Startup wants to take the stress out of buying a mattress

Mattress shopping can be stressful. You visit a store to find something simple and leave $3,000 poorer, having been convinced by the smooth-talking salesperson that you absolutely need that innerspring gel memory foam that will give you the best night's sleep of your life.

One company is taking on the mattress industry by seeking to offer customers a completely different experience. Casper only sells its mattresses online, and it sells only one model -- memory foam topped with latex foam. It ships the mattresses for free in a box that can fit in the trunk of a regular car. The mattress expands after it is unpacked.

The New York company operates on the theory that some people just want a good mattress. They don't want to sift through the intricacies of a pillowtop versus an extra-firm or a foam. They don't want the hassle of shopping and transport. They just want to click a button and have a mattress show up at their doorstep.

And they'll pay for it, too. Casper's mattress prices range from $500 for a twin to $950 for a king. Ashley Feinberg at Gizmodo tried one and writes that "they certainly are comfortable." But, she adds, "whether or not Casper's single-product model will be enough to upend the mattress industry remains to be seen."

The mattress business is dominated by three big names: Serta, Sealy and Simmons. It's a $13 billion industry built on a combination of heavy advertising, constant product refreshment, and a battalion of aggressive salespeople at department stores and specialty shops.

Buying a mattress from these companies can be confusing -- the manufacturers rename the same products for each different retail store, according to Slate. That makes it hard to compare apples to apples when you shop.

There's even a growing market for ridiculously upscale beds and mattresses, such as Savoir Beds' $175,000 Royal State Bed, which takes 700 hours to make and features a crest embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework.

"A good night's rest is better than any beauty cream or therapy," said Savoir Beds co-owner Alistair Hughes, according to The Financialist. "People care too much about buying the right couture dress or Savile Row suit, and too little about buying the right bed."

For some people, that's absolutely the case. But others who have precious little time or patience for the baffling mattress industry might find a lot to like in a website that offers a simple alternative.
  • Kim Peterson

    Kim Peterson is a financial journalist covering business and the economy. She has written for several online and print publications, including MSN Money and The Seattle Times.