Better Sleep Council consumer research findings on mattresses and sleep

by Nancy Butler

New consumer research from the Better Sleep Council shows that attitudes toward sleep and mattresses are gradually evolving, especially among younger Americans, but changes in actual consumer behavior are slow to catch up. What is clear is that there are plenty of opportunities for mattress manufacturers and retailers to work together to propel change.

Americans are more aware of the importance of good sleep than ever before, and the vast majority also are aware of the links among mattresses, sleep and overall health. But their expectations of how long a mattress should last remain virtually unchanged from 2000.

The new research shows some movement in attitudes about mattress replacement, revealing that about half of consumers find the health benefit arguments for more frequent replacement convincing. It also shows that younger consumers are more receptive to the BSC’s current “evaluate your mattress for replacement after five to seven years” message and also are more concerned about the presence of allergens and pests in older mattresses.

Consumers are well aware that mattress prices have increased in recent years and see them as “expensive” household items. But they also believe that there is value in a mattress. And satisfaction with mattresses purchased is high.

Shopping for mattresses remains a daunting, anxiety–producing task for most people, even though the majority now go into the process armed with plenty of information—much of it from the Internet.

Sleep is critical

Respondents in the survey rated a good night’s sleep as the most important factor for their health and well–being. Sleep also was regarded as an essential factor in work productivity, overall energy, and physical and mental agility.

Nearly all (97%) respondents agreed that “a good night’s sleep is essential to quality of life.” Women (77%) were more likely to strongly agree with this statement than men (67%). But an increasing number of American adults don’t get enough sleep. Forty–five percent said they are not getting enough sleep—up from 37% in 2000 and 36% in 2004.

Older respondents (age 55 and older) were more likely to be “very satisfied” with the quality of their sleep (40%) than respondents 35 to 54 years old (28%). Women (24%) were more dissatisfied with the quality of their sleep than men (18%). Regardless of their satisfaction level, 78% would like improvements in sleep quality.

Respondents named noise and stress as two major factors in diminished quality of sleep. The role of the mattress was not top of mind. But when respondents were prompted, four out of five acknowledged that poor mattresses often cause sleep problems, and three–quarters agreed that “a good mattress will help me sleep better.”

An overwhelming majority (91%) of respondents agreed that a good mattress is essential to health and well–being. Women (68%) were significantly more likely than men (51%) to strongly agree with the health benefits of a good mattress. The connection between mattresses and health was significantly higher among older respondents—65% of those 55 and older “strongly agree.”

Respondents also made a strong connection between the quality of a mattress and back health. More than four–fifths agreed that back problems can be avoided by sleeping on a proper mattress.

Again, the connection was more evident among older respondents and women. Consumers 55 and older were more likely to “strongly agree” (54%) that back problems could have been avoided had they slept on a good mattress than those 18 to 34 years old (38%) and those 35 to 54 years old (44%). Women (85%) were more likely than men (80%) to agree with this statement. An overwhelming 85% of respondents agreed that sleeping on a bad mattress will cause serious back problems in the long run.

Price/value perceptions shift

Survey findings suggest that the majority of consumers perceive mattresses to be expensive. But interestingly, the majority also said that their last mattress was worth the price they paid.

Almost three–quarters said that mattresses are too expensive—a sentiment steadily increasing since 2000. Respondents age 35 to 54 were more likely than those 55 and older to think so, as were those who had never purchased a mattress.

The average perceived cost of a quality mattress has nearly doubled—from $498 to $929— since the BSC began tracking consumer opinions in 1996. But 60% of respondents agreed that the more you pay for a mattress, the better the quality. In 1996, only 49% agreed with that idea.

Consumers are becoming more aware of the cost of a good mattress. A little more than a quarter indicated that a good mattress should cost between $600 and $1,000, while a third said it should cost less than $600. In 1996 and 2000, about 40% of respondents put the cost of a mattress below $400. This number dropped significantly in 2004 to 18% and to 13% in 2007.

An overwhelming 86% of respondents agreed that their last mattress was worth what they paid for it.

The satisfaction level is consistent with the 2004 research, but represents a significant improvement over 2000.

In addition to cost, consumers appear to be more aware of the wide array of sleep products available on the market. Ninety–six percent of respondents agreed that there is a greater variety of mattresses on the market than ever, and 75% were aware that there is a wide selection of differentiated products, up from 23% in 2000.

Replacement cycle stalls

The most recent survey findings show that most consumers (61%) continue to believe that a mattress should be replaced, on average, every 10 years—a belief also reflected in the earlier focus groups. While most respondents didn’t remember where they got that number, some sources were:

  • Sales pitch of sales associates
  • Warranty information
  • Comparison with the average lifespan of other household items

Consumers’ actual purchasing behaviors seem to confirm the entrenched 10–year lifespan perception. When asked how many years they owned their previous mattress before replacing it, approximately 65% said they kept their last mattress for 10 years or less. The average number of years was 10.3, consistent with 10.3 in 2004 and 10.2 in 2000.

But consumers’ age played a major role in both perceptions of the mattress lifespan and actual replacement behaviors. Younger respondents (18–34) expected a quality mattress to last nine years, compared to the 10 expected by 35 to 54 year olds. Those 55 and older expected a mattress to last 12.8 years. Younger consumers also reported keeping their mattress for fewer years: 6.8 years (18–34) vs. 10.1 years (35–54) and 14.4 years (55 and older).

Replacement barriers remain

Respondents in the new research—qualitative and quantitative combined—cited the following barriers to mattress replacement:

  • Perceived lack of need
  • Lack of aesthetic or aspirational value
  • Satisfaction with their current mattress
  • Financial constraints
  • Unpleasant or intrusive purchasing experience.

When respondents who last purchased a mattress more than five years ago were asked why they hadn’t yet replaced it, the most oft–mentioned reason was they didn’t see a need (51%). Other common reasons were financial (24%) and satisfaction with the mattress they currently have (15%).

Replacement is often deferred until the mattress is obviously deteriorating, uncomfortable, and the owners can barely sleep on it. Sixty–eight percent of respondents said the only time they think of their mattress is when it disturbs them. Many don’t make the connection between their physical wellness and the age and state of their mattress, tending to blame other factors, even when their mattress is deteriorated or uncomfortable.

People’s satisfaction with their current mattress also is a deterrent to more frequent replacement. Fifty–eight percent said that their mattress was in a “not so bad” condition when they decided to purchase a new one—this has markedly increased since 2000, when only 41% had a similar view. Focus group research revealed that emotional attachment to an old mattress leads many people to believe that it is adequately serving their needs.

The lack of perceived need might lead to the conclusion that people don’t care about their mattresses. But an overwhelming majority of respondents (78%) disagreed with the statement that they do not care about their mattress.

Approximately half (49%) agreed that they would like to own a better mattress than the one they currently own. But it’s clear that consumers are more likely to put a priority on items with more social currency and aesthetic value.

Most consumers replace their current mattress only when it gets to the point of obvious deterioration. But other strong triggers are a sore back and sore, stiff muscles, as well as “when my mattress does not provide a good night’s sleep”—a choice not included in previous surveys.

The desire to upgrade—to a bigger, better or “different” mattress—got mid–range scores on the 1–10 importance scale. Lifestyle changes, such as getting married, getting a new job or moving, drive mattress replacement to a lesser degree. And even though warranty periods appear to be affecting expectations of a mattress’ lifespan, “when the warranty is reached” is at the bottom of the list.

The numbers for 2007 varied little from those in the 2004 research.

Mixed reviews for earlier replacement

Consumers had mixed reactions to the BSC’s recommendation that they should consider replacing their mattresses every five to seven years—a message that officially replaced the previous eight to 10–year message last year. About half found the message convincing; others were more skeptical.

In both the focus group research and quantitative research, the reaction was almost equally split between those likely to consider replacing their mattress every five to seven years and those unlikely to consider it. The reaction was largely driven by age, with respondents 18 to 34 years old significantly more likely (68%) than those older (38%) to consider earlier replacement.

The resistance to more frequent replacement is largely driven by consumers’ expectations that their mattresses should be used as long as the years on the warranty—69% of respondents strongly agreed. This continues to be pervasive across all demographics.

The cost of a mattress appears to deter nearly 60%, who agreed “I wish I could replace my mattress every five to seven years but I can’t afford the cost.” Not surprisingly, younger respondents were more likely to agree that cost is a deterrent. And about two–thirds said that if they have to replace their mattresses more frequently, they would expect them to cost less.

Ninety–two percent of respondents agreed that it is important to replace a mattress that no longer provides good support—even if it was purchased less than seven years ago—as an investment in their health. This belief was shared across all age groups. However, older respondents were more likely to strongly agree than younger ones.

The BSC’s message to consider replacing a mattress every five to seven years is largely based on recent scientific research conducted at Oklahoma State University that demonstrated significant health benefits from sleeping on a mattress less than 5 years old. Consumers agreed that learning more about scientific support for more frequent mattress replacement is important in helping them make a decision. Respondents age 55 and older were most likely to agree (77%). Expert advice notwithstanding, people reserve the right to make their own judgment.

The most compelling argument for earlier mattress replacement is the likelihood that older mattresses might harbor allergens and pests. Overall, 56% of respondents found this possibility convincing—30% were extremely convinced. Younger consumers found this the most convincing; those 55 and older were less concerned.

These findings were consistent with consumer reactions in the focus groups. As one participant said: “I guess with people having more allergies, I can see where the five to seven years comes in, especially if (mattresses) accumulate dust and mites that you are not aware of. For people that have health issues, then five years is a good time. Health is becoming a big issue with mattresses.”

Respondents also were open to the idea that mattresses should be evaluated every five to seven years, considering how their bodies change over time. The question is: Am I still getting the right comfort and support?

Mattress shopping starts on the net

Increasingly, the majority of consumers conduct research before shopping for mattresses—60% in 2007 vs. 57% in 2004 and 51% in 2000, according to the new quantitative research from the Better Sleep Council.

This is consistent across all demographics, but consumers with higher incomes ($50,000 or more) are more likely to conduct research before shopping.

Internet search engines have become the primary source of information for prospective mattress buyers, increasing exponentially since 1996. Looking around in stores and reading newspaper ads have decreased.

Not surprisingly, younger respondents are more likely to rely on Internet search engines than those 55 and older. Some consumers also visit manufacturer’s Web sites (2%), local retailers (4%) and independent reviewers (3%).

Despite a decline during the past decade, looking around in mattress retail establishments is still one of the top sources of information. Thirty–six percent of respondents indicated that they visit stores to gather information before purchasing. And despite the growth of online shopping, consumers continue to prefer brick–and–mortar retailers when buying mattresses.

The majority of consumers, regardless of age, said they trust that visiting stores will provide them with the most accurate information. But younger respondents are more likely to trust the Internet and older consumers are more likely to trust consumer magazines and newspaper ads for reliable information about mattresses.

A high-anxiety process

Consumers don’t look forward to purchasing a new mattress, and the process of shopping is one of the factors that deters them from more frequent replacement.

Approximately one–third of consumers in the survey agreed that the thought of going out to purchase a mattress makes them anxious. Women (16%) were significantly more likely than men (8%) to be anxious about the thought of purchasing a new mattress.

About one–fifth of respondents said they enjoyed shopping for a mattress very much, and 42% said they enjoyed it somewhat. But consumers would rather shop for a sofa or a stereo system than a mattress. In fact, 25% said they liked shopping for a mattress “not very much or not at all”—more than any other household item. In 2004, a higher number disliked shopping for carpet, a refrigerator or a washer/dryer.

Specialty shops preferred

The largest percentage of survey respondents (44%) said they prefer to shop in a mattress specialty store. In focus groups, consumers said this is because they expect more knowledgeable sales staff and specialized services than in other types of stores.

Although furniture stores also were a popular choice (35%), they fell below specialty retailers for the first time in BSC research. Department stores came in a distant third, but several consumers participating in the earlier ethnographies found the department store environments more appealing because of their use of top–of–bed linens, furniture and accessories around the mattresses.

Store appeal high on the list

The comfort and support of the mattress and tactful, knowledgeable sales associates continue to top the list of mattress purchase drivers. The sleep and health benefits of the mattress also are considered very important. But a new factor came on strong in this survey: Cleanliness/appearance of the store.

This was added for the first time in 2007 based on focus group findings, which were confirmed in this latest survey. Respondents rated the cleanliness and appearance of the store the third most important decision–making criteria.

Price plays a critical role

Low prices, sales and financing deals ranked low as factors in the purchasing process. But this should be balanced against another finding: When consumers were asked why they did not purchase a mattress when they shopped for one, high price was the most frequently cited deterrent, particularly for younger shoppers.

Respondents who had never purchased a mattress were more likely to say that after shopping around they did not purchase a mattress because prices were too high. After shopping around, respondents whose last mattress purchase was five to 10 years ago were more likely to think that their current mattress did not need to be replaced.

Sales associates overlooking sleep

Clearly many consumers rely on knowledgeable, helpful sales associates to assist them with mattress selection. In the survey, respondents were asked to indicate what their salespeople said.

While the research shows no overwhelming changes from 2004 to 2007, it does suggest some additional presentational emphasis on construction features and benefits. At the same time, while mattress manufacturers and the industry–sponsored programs of the BSC continue to put more emphasis on the mattress’ connection to sleep and health, that topic remained a distant third. Disappointingly, a quarter of sales associates did not talk about the sleep and health benefits of the mattress at all.

Profiling older and younger female consumers

The Better Sleep Council’s newest research turned up some interesting differences in attitudes and behaviors between older female consumers and younger ones.

There are strong arguments for mattress manufacturers designing products and creating marketing campaigns that target more mature women, who are concerned about their health and have significantly more disposable income than their younger counterparts. And the BSC primarily targets its messages to women 43 to 62 years old—a huge demographic.

But there are aspects of the younger demographic that make them intriguing prospects for new mattress sales, as well.

Here’s a quick profile based on the research findings:

Women 55 and older…

  • Are more aware and appreciative of the link between mattresses and health
  • Are more concerned about back problems that poor mattresses can cause
  • Are more likely to consider a mattress purchase as an investment in their health
  • Are more likely to enjoy shopping for large household items
  • Are better informed mattress consumers, but also are more aware of the challenges of comparison shopping
  • Are more likely to appreciate the value of their last mattress purchase
  • Are more likely to feel like they do not need a new mattress
  • Tend to keep their mattresses longer than 10 years (average of 14.5 years)
  • Are less likely to have considered purchasing a mattress within the past year
  • Have a preference for firm mattresses (possibly an entrenched belief that “firm is better”)
  • Are more likely to visit department stores
  • Rely more on information from newspaper ads and magazines
  • Are more likely to expect a mattress to last as long as the number of years on the warranty
  • Place a premium on the reputation of the retail establishment they visit, information on mattress construction and features, and the brand of the mattress.

Younger women…

  • Get less sleep and are less satisfied with the quality of their sleep
  • Are more likely to voluntarily say their mattress is the culprit for a poor night’s sleep
  • Have a mattress replacement cycle of less than 10 years (6.9 years for 18 to 34 year olds and 9.9 years for 35 to 54 year olds)
  • Expect a new mattress to last, on average, 9.4 years
  • Are much more open to the recommendation to consider mattress replacement every five to seven years
  • Are more often unable to replace their mattresses because of financial constraints
  • Are more concerned with “comfort” than firmness and are more likely to prefer mattresses with extra cushioning top
  • Rely more on the Internet as their primary source of mattress information
  • Are receptive to messages advising frequent mattress evaluation to ascertain its support for a changing body and references to health studies and expert recommendations
  • Are more strongly influenced by messages emphasizing the risk of allergens and pests in old mattresses (7.65 on a 10–point scale for “convincing”).

More details about the research

Approximately every four years, the Better Sleep Council conducts in–depth consumer research to track changes in attitudes and behaviors with regard to sleep and mattresses, the mattress replacement cycle and the shopping process.

This quantitative study was conducted by New York–based Fluent in the fall of 2007. The sample includes 802 adults in all ages and at all stages in the mattress replacement cycle.

Because women tend to be more involved in initiating mattress replacement, the sample contains more women (61%) than men (39%).

The survey was preceded by qualitative research—six focus groups and in–home/in–store ethnographies—conducted in January 2007. Results from the qualitative study have been incorporated into some parts of this report to provide context.

Results from previous BSC–sponsored consumer research have been included for comparison.


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