"Buying a mattress is one of the worst consumer experiences in the world," says Philip Krim. Yet, few startups have really tried to improve it — perhaps because the mattress business isn’t exactly the sexiest industry around. Buying a mattress will never be like buying an iPhone. The archetypal smarmy mattress store salesman is nothing like an Apple Store Genius. But Krim, the CEO of "sleep startup" Casper, doesn’t see how the two are so different.
You spend a third of your life sleeping on a mattress, which is probably also in line with the amount of time you spend on your smartphone. All the while, you drop hundreds of dollars on a phone every two years, but mattresses are a considered to be a pricey purchase, even when you only buy one every five or more years. But it’s hard to blame consumers, Krim says, since mattress stores are downright terrible. He decided to start his own company selling premium mattresses on the web, for half the cost of competitors. Casper’s first mattress goes on sale today.
"Statistically, lying on a bed for four minutes has no correlation to whether it’s the right bed for you," says Krim, citing leading mattress reviews site Sleep Like The Dead. But even if they were correlated, he’s convinced that most mattress stores are selling people the wrong beds. He wants to expose the showroom fallacy pervading mattress stores across the country. "We looked at the hotel industry, where they don’t ask you what kind of bed you need, and in general people love sleeping on hotel beds," he says. "We always knew about the games retailers play with having eight gradients of firmness — that’s part of how they guide you through the showroom towards something more expensive and more comfortable."
"Statistically, lying on a bed for four minutes has no correlation to whether it’s the right bed for you."
The most comfortable beds at the mattress store quite likely also cost the most to produce, but Krim’s convinced that he can produce a similar quality mattress for much cheaper. After reflecting on his experiences selling mattresses at his father’s e-commerce company and testing dozens of designs, Krim and co settled on a "medium-firm," 10-inch-deep bed that has a bottom layer of less expensive foam, a midsection of Tempur Pedic-esque memory foam, and a top layer of latex foam. For the final testing phases, Casper even lent some beds to local New York City Airbnb hosts and got feedback on how renters liked them.
Casper mattresses are vacuum-packed for shipping, and inflate over a course of two to three hours.
Latex mattress often cost over $1500, but Casper’s mattresses cost between $500 for a twin-sized mattress and $950 for a king-sized mattress. You could attribute this price differential in part to the notoriously high markups in the mattress industry — markups which Krim says he has cut out by breaking down the supply chain and sourcing manufacturers one by one. Casper also cut costs by not dealing with resellers and showrooms. Thus, he says, Casper isn’t as much about creating a new mattress as much as it is about bringing what he claims is the best mattress technology to the masses for the first time. "Latex is the greatest sleep material out there, but it hasn’t been popularized in the US really — there’s no big company trying to sell the benefits to consumers," he says. "You can build something that’s universally supportive and comfortable for 99 percent of people out there."
"We always knew about the games retailers play."
Setting aside Casper’s supportive beds, convincing the average American to splurge on a web-based, one-size-fits-all model will be challenging. Fortunately, some of the work has already been done there. Tuft & Needle, another mattress startup that offers a similar to Casper, has the No 1-rated mattress on Amazon. Both companies offer free delivery and returns on all mattresses within a 30-day period. Tuft & Needle foam beds are a few hundred dollars cheaper than Casper’s, but also don’t include latex foam.
A competing mattress from Tuft & Needle.
The global mattress market is expected to hit $24.65 billion by 2017, Casper says, and memory foam mattresses are the market’s fastest growing segment, despite having less than 25 percent market share. The existence of Tuft & Needle and Casper, the latter backed by a prominent venture capital firm, could indicate that mattresses might soon be the next industry whose margins will be cut in half by startups — even if only because people are growing more accustomed to buying mattresses online.
Sleepy’s and other mattress stores might soon find themselves in the shoes of Best Buy, an electronics store that has in some ways become a glorified TV showroom for Amazon. Even if Casper and Tuft & Needle can’t make their latest mattress as exciting as the latest smartphone, they might still succeed in teaching consumers to expect more from the bed they sleep on — or at the very least, to expect less from their local mattress shop.