If you listen to podcasts, ride the subway or—let's face it—ever use the internet, you've no doubt been inundated with ads for mail-order mattresses. A number of brands are now trying to stand out in a saturated category their founders predict will get even more crowded.
Casper, Yogabed and Tuft & Needle are three of the most established mail-order mattress brands, but there are at least 60 companies attempting to break into the category, estimates Chris Marsh, co-founder of Yogabed, which launched in February 2015. "There are eight to 10 of us that are well known, and probably 20 to 25 that are doing business, and 60 or more that are trying."
The category has grown and will continue to grow because consumers are seeking a new way to shop for mattresses, Marsh said. Usually priced at $600 to $875 for a queen size, mail-order mattresses are a lower cost, more convenient alternative to traditional high-end mattresses, which can cost thousands. And as consumers continue to buy more goods online, there's room for the category to grow. "It's incredibly crowded," Marsh said. "When you look at it, you could say, 'If I can build a bed and I can build a website, I can go into business.'"
Tuft & Needle launched in 2012 with the goal of transforming the mattress-buying process. "We focused on solving everything we hated about shopping for a mattress," said co-founder Daehee Park. "The whole industry is essentially a black box, and comparison shopping is impossible. You're really just shopping based on price. So you think that if you pay more, you're getting a better mattress, which isn't true."
A manifesto on the brand's website states Tuft & Needle's belief that traditional mattress brands' markups and "zillion layer mattresses" are a scam. "We're providing more transparency in the industry," Park said. "Sharing our values has worked out well for us and helped us gain loyal customers."
Casper, which launched in 2014, also has a loyal following. "Our customers do a lot of selling for us," said co-founder and CEO Philip Krim. "Our customer base is telling their friends, posting on Instagram—all of those things have made us jump out of the gate and define ourselves as different from the other guys in the space." The company also uses content marketing and quirky subway ads to promote its product.
Search ads are king
Search ads and retargeting are a big part of advertising and marketing strategies among mail-order mattress brands. The cost of search terms like "mail order mattress," "bed in a box" or "mattress in a box" vary but usually average around $15, according to Marsh. The company buys hundreds of search terms because certain ones are hotter at different times. "Paid search is a moving target," Marsh said. "You can nail it one week and un-nail it another. Still, paid search and retargeting is massively important—that's the main leg of the stool."
Casper works to protect its brand via search ads, according to Krim. "There are so many sites that look a lot like Casper's that came after Casper and are trying to pick off our interested consumers," he said. "We work to make sure that consumers who are going online to search for Casper don't end up on those sites."
Casper, Tuft & Needle and competitors like Leesa sponsor podcasts on NPR and other outlets. "We listen to podcasts, ourselves, so it was something we tried early on, and we thought it was a great way to connect with people," said Krim from Casper. "Podcasts have really great, digitally dispersed audiences, and it's been a great medium for us."
Although Tuft & Needle plans to continue its podcast sponsorships, Park thinks they might be losing steam as an advertising medium. "It's an interesting medium, especially to reach the right demographic, but it's kind of becoming like another banner ad," he said. "People are seeing too much of it, and it's becoming noise."
The future of the market
Meanwhile, brands are focusing on innovation as the mail-order mattress category expands. Yogabed, for instance, is working on more product innovations such as its zip-off washable mattress covers, and Casper's product engineering team has 50 patents in development.
Some traditional mattress retailers want to get in on the action, too. For example, Tempur Sealy and Mattress Firm have started their own bed-in-a-box brands called Cocoon and Dreambed, respectively.
"It's easy for them to copy our visuals or our language," Park said. "It can be confusing to consumers because everything looks the same. This time next year, the number of online mattress brands may double or triple. We're going to see more brands and more acquisitions in the industry."
Tim Oakhill, co-founder of Yogabed, said the category is fun and has people talking. He also said his company is "just scratching the surface of what's happening with online selling."
"There are no bad ideas," he said, "and it's all about not standing still."
Krim expects more mattress sales to shift online over the next five to 10 years. "There's going to be a shift from a mattress store on every corner to online, direct-to-consumer brands, and my goal is to make sure that Casper is still the leader of that emerging channel," he said. "Within this category, there could be multiple winners. Just like now, people will look at multiple brands—some will focus on price, some on product. It's not necessarily winner take all."