Should you buy a mattress online or in store?

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Medically-Reviewed by Dr. Leann Poston

The coronavirus pandemic has changed us. It’s changed the way we interact, the way we do business, the way we shop. Months, or perhaps years from now, when effective vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 are readily available, we will still wear the scars of this crisis.  

“You can’t un-live this experience,” said Emily Miller, VP of Strategy & Insight told CNBC for brand experience firm Big Red Rooster

Consumers will emerge from the global pandemic with a new way of doing things, and retailers will have to adapt, according to reports on the coronavirus impact on consumers. No doubt, one place where this will be most evident is when it comes to shopping for mattresses. 

Shopping In-Store vs. Online

If you’re like many consumers in need of a new mattress, you’ve headed out to a brick-and-mortar mattress showroom and inspected a few dozen beds. A salesperson told you about the store’s selection and invited you to test out a few mattresses. You climbed onto each one, rolled from your back to your side, and snuggled into the pillowtop to get a good feel for which might be your perfect bed. You did exactly what countless others did before you. 

However, a new way of shopping for mattresses has emerged. According to a 2017 Forbes report, online mattress companies have taken over 5% of the mattress market, and are poised to double their reach quickly as consumers realize the benefits of online mattress shopping

If you consider your shopping habits more “old school,” you may be wary of buying a mattress online. You can’t exactly test out a bed-in-a-box before purchasing it. How would you know if you made the right choice? However, in a world where we buy just about everything online; from groceries to new clothes, there are plenty of reasons to add a mattress to that list.

For starters, you can read about the performance factors and consumer reviews of online mattresses, and get a pretty good idea of which may work best for you. There are other benefits, too, like the convenience of shopping at home with no pushy salespeople to tune out, and 100-plus-night sleep trials and free returns if you’re not satisfied with your purchase. Even better, researchers have found that online mattresses offer better specifications, materials, durability, and long-term comfort than their in-store counterparts.

The retail world is full of tight, cramped spaces where hundreds, if not thousands, of people, touch the merchandise and breathe the same air. It’s germy out there — far more than in the comfort of your home. 

“Shopping in the store will have a higher risk than shopping online,” says Invigor Medical’s, Dr. Leann Poston. “The risk will be determined by how crowded the store is, how small the store is, the ventilation system, how long you spend shopping, and whether social distancing and masks are used to decrease your exposure to viral particles.”

Related: Mattress store comparison

This is especially true when it comes to floor model mattresses in retail showrooms, which have been laid upon by countless numbers of strangers. Compare that to shopping online in the safety of your own home. That alone should have you asking yourself, “Why did I ever consider shopping for a mattress in a store?” 

General Sanitation 

When you think about the main reason someone goes to a store to buy a mattress, versus buying online, it almost always starts with the want to lay on the mattress and test it out. Think about the last time you went to a mattress store. I am willing to bet you laid on not just one mattress, but four or five, to figure out which is right for you. Salespeople generally recommend you lie on each one for about 10 to 15 minutes and shift positions to get a good feel for each mattress. Have you ever stopped to think about what you’re wallowing in?

Our bodies shed about 500 million skin cells every day at a rate of about 30,000 to 40,000 every minute. If you lie down on a mattress for just 10 minutes, you’ll shed about 300,000 to 400,000 dead skin cells. That’s the same for all the other bodies that have laid on that floor model mattress before you. Guess what feeds on those dead skin cells? Dust mites

“Every mattress is a crime scene in terms of how it gets inoculated with mites,” retired Ohio State University entomology professor Glen Needham told Slate. These microscopic bugs nest in mattresses, lay eggs, and poop. If you suffer from allergies or asthma, your mattress test run could set off an allergy or asthma attack.

Floor sample mattresses, pillows, and foot protectors can also become hotbeds for yeast, mold, and bacteria. For example, if you walk into a public restroom or on the grass with animal droppings, and then test out a mattress in a retail store, your shoes could leave behind disease-causing bacteria like E.coli and Staphylococcus aureus.

And what about viruses? We already know that some viruses are commonly spread person-to-person and can persist on different surfaces for hours and sometimes days. “Mattresses are no different,” infectious disease expert Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CBC. A virus could linger on them for up to two days. “If you have a sick bed partner, I recommend cleaning your mattress once or twice every day,” he said. However, can you trust a mattress retailer to do the same? Considering they are may be unaware whether someone who has laid on their mattress was sick? Probably not. 

We spoke with an ex-mattress store employee who shared with us that many mattress retailers charge the employees with the responsibility of taking the pillows and foot protectors of the floor models to their homes to wash. They do this “from time to time.” Taking these items to employees’ homes exposes them to a potentially unclean environment and an unregulated space. As for the floor model mattresses? There is no regular or scheduled cleaning. Instead, retailers are more likely to swap them out only if they look soiled or bring in a steaming company on an “as needed” basis.   

Risk of Disease Going In-store vs. Shopping Online

Even if you don’t plan to actually lie down on a mattress to sample it, there are other hazards lurking in brick-and-mortar mattress stores. Everything you touch — the shop’s front door, the credit card machine, the hand of the salesperson when they offer it to greet you — can expose you to germs. Online shopping essentially eliminates those risks. 

“Going to a store is always going to be riskier than online shopping, as more people are around you, and around the things, you are touching,” said Dr. Giuseppe Aragona M.D., General Practitioner & Medical Advisor at Prescription Doctor. Online shopping is more controlled, and fewer people are touching items and are around each other.” 

Price & Store Markups

Does it seem like large mattress retailers are always running “sales”? Well, technically they are. If you have spent any time shopping around at various mattress retailers you may have noticed that there seem to be dozens of specific names with different “Model Numbers” and “Classifications” for seemingly the exact same mattress, making it impossible to comparison shop store to store. According to one ex-mattress store employee, large brick-and-mortar brands, simply index the same mattress under different codes, so they are able to sell them at different “sale prices” throughout the year.

When you buy a mattress from a retail store, you’re paying for more than just a mattress. You’re paying for advertising costs, sales commissions, and wholesaler profits. When you buy a mattress online, you completely cut out those costs. 

You might think you’re getting a deal from one store because you’re taking advantage of one of their sales. But just how often is that mattress on sale? And how much are you really saving? 

“The Mattress industry is dirty,” said a former mattress store employee. “But I don’t think the average consumer has any idea what goes on behind the scenes of mattress shopping.”

Mattress showroom salespeople are essentially snake oil salesmen. They feed off sales and will tell you anything you want to hear to close a deal. But beware of what you’re actually paying for. Ask yourself important questions: Is there a sleep trial period for you to test out your bed? Are there free, hassle-free returns if you change your mind? And is there a warranty if your mattress sags or squeaks in a few years? The International Sleep Products Association suggests you do your homework before buying a mattress whether online or in person.  


Mattress Durability

In many industries, expensive is supposed to be considered better. It makes the consumer think the more money they spend, the longer something will last, the more luxurious it will feel, and the happier it will make them. In the mattress industry today, that could not be further from the truth. More expensive does not equal better quality.

A mattress is an investment toward a good night’s sleep, and as such, an investment in your health and well-being. You expect a mattress to last a long time. Most of the high-quality mattresses can last 10 years or longer, but that doesn’t mean you have to shell out your life’s savings. 

When you cut out the cost of advertising and sales commission that you spend at big-box mattress stores, you can save hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. 

Worried a mattress that arrives at your home rolled-in-a-box won’t be up to par with a  showroom mattress? Think again. Memory foam, latex, hybrid, and even air mattresses are not only durable, but they also offer more comfort and performance features than traditional innerspring mattresses, a large portion of what you’ll find at mattress stores. They also have much higher customer satisfaction ratings and come with much longer sleep trials, free returns, and warranties.  


If you still are convinced that testing out a mattress in a store outweighs the risk of illness, exposure to germs, having to physically drive to the store, and deal with pushy salespeople, we have one more thing for you to consider. To actually know how a mattress feels to you, and works for your body, it takes a minimum of 30 nights. Meaning, those two or three minutes you spend rolling around in thousands of other people’s dead skin cells, does not give you anywhere close to an accurate representation of how it will feel sleeping on that mattress. 

Bottom line: Shopping online versus at a retail showroom is safer. It’s also far more convenient. You can research mattresses to better understand each of their comfort and performance factors (spine alignment, motion isolation, pressure point relief, etc.), read consumer reviews, and even find out if the materials used are organic or hypoallergenic (this is especially important for shoppers with allergies or sensitivities) and where the materials were sourced (an added value for those who are more eco or socially conscious). 

There are also other benefits of online mattresses that showrooms do not necessarily offer: 

  • Free shipping: Most online mattress companies offer free shipping. Comparatively, retail mattress stores often charge a delivery fee. 
  • 100-plus night sleep trials: You can’t expect to find your dream bed by lying on it for 10 or 15 minutes. It takes at least 30 days to break in your mattress. You may have to negotiate with the showroom salesman to get a 30-day sleep trial. But almost all online mattresses offer at least a 100-night sleep trial up to a full year.
  • Free returns: Many online mattress companies offer free returns if you change your mind about your purchase within the sleep trial period.
  • Generous Warranties: Most online mattress companies offer warranties of 10 or 20 years. Some offer lifetime warranties.