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How New is Your New Mattress?

Beware the Mattress Mafia

As if mattress shopping weren't bad enough as it is, something far worse has begun to blink on the radar recently. It's not coupon clipping, it's not price checking from store to store. It could be haggling, but we'll save that for another day. The problem entails the mattress industry and its questionable definition of the word "new."

A former mattress seller with 15 years in the business describes this epidemic as "mattress re-selling" and traces the origins of the problem to good old consumerism. The rules of the game are that the customer is always right, and this leaves mattress sellers with an extraordinary amount of returned, damaged, and opened merchandise.

According to the former salesman, "unless the goods are redistributed, huge profits will not be realized." What does this mean to the average consumer? Well it's not good. It means that there's a good chance your "new" mattress has already been broken in. Once a party to these unsavory practices, this insider now provides some insight that should be considered by anyone in the market for new bedding.

Buyers should be especially wary of clearance sales, which offer merchandise that is advertised as scuffed or overstocked. "In reality, there are lots of delivery damages, customer service returns, 'comfort exchanges,' and warranty returns - some dating back several years," the former salesman tells us.

He goes on to describe a nasty encounter at one of these clearance sales. While carrying a mattress to the buyer's truck, an employee noticed a hole near the end of the mattress. The hole was squeezed, at which point a trail of red ants emerged. Scuffed? Overstocked? Seems to me this company has brought new meaning to the term "loose definition." Now call me dramatic, call me crazy, but do not call this an isolated incident. The apparent lack of formal regulation on the mattress industry makes for some nasty business practices and over time, isolated incidents become standards.

In the business for 15 years, one insider was shocked to learn that his company stocked the in-store warehouse with returned and "re-bagged" merchandise. According to him, "Thousands of mattresses shipped to that location were not in factory sealed bags." He noted scuffs, blood and other stains, grease, missing labels, and tears.

Once initial disgust subsides, one problem remains with this disclosure: these products were not on clearance or any other sale. They were sold at factory price, but by definition if a product is used, it is not in factory condition. If the store warehouse cannot be trusted to stock new mattresses, what is a customer to do?

One option is to take the model right off the floor. This may not appeal to all customers, and one former mattress salesman warns potential buyers to beware -- you may end up with that floor model anyway. Major manufacturers use color-coded bags to differentiate one brand from another in the warehouse and according to this insider, "if the color-coded bags are absent, you may have a 're-bag' i.e. a customer return, or a floor sample".

Other signs of a floor sample include discoloration on the foot area of the top of the mattress. When on the showroom floor, this area is covered by a protective "bed boot", and the area being protected will thus be brighter than the rest of the product. Double sided labeling signifies a floor model as well, as does faded fabric and the absence of law labels or specification tags.

Mattress woes cannot be addressed until the product is delivered, but there are specific steps that can be taken to ensure its journey to your home is a safe one:

Do not accept rooftop or small pickup deliveries. Because most showrooms do not even have instore warehouses, deliveries of this variety increase your chance of getting bedding right off the floor.

Insist your mattress be delivered by two individuals to prevent your product from being slammed into corners on its way into the bedroom.

Before the product enters your home, have the delivery personnel clean off the packaging outside.

Check the packaging for tape, which, according to an industry insider may signify one of two scenerios: it may be "covering a slight or large rip in the plastic bag. This is a red flag that the mattress may be soiled at the point of exposure," or, "the mattress may be a re-bag."

Do not open the packaging unless satisfied with the "in-the-bag" appearance. Once the packaging has been removed, make sure to check your brand new mattress for bugs. As one insider puts it, "I've seen roaches, flying ants and spiders aplenty, so don't be surprised if you do too."

Stand the mattress upright in a well-lit room and swat it on each side. Excessive dust? You've landed yourself a floor model. Red ants? Don't worry, it's just "scuffed".

While these tips are not foolproof, they do two things: target recurring problems in industry practices, and offer precautions to help ensure that the product you have purchased is precisely that. Unfortunately in many cases of unsatisfactory products, the damaged goods are simply sent back to the store, re-bagged, and sold to the next unassuming consumer.

This dubious practice has been dubbed mattress reselling, and those involved, well they are the Mattress Mafia. And you thought the Sopranos were heavy.

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