There’s another reason for that. People have become used to turning to the internet and apps for easy solutions. These mattress in a box companies offer what they say is a better mattress ordered online at a more reasonable price.

It turns out that people, especially younger adults, were ready to buy their mattresses online. Casper took off. And just like Lyft springing up after Uber hit the market, competition for Casper appeared.

Nerding out on sleep

Technology is another factor in the rise of the online mattress companies. Each brand has its own hook. A Layla mattress is two sided—one side is firm and the other soft. A Purple mattress claims to not put any pressure on your joints. Leesa’s memory foam mattress promises cooling, pressure relieving core support, and so on.

It should also be noted that mattresses are marked up enormously. Many mattresses can be manufactured for around $250, but sell for upwards of $1000. A mattress store only needs to sell a few mattresses to cover its costs. An online mattress business needs to sell even fewer to remain viable.

Casper brought in $1 million in the first 28 days of selling the its mattress in a box—a concept that solved the long list of expensive logistics issues that go along with shipping something as large as a mattress — and dozens of entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to capture market share in the $15 billion mattress industry.

What resulted was a legion of digital brands that appealed to millennials, the same group of people that is now driving the rise of online shopping.

What it ultimately comes down to is branding and marketing. These companies inundate us with ads, which then warm us to the idea of purchasing something online that we wouldn’t normally even consider. They promise a better night’s sleep, no pressure on our joints, even better relationships with our lovers. In a world that sells pretty much everything online and delivers everything from books to booze to furniture — why not a mattress?

Amy Lamare

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