Sleep

7 things to know before buying a mattress online

Purchasing a new mattress sight unseen is worth it, you just have to know how.

Buying a mattress online: What you need to know first Credit: Getty / krblokhin

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The gradual demise of the brick-and-mortar mattress store will hardly be mourned with the same fervor as, say, the death of the local bookstore or record shop. Few people will pen Facebook eulogies about how their teenage mind was blown, or pine for those late, romantic nights at "Joe's Discount Mattresses."

Nevertheless, the shift from big box store to e-commerce has created new challenges for mattress buyers. How are we to decide, sight unseen, on the proper choice for the furniture that supports us for one-third of our life?

It can be done. You just need to ask the right questions, shop around, and do your homework, as you would with any major purchase.

"Online mattresses are tricky, since you can't touch or feel them at all, but most have generous return policies that allow you to use the mattress, and, if worst comes to worst, send it back," says Lindsey Vickers, sleep writer for Reviewed. Here are some tips for getting started.

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1. Set a budget

As with any significant purchase, it's wise to know your upper limit before you get caught up in the glamour of "added features"—that endless list of seemingly desirable attributes that can be yours if you just manage to part with a little more cash.

Often using a comparison chart, the retailers invariably steer you towards the conclusion that paying more means a better night's sleep. That's just not true. Decide in advance what you're willing to spend, and stick to you guns—there are great options out there for every budget.

2. Learn about mattress types and materials

If you've ever felt lost in the cereal aisle at a grocery, bewildered by the sheer magnitude of choice that the modernity affords us, you'll be right at home shopping for a mattress.

Nectar hybrid mattress cutaway
Credit: Nectar

Cross-section of a hybrid mattress, showing inner springs below layers of memory foam.

There are four core types of mattresses, but with dozens of variables and from dozens of brands. And as all of them are photographed to look the same—beautiful, smiling people atop squishy, white rectangles—it's hard to tell them apart. Here are the basic categories:

  • Innerspring: If you're replacing an old mattress, chances are it's innerspring, or a bed of many spring-like coils that compress under your weight to keep your body cradled and supported. Though the basic design is over 100 years old, constant improvements—plus a typically affordable price point—have kept innerspring in the running to this day.
  • Memory foam: Straight from NASA to your bedroom, memory foam, or a form of polyurethane with "viscoelastic" properties, is noted for its responsiveness. It provides an enveloping, sink-into feel. But an explosion of choices can make finding the right softness tricky.
  • Latex: Made in part or in whole from natural rubber, latex mattresses have recently come down in price and found popularity in the online market. Owners like that they offer more bounce and temperature regulation than some memory foams, though they are often pricey.
  • Hybrid: Why not all of the above? Hybrid mattresses typically blend the supportive coils of an innerspring with the softness and contouring of layers of memory foam and/or latex.

Each type offers pros and cons, but understand your sleeping needs and habits can help you narrow it down. Side sleepers, for example, should consider medium-soft or medium firmness levels, while back stomach sleepers will want something a bit more firm. "When buying a mattress, it's important to think about comfort, so consider the firmness or softness, and how supportive beds are," Vickers says.

3. Make peace with the fact that you can't try before you buy

Shopping online is a leap of faith. Amazon's hassle-free return process has made us comfortable with buying stuff without touching it first, but mattresses and big, heavy items. Cramming one into a box and dropping it the post office simply isn't in the cards.

But before you bemoan the loss of an in-person shopping experience, ask yourself this: Did lying down on a mattress in a store for 30 seconds really provide any useful data? Did you ever really feel comfortable performing a trial run of all activities you might do in that bed under the watchful eyes of a salesperson? Probably not.

4. Check the return policy (then check it again)

Most reputable mattress brands and retailers have a generous return policy. Casper, for example, offers a 100-night trial. Others, like Nectar, are up to a year. Some brands tout the fact that returned mattresses are donated to not-for-profit organizations. However, some (Saatva, for example) will charge you for a return. Be sure you know the ins and outs of the return policy before you make your purchase.

5. Familiarize yourself with the online brands and retailers

A shrinking market for dedicated brick-and-mortar mattress stores, plus the closures of department stores like Sears that dedicated a lot of floor space to mattresses, has led to a boom of new direct-to-consumer (DTC) mattress brands. You may have seen advertisements for Casper, Purple, or Nectar, but there are plenty more. And in their race to gain market share, you, the consumer, can often take advantage of surprisingly low prices.

Casper mattress in a box delivery
Credit: Casper

Mattress-in-a-box brands arrive compact but hefty. Be prepared to do the heavy lifting on your own.

Likewise, big retail brands like Target, Walmart, and Wayfair, have expanded their selection of to include popular DTC mattress brands. This is a great option if you're more comfortable shopping at retailers you already know, where you might be able to take advantage of coupons, points programs, and free shipping.

6. Read the reviews

As with most big ticket items, there's a world of reviews out there—some trustworthy and some not. Reviewed has done its own testing of mattress-in-a-box brands and we're nearly done building out a new, dedicated test lab, but we're hardly the only reputable voices out there. Look for review sources that define how they test and make clear that they're not simply endorsing the brands that offer them the most money. Use discretion when reading websites that are dedicated solely to mattress reviews. Many have financial ties directly to mattress companies.

Shopper reviews on retailers' sites should best be viewed en masse rather than focusing too much on any single review. As you've no doubt seen on Amazon, users may give a one-star review simply because the box was damaged when it arrived or because they received the wrong product. Focus on the trends. Are most of the reviews generally positive or negative? Do lots of users complain about a common defect or praise a certain feature? Now you might be onto something.

7. Have a plan for your old mattress

Old mattress haul away
Credit: Getty / DGLimages

Figure out a plan for that old mattress before you buy a replacement.

One of the few real benefits of the old big-box mattress stores was their takeaway service for your old mattress. Not so in the modern era, where your new mattress is frequently left at the doorway before the driver speeds away. Some brands offer white-glove service that will set up your new bed and take the old one away, but expect to pay extra for that.

The product experts at Reviewed have all your shopping needs covered. Follow Reviewed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest deals, product reviews, and more.

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