Out-of-the-box thinking: There are 175 new mattress brands and too little differentiation

August 20, 2019

If someone had asked us several years ago whether we would be willing to buy a mattress in a box, without seeing it or even stretching out on it first, we would immediately have rejected such a crazy proposition. After all, the best way to buy a new mattress used to be visiting a showroom and sampling the goods.

However, Michael Magnuson, founder of mattress review site GoodBed.com told CNBC recently that there are now around 175 bed-in-a-box companies—and online mattress sales have become a successful and profitable sector of the home goods industry.

Online mattress companies that ship to your front door say that finding the perfect bed might just take a few clicks. But those same industry experts warn that it’s important to look beneath the sheets, the cable network news outlet notes. They say many mattresses being sold are actually very similar formulations—despite how they’re marketed. In fact, they often are manufactured by the same companies.

“The products that you’re buying—there are many similarities and only some minor differences,” Seth Basham, an analyst at Wedbush Securities who covers the mattress industry, told CNBC recently. He said that the core of the mattresses at different companies often use the same foam.  “The different layers— what goes on top of what—can differ. But the big difference is how they’re being sold and marketed.”

Their sales account for 12% of the $16.5 billion mattress industry, though only the top 10 companies make a significant dent, according to Basham. Among the major players are brands like Purple, Casper, Nectar, Leesa, and Tuft & Needle.

The legacy mattress giants like Tempur Sealy and Serta Simmons should be nervous, Peter Keith, an analyst at Piper Jaffray told the news outlet in an interview. Sales units on average at those companies have been down 5% over the past two years.

A survey by the International Sleep Products Association reported that 45% of mattresses purchased in last year were online, up from 35% for purchases in 2017.

The majority of bed-in-a-boxes outsource their manufacturing, according to Magnuson from GoodBed.com. “None of these guys, with a few rare exceptions, make their own mattresses,” he said. “They’re literally calling around to producers saying, ‘we need a finished product and here’s what we think it should look like.’ Sometimes, they don’t even know what they want it to look like.”

The companies that make their own mattresses include Brentwood Home, Brooklyn Bedding, and Purple, Magnuson said. Many of the bigger bed-in-a-boxes do the research and development of the mattresses themselves, which differentiate how they feel.

And companies like Tuft & Needle, Casper and Leesa have layers of foam with proprietary formulas, which means they’re not the same as others.

Most of the outsourcing is to just four major manufacturers, according to Dan Schecter, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Carpenter. He told CNBC that his company makes mattresses for 40% of the mattress industry at 60 factories throughout the country. That includes including roughly 14 bed-in-a-box brands, along with all the traditional players like Tempur Sealy.

“The customer comes to us … they say they want a mattress that does these things against the body, and they would like to have these features and advantages as part of their marketing story. We then create the mattresses that dovetail with what their vision is,” he said.

Schecter said the mattresses produced by Carpenter do not have the same foam formulations, and that the company only agrees to design and manufacture mattresses that are backed by science.

Purple emphasizes the science behind its mattresses, especially its “Smart Comfort Grid” layer, which it says helps to relieve pressure on your body during sleep. Eight Sleep is another company that’s technology-oriented, and touts its mattresses’ dual temperature control and sleep tracking app.

So what’s a tired consumer supposed to buy? Until the market shakes out, that might be a problem.

But all the different offerings might just overwhelm consumers, David Srere, co-CEO of branding agency Siegel+Gale, told CNBC. “It’s the amount of information. There’s just too much,” he said. “If you go online, not only do all of them look alike, but they’re all talking about their different products. If I tell you that my mattress is special because it’s infused with copper gel, does it mean anything to you?”

Research contact: @CNBC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *