Mattress Matters » Sleep Savvy

Consumers are almost evenly split on firmness, but softer beds have gained ground, according to research conducted by the Better Sleep Council

Consumers are divided in their preferences for firm and soft mattresses, but the Covid-19 pandemic is sparking growing interest in softer mattresses, which are preferred by many younger consumers.

A major consumer study by the Better Sleep Council, the consumer education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, found that consumers are split almost evenly these days in their preferences for very firm, firm, soft and very soft mattresses.

The nationally projectible study of more than 1,000 consumers who participated in mattress purchasing decisions revealed consumers fall into four similar-size groups when it comes to mattress firmness:

  • 25% prefer very firm mattresses
  • 26% prefer firm mattresses
  • 26% prefer soft mattresses
  • 23% prefer very soft mattresses.

The consumers used a slider in the online survey to position their mattress preferences on a continuum from very firm to very soft.

The study, conducted last year, provided an update to a similar consumer study conducted four years earlier as part of a regular BSC initiative to track consumer perceptions of a variety of key topics related to mattresses and sleep accessories.

The latest research found that consumers are more likely now than they were in 2016 to prefer soft mattress (49% vs. 42%).

And the Covid-19 pandemic is boosting interest in softer mattresses, the study found. Consumers under stay-at-home orders are more than twice as likely as others to prefer a very soft mattress (45% vs. 19%).

The study also found that younger consumers are more likely to prefer softer mattresses than consumers in other age groups. Almost half (46%) of consumers 18 to 35 said they prefer a soft mattress, compared with 22% of consumers ages 36 to 55, and just 7% of consumers 56 and older.

“Comfort is in the eye of beholder, and it’s important for the mattress industry to know how consumers are defining comfort in their bedrooms,” said Mary Helen Rogers, ISPA’s vice president of communications and marketing. “This broad consumer study reveals that consumer interest in softer mattresses is rising, particularly among younger consumers, but confirms once again that there is no one firmness level that is right for everyone. That’s why bedding producers offer broad assortments of comfort levels in their lines.”

Types, features, benefits

The study yielded insights into the types of mattresses that consumers prefer and the features and they are looking for in those mattresses.

Among the key findings:

  • Comfort and support are the most important features when consumers are purchasing a new mattress, cited by 83% of consumers. Size/thickness is next, cited by 57% of consumers, followed by construction/materials (56%), reputation (40%), warranty (31%), customization (29%) and technology/innovation (16%).
  • When it comes to mattress types, 34% of consumers said they believe pillow-top mattresses are best, while 22% said hybrid mattresses made with both springs and foam are best, and another 22% said foam mattresses made without springs or coils are best . Spring mattresses were said to be best by 21% of consumers.
  • Asked about the best type of foam, 66% said memory foam (viscoelastic foam), while 31% said gel foam and 20% said latex foam.
  • Interest in adjustable beds is on the upswing. Nearly two in 10 consumers now own an adjustable foundation, an increase from 2016 (17% vs. 9%). Seven in 10 consumers are familiar with adjustable foundations, a level of interest comparable to that found in 2016.
  • Taking a closer look at key mattress features, the survey found that back support is the top feature that consumers are looking for to meet their comfort/support needs, cited by 43% of consumers. Firm is next (33%), followed by pillow-top (26%), soft (20%), contours to your body (20%), motion isolation (14%), firm edges (14%) and adjustable firmness/ support (11%).
  • Overall, size is the single most important feature when consumers are considering a mattress, cited by 49% of consumers.
  • When it comes to mattress construction and materials, 22% of consumers like mattresses that do not need to be flipped, while 17% said that hypoallergenic or allergen control materials are important, and 16% said that it is important that the mattress contains foam. Thirteen percent said cover fabric quality is important to them, while the fact that the mattress is made with coils or springs is important to 11% of consumers.
  • Three in 10 consumers said that mattresses “Made in the USA” are important to them. That’s the same number who say that having a mattress warranty is important to them. But the survey also found that 42% of consumers don’t recall whether their current mattress had a warranty.
  • A brand name is important to 17% of consumers, the survey found.
  • The ability to customize a mattress was cited by a number of consumers, with 17% saying that temperature control is important, 11% saying a mattress compatible with an adjustable foundation is important, and 10% saying it is important that each side of the mattress has its own firmness and support.
  • The survey also asked consumers which factors are most important in making a comfortable bed. Not surprisingly, the mattress topped that list, with 39% of consumers giving that response. That was followed by 16% of consumers who said the mattress set (a mattress and a flat box spring/foundation) is most important, 10% of consumers who said pillows are most important and 7% who said sheets are most important.

“Without a comfortable mattress,” one consumer said, “a good night’s sleep would be impossible.”

“The mattress provides the support to allow you to relax,” another added.


Retail Playbook: 5 tips to increase sales

1. Sell the sleep ensemble.

Insight: One-third of consumers say the elements in the sleep ensemble – the mattress and box spring/foundation set, pillows and sheets — are the most important items for a comfortable bed.

Application: Most mattress retailers sell sleep sets and pillows, but sheets can be a chance to boost the sales ticket. Why make the mattress shopper go to another store to buy sheets?

2. Promote pillow-tops.

Insight: Pillow-tops are popular. One-third of consumers say they are the best type of mattress

Application: Introduce a new bedding department: bestselling pillow-tops, all arranged in one handy location in the store. This is a great place for the retail sales associate to start the comfort test process.

3. Share some “back talk.”

Insight: Forty-three percent of consumers say mattresses that support the back are important when they are buying a new mattress.

Application: Smart retailers will catch the attention of those consumers by engaging in some “back talk” in their ads and on their sales floors.

4. Tout a USA story.

Insight: Three in 10 consumers say that “Made in the USA” is important when buying a new mattress.

Application: This is an easy message to deliver. “Made in the USA” is a nice tagline to include in retail ads.

5. Cover your firmness bases.

Insight: Slightly more than half of all consumers prefer a mattress that is very firm or firm (51%), while almost half (49%) prefer a mattress that is soft or very soft.

Application: Consumers are almost evenly divided on the firm/soft continuum, and that means retailers need to cover all of those bases in their stores. One good way to do that is to offer comfort choices at key price points.


Young consumers buy new mattresses more frequently, survey says

Consumers are replacing their mattresses at about the age they expect a quality mattress to last, a Better Sleep Council consumer study reveals.

The survey found that consumers expect a quality mattress to last for a mean of 9.5 years and actually replaced their previous mattress after a mean of nine years.

It also found that the consumers’ age, gender and metro status, among other factors, affect their mattress replacement patterns.

For example:

  • Younger consumers’ expected and actual replacement times are much shorter than for older consumers. Consumers between the ages of 18 and 35 expect a quality mattress to last for a mean of 7.1 years but replaced their previous mattress after a mean of 5.7 years.
  • Consumers ages 36 to 55 expect a quality mattress to last for a mean of 8.7 years, but said they replaced their previous mattress after a mean of 8 years.
  • Consumers 56 and older replaced their last mattress after a mean of 12.3 years and said they expect a quality mattress to last for a mean of 12.1 years.

“Consumers in different demographic groups have very different expectations of mattress life,” said Mary Helen Rogers, vice president of communications and marketing for the International Sleep Products Association. (The BSC is ISPA’s consumer education arm.) “They also have different budgets and life experiences, and those factors and others, affect their home furnishings purchase decisions.”

Consumers with children at home expect a quality mattress to last for a mean of 7.2 years but replaced their previous mattress after a mean of 6.4 years. However, consumers without children have a significantly longer replacement cycle. They expect a quality mattress to last for a mean of 10.6 years and said they replaced their previous mattress after a mean of 10.3 years.

Where people live also matters. Urban consumers expect a quality mattress to last for a mean of 8.1 years and replaced their previous mattress after a mean of 7.8 years. Rural consumers, on the other hand, expect a quality mattress to last for a mean of 10.1 years and said they replaced their previous mattress after a mean of 9.5 years.

Men and women both said they expect a quality mattress to last for a mean of 9.5 years, but men said they replaced their previous mattress after a mean of 8.5 years, while women said they replaced their previous mattress after a mean of 9.4 years.

The BSC has been tracking the mattress replacement cycle for decades, and the latest research shows that the expected replacement time remains in single digits. The 2020 expected replacement mean was 9.5 years, about the same as the 2016 expected replacement mean of 9.4 years. But the 2007 expected replacement mean was 10.9 years.

The actual replacement times also remain in single digits. The 2020 actual mean was 9 years, about the same as the 2016 actual mean of 8.9 years. But the 2007 actual replacement mean was 10.3 years.

“It’s a positive that expected and actual mattress replacement cycles remain at lower levels than in the past,” Rogers says. “Too many consumers continue to hang onto old mattresses long after they have lost their comfort life. A quality mattress is the key to a good night’s sleep, and the Better Sleep Council encourages all consumers to invest in a quality mattress.”

The survey also examined sources of information that consumers rely on for guidance on how frequently they should replace a mattress. It found that consumers are most likely to rely on their own experiences with mattresses, with 39% of consumers expressing that view.

Next on the list, cited by 17% of consumers, are experts’ recommendations, followed by word-of-mouth comments, cited by 16% of consumers. That same percentage of consumers said they form their opinions based on what the mattress industry recommends. “What the warranty says” was cited by 15% of consumers, while 14% cited online reviews.

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