Written by Nick Heer.

Sleeping Rough in the Mattress Economy

Ed Burmila, the Baffler:

Why do so many business and marketing types believe that the model podcast listener — a young, hip thirtysomething who needs a new fix since NPR went down the shitter — is clay waiting to be molded into a mattress buyer? On the surface it makes no sense. This demographic traditionally wants to make purchases that have, bluntly, some show-off value. This is the upwardly mobile, striving, status-seeking social climber. Not too long ago these people were pitched BMWs, Rolexes, and exotic vacations. The kind of stuff that tells the world you’ve Arrived.

How did that segment of the market become a combat zone for, of all things, mattress retail? Well, if you listen to a lot of podcasts, marketing data suggests you stand at the confluence of two powerful trends: high anxiety and lowered expectations.

I like the way this piece confronts the second trend of lowered expectations, but the anxiety of buying products like these is something that I’m fascinated by.

What makes Casper’s products and approach so different? A similar question can be asked of any of the large number of companies that sell specialized products directly to consumers: Warby Parker, et al., for glasses; Indochino for suits; Quip for toothbrushes — fashionable toothbrushes! — Allbirds shoes, and so on.

It’s not solely in the products’ marketing. I considered that it was perhaps that there are no physical retail locations, but all of these companies have either opened brick-and-mortar stores, or are selling through other retailers. It’s not home delivery; that’s not a new invention. And, even though they’re mostly selling directly to consumers, these companies aren’t necessarily charging substantially less.

I think the allure is the generally bullshit-free sales approach that helps lower buyers’ anxiety. Choice can be good, but every time I’ve visited a mattress store, I’ve felt completely overwhelmed. Same with eyeglasses — not only are there typically hundreds of frame options, but all sorts of coatings and lens options are available as well. Nobody wants glare in their glasses, so just build the cost into the lens.

I fully recognize how stupid this is, but my personal irritant is the oral care aisle in my grocery store. I don’t need fifty toothbrush choices at price points ranging from three to eight dollars, or a hundred toothpaste choices.