Every industry has its rogues. The mattress industry is no exception. This article is to help you make the correct mattress-buying decision for your health, your wallet and the environment, as we expose the practices of less than ethical ‘bed-in-a-box’ providers when it comes to dealing with returns.
100 night trials – what happens to the returned mattresses?
The return rates of some mattress e-retailers can be as high as 35-40%. As reviewers often state, “I believed the marketing hype”, only to discover that comfort and quality are not congruent with the price of the mattress! But what happens to these returned mattresses?
Returns are undoubtedly a problem for e-retailers. The bigger the retailer, the more likely returns are factored in as an ‘acceptable loss’. Investors are satisfied as long as they make an overall profit. Unfortunately some returned mattresses will end up in landfill, bringing the impending environmental crisis just that bit closer. A few may be recycled. However, there are some returns that have a very different journey.
Are they members of the National Bed Federation?
In the UK, reputable mattress manufacturers are likely to belong to the National Bed Federation (NBF). In exchange for a pricy subscription, the many membership benefits of this respected trade body includes the credibility and peace of mind it gives for users of mattresses. The educational customer-facing part of the NBF is the Sleep Council. As well as a rigorous code of conduct that members adhere to, the NBF conducts regular audits and inspects members’ sales figures, which have to be submitted every quarter. Every company also has to demonstrate how they are processing returns.
Under no circumstances will NBF members receive returned second hand mattresses back to their factory premises. Should this practice come to light or be exposed through an NBF audit, the reputation of the manufacturer would be in tatters. It’s not worth the scandal. The NBF estimate that 75% of UK mattress manufacturers are members. So the majority are good guys. However, according to the NBF’s estimate, that would leave 25% who are non-members.
Firstly, let’s go back to return rates. Many published rates are around 15% – an acceptable loss level for investors. But industry insiders (i.e., people who work in the factories) put the level at closer to 35% – 40%. They know because they make the mattresses and then witness how many come back. So what happens next?
Well, there are a few main routes. Perhaps 15% of returns have the covers stripped off, and are re-covered in new fabric. They may be shipped to a discount outlet and sold as rejuvenated. Some mattresses imported to the UK are made in places like India and China. Obviously these 100 night trial returns cannot go back to the factory of origin, so they are returned to a UK warehouse or a manufacturer, where they may be re-covered and sold via Groupon or Wowcher. Often this return figure is published. Everyone understands what is happening including the buyer, who feels they have a bargain.
Now for the bad news
Perhaps as many as the remaining 25% returned, will be sold AGAIN. Remember, every industry has its rogues. So here’s what tends to happen – one of two scenarios:
- If the top fabric needs replacing – then the stripped returned mattress is introduced to the production line at an earlier stage.
- If the condition of the covering fabric is very good, then the mattress is introduced at a later stage. Yes, the intention is to sell them as brand new.
Apart from the obvious health and hygiene issues – these mattresses are processed through the same facility as the new ones, with the same people at the same workstations handling both used and new mattresses – there is something else to consider. Both types then undergo compression, are folded in half AGAIN, and tightly stored for the SECOND TIME. In another article we explored why your new ‘bed in a box’ mattress could be damaged before you have even used it. Now it’s reliving this earlier stress all over again.
Some ‘bed in a box’ brands use both NBF and non-NBF manufacturing facilities. The NBF membership gives them credence for their brand new mattresses and the non-membership facilities give them the freedom to repurpose returned mattresses. These are either ethically categorised as ‘refurbished’ or unethically described as ‘NEW’.
An Open Secret
This is common knowledge – an open secret within the industry. For non-members of the NBF it is perfectly acceptable practice to turn extra profit. It makes business sense when a refurbished mattress is resold through a discounted outlet. In this case the customer is fully aware of the type of mattress that they are purchasing – and pays accordingly.
But by publishing a lower return rate while adopting this practice, used mattresses are laundered as legitimate. Investors have been deceived.
They are damaged. They stink. They have been used by a stranger. When you open your eyes to this practice the 1-star reviews of some of the leading brands make sense.
People have simply bought returns.
Increasing numbers of online mattress retailers with sleep trials are now offering their mattresses through bricks and mortar shops. If second hand refurbished mattresses are being sold as new online, there is absolutely nothing to stop them from being filtered through and dispersed through their high street sales to unsuspecting customers who think they are purchasing a brand new mattress.
As you and I know, when we stay in a hotel or guesthouse we know full well that our bed for the night has been used before. But it’s downright dishonest to sell a used mattress as NEW when it has been compromised by a stressful manufacturing process at least TWICE, and used by a perfect stranger for up to 3 months in between.