Selecting and buying a new mattress is a serious undertaking. After all, you spend about a third of your life on your mattress, so it needs to be comfortable, supportive, and long-lasting.
Traditionally, buying a new mattress means visiting furniture and mattress stores, lying down on different models, crossing your fingers that you’ve chosen the right one, and hoping it will be comfortable for longer than 15 minutes at a time. Over the last few years, though, you’ve likely noticed a sudden influx of companies selling what’s come to be known as a “bed in a box.” Unlike traditional mattresses, which are sold and delivered in “ready to sleep” form, a bed in a box is just that: a mattress made of memory foam, compressed and rolled up so it can be shipped and delivered in a box. When it arrives on your doorstep, you simply need to unroll it and wait for it to reinflate. Then, voila! You have a bed.
Although traditional innerspring mattresses still account for the lion’s share of the $15 billion mattress market, the bed-in-a-box market is quickly gaining ground. Between 2014 and 2019, the percentage of direct-to-consumer sales as part of the overall mattress industry doubled from 6% to 12%, and it will likely continue to grow. The question is, though, is this type of mattress right for you? Here are some pros and cons to consider.
You may want to read: The Best Mattress in a Box
Pros of a Mattress in a Box
Mattress-in-a-box manufacturers appear to have hit the sweet spot in terms of mattress variety: enough options to suit different needs and preferences but not so many that it’s overwhelming to shop for a mattress. Most bed-in-a-box companies only offer a handful of models. For instance, Casper offers three different mattress models: the Essential, the Casper, and the Wave. Meanwhile, Purple offers just two models: the Original Purple Mattress and the All-New Purple Mattress. In every case, the manufacturers detail the firmness of the mattress and what type of sleeper would find it most comfortable (based on favored sleep position, body size, etcetera).
Because bed-in-a-box mattresses are made of memory foam (which allows for the necessary compression), they typically fall somewhere in the medium firmness range, with slight variations. Where they differ most is with the other features. Some mattresses are made with cooling gel layers or have copper-infused toppers to help regulate body temperature, while other mattresses configure their layers of foam in various ways to provide adequate support and comfort. So while it may appear that your bed-in-a-box options are limited, you actually have plenty of variety to choose from and features to compare so you can make the decision that best suits your needs.
Bed-in-a-box mattresses really shine when it comes to cost. Although some models are on the higher end of the price scale, coming in at $2,000 or more, most bed-in-a-box mattresses are affordable, especially when compared to traditional models. Not to mention, many companies offer discounts and deals on a regular basis, meaning that you could find yourself in a comfortable new bed for much less than you’d pay for an innerspring mattress at a furniture store.
Much of these cost savings stem from the fact that mattress-in-a-box companies, for the most part, only sell their mattresses online via their websites. There are a few exceptions, however; Casper, for instance, has a few brick-and-mortar stores and sells via Amazon and Target. The lack of physical locations allows mattress manufacturers to reduce overhead costs. Additionally, compressing the mattresses into smaller boxes helps reduce shipping costs, and the manufacturers pass those savings on to consumers.
Convenient Delivery Options
When you shop for a mattress in a furniture store, you often have to order it from a warehouse and schedule a delivery, the cost of which may or may not be included with your mattress purchase. Otherwise, you’re on your own for transporting and setting up your new bed, which can be tricky depending on where you live (an apartment with an elevator or narrow halls, for instance).
When you order a bed in a box, your new bed is shipped right to your door. Bed-in-a-box companies use compression technology to reduce the size of the box to about that of a small filing cabinet, making it easy to move, especially since most only weigh between 60 and 150 pounds. Best of all, in most cases, shipping is free.
If you don’t want to move and set up your new bed in a box yourself, some companies offer white-glove delivery. For an extra fee, you can have your new bed delivered and set up and your old bed removed. Keep in mind that there are often restrictions on the service: For example, you may only be able to have the old mattress removed (without the box spring) if you only ordered a mattress. However, if you don’t have help or if you don’t feel like lugging your new bed up several flights of stairs, you do have this option.
Because you typically cannot try out a mattress in a box before you make your purchase, most manufacturers offer generous “sleep trials.” Trials average from 75 to 101 nights, with some companies offering up to 365 nights. If at any point during the trial you decide the mattress isn’t right for you, you can return it for a full refund. Although you won’t have to attempt to put the mattress back in the box, you will need to work with the company to arrange for pickup. In most cases, mattresses returned during trial periods are donated to local charitable organizations or offered to employees for purchase at steep discounts.
By the time you’ve spent upward of three months sleeping on a mattress, you’ll likely have a good idea of whether or not it works for you. Keep in mind that most companies start the clock on the sleep trial as soon as the mattress is delivered; once the trial period ends, you can typically only return the mattress if there is a defect that is covered in the warranty. And while mattress companies tout full refunds, your refund will not include any discounts you received and you won’t receive a refund on any shipping or delivery charges. Still, the chance to try out the mattress risk-free for a few months is appealing and helps take some of the hesitations out of buying a bed in a box.
You may want to read: The Best Bed in a Box Mattress
Cons of a Mattress in a Box
You Can’t Always “Try Before You Buy”
While it’s true that not investing in showrooms reduces the cost of bed-in-a-box mattresses, it does eliminate the option to try the mattress before you buy it. Even with a sleep trial, you still have to pay for the mattress and then request a refund if it doesn’t work out for you. Most experts recommend lying on a mattress for at least 10 to 15 minutes before making a purchase decision, but in the case of a bed in a box, you have to rely on product descriptions and reviews unless you happen to be looking at a model that’s available in a showroom (and that showroom is nearby). It can be frustrating to have your new mattress delivered, only to discover that you don’t like it and have to start the process all over again.
When you purchase a mattress in a box, be aware that your current bed frame may not be ideal for a memory foam mattress. Memory foam mattresses require supportive bases, such as a platform. Otherwise, they might sink or develop unnecessary indentations, and the damage will not be covered under warranty. Box springs aren’t necessary, but if you don’t have a platform base, a box spring will help ensure that your bed frame provides enough support for the mattress. Otherwise, you can expect to invest in a platform bed frame as well as a new mattress to get the most out of it.
Bed in a Box Mattresses Sleep Hotter
If you have a tendency to sleep hot, you might find that memory foam mattresses are not right for you. Memory foam naturally traps heat and prevents air circulation, meaning that you could find yourself tossing and turning all night trying to find a cool spot.
The good news is that many bed-in-a-box manufacturers recognize this problem and are actively working to fix it by redesigning the way they make their mattresses and modifying the materials they use. Covers made using cooling fabrics, foam layers designed to improve circulation, and other design features are all aimed to improve temperature regulation and prevent overheating.
One issue with bed-in-a-box mattresses that many consumers have complained about is the tendency for memory foam to smell, especially when it’s new. It is a fact that the materials used to make bed-in-a-box mattresses can have an odor, and that it’s strongest when the mattress is first taken out of the box. It can take a few days for a bed-in-a-box mattress to fully reinflate after shipping, and in most cases, the smell – released via a process known as off-gassing – disappears within a couple of days. Still, for those sensitive to smells, the odor associated with a memory foam mattress may be unpleasant.
A mattress in a box can be an affordable way to get a comfortable bed, but you must do your homework: Read reviews, review warranty and return information, and compare all of your options before making a purchase. These mattresses aren’t right for everyone, especially if you don’t care for sleeping on memory foam. Still, thousands of people are happy with their bed-in-a-box purchases, and you can be too!