RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's President's Day. But have you ever wondered why at some point along the way, this holiday became synonymous with more than just our past commanders in chief? Somehow mattress sales got worked into the equation.
(SOUNDBITE OF QUALITY SLEEP AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Get the best mattress savings of the year, this week only, during the President's Day sale at Quality Sleep Mattress Stores.
MARTIN: Everyone needs mattresses, but most people don't particularly enjoy the process of buying them. NPR's Stephan Bisaha reports on how the industry is working to change that.
STEPHAN BISAHA, BYLINE: Meg Massey breaks open a chest-high Amazon box containing her new mattress in her studio apartment in Washington, D.C.
MEG MASSEY: Gosh, it's like one of those French pastries all rolled up (laughter).
BISAHA: The 10-inch foam, full-size mattress is packed tightly inside. When she was growing up, her parents would hold on to a mattress for decades. But she'll keep this mattress...
MASSEY: Probably two or three years, I hope. The next mattress where, you know, if I upgrade to a king or queen and, you know, I really make that investment, I would hope I'd get four or five years out of it.
MARY HELEN ROGERS: That's a huge shift.
BISAHA: Mary Helen Rogers oversees marketing for the Better Sleep Council, which represents the mattress industry. She says today's customers are replacing their mattresses more often, especially millennials like Massey. In the past, consumers used to put off buying a new mattress. Rogers says, the experience was like buying tires.
ROGERS: You know you need new tires on your car, but, historically, is it really exciting to spend your Saturday buying new tires for your car? No, it's not.
PHILIP KRIM: Buying a mattress, when we did focus groups and surveys, ranked as one of the worst consumer shopping experiences out there, period.
BISAHA: Philip Krim is the CEO of Casper. It's one of the many new companies trying to change that perception by ditching the mattress store and selling online.
Massey ordered her mattress from a different company, but the shift online worked. She enjoyed ordering the mattress and getting to do her own research.
MASSEY: It's easier to kind of stick to your game plan when it's just you and your laptop and not you and, like, someone whose entire job is to get you to try to spend more money.
BISAHA: But online, matching the right mattress with the right person isn't easy, according to Kevin Damewood. He's in charge of sales and marketing at Kingsdown, a mattress manufacturer.
KEVIN DAMEWOOD: I don't know how you can really fairly, 110 percent accomplish that online.
BISAHA: He says for that, you need a mattress store with test beds and salesmen specifically trained to identify what a consumer needs in a bed. And he says that kind of testing and knowledge can't be replaced by a weekend of Google searches.
DAMEWOOD: How many consumers really understand what the different gauges of wire mean online and what that means for the support they're being given, you know, in a mattress?
BISAHA: Support - if you walk into a mattress store, you'll hear that word a lot. Tossing your current mattress for one with more support is often sold as the gateway to a better night's sleep.
LISA MEDALIE: I kind of go with the, you know, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
BISAHA: Dr. Lisa Medalie works at the University of Chicago Sleep Disorder Center. For her patients, she says a new mattress is pretty low on her list of recommendations.
MEDALIE: We really try to focus on working on addressing the problems that seem most likely, highest yield, to be impacting their current presentation.
BISAHA: Meaning, before turning to a new mattress to solve your sleep troubles, Medalie says try these tips - don't eat too late, exercise early and turn off that phone. Stephan Bisaha, NPR News, Washington.
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