Considering that a good night's sleep is important for good health, the right mattress can make all the difference.
But mattress shopping can feel a bit like car shopping — you only need a mattress about every 10 years, and the whole process is mystifying. With mattress shops seemingly on almost every corner and nice-sounding but meaningless names like "Endless Sleep" or "Luxury Comfort," it's hard to tell the difference between one mattress and another.
Experts said the mattress industry purposely doesn't make it easy for shoppers.
"Here's the trick with mattress shopping. There is no standard," said Louis Ramirez, senior features writer at comparison shopping website DealNews. "What one company calls ultra firm, another calls soft."
Craig Welch, president of review website What'sTheBest-Mattress.com and a former consultant who worked with the mattress industry, said the confusion between mattress names is deliberate. Welch said in order to sell more products, manufacturers will work with retailers and sell essentially the same lineup of mattresses and give them different names for different shops.
"Retailers want to compete on their ability to sell; they don't want to compete on price," Welch said.
There are ways for consumers to do some price comparisons, but "you have to be tenacious about it," he said.
Whether shopping online or in a store, buyers should expect to spend time researching.
The benefit to going to a showroom is that sleepers can test out how comfortable the mattress is, which Ramirez and Welch recommended.
Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy content editor for Consumer Reports, said mattress comfort is definitely subjective, saying they recently reviewed mattresses for support and durability.
"We can tell you which mattress is supportive, but not how comfortable it will be for you," she said.
When shopping showrooms, start in the back of the store, Lehrman said, as that's where the less-expensive models are located: The pricier pads are in front. Wear comfortable clothes and lie on the mattress for 10 to 15 minutes, all three said.
Welch said consumers can get some basic information from statistic sheets, which the salesperson can print out. This information should explain the components inside the mattress, such as the number of coils, coil thickness, known as the gauge, and the number of layers of foam padding above the coils. It may also explain the foam's material and what's in the fabric covering the mattress, called ticking.
Repeat the process in another store, choosing the same mattress manufacturer, and test out the pads that were in a similar price range at the other store. If the mattress feels the same, ask the salesperson for the statistics sheet on that mattress and then compare the two, Welch said.
"If it feels pretty close, you'll likely discover the bed is very close to identical. At the very least it will have the same number of coils and the same gauge. The layers of padding may be arranged differently, but fundamentally it's the same stuff and thickness. The ticking may be a different color or pattern," he said.
The one thing a consumer can't do properly is compare mattresses among brands, Welch said, adding that the technology between the manufacturers is different.
Return policies are key, whether shopping online or on foot, the experts said.
"You want to be sure it's easy to return, know the length of time for trying it out, and see if they are going to charge you a restocking fee and if they're going to charge you for transporting it back," Lehrman said.
When shopping, try to negotiate, the experts said, particularly at specialty stores. Wait for sales, especially 40 percent or 50 percent off deals. Competition for conventional innerspring mattresses is the highest and will likely lead to more price-cutting; salespeople are less likely to offer deals on memory foam mattresses and air-filled mattresses, they said.