Does the mattress-in-a-box tick all the right ones?
Here's why you should consider buying your mattress online
How do you throw a wrench into the mature, billion-dollar mattress industry, or take mattress-buying – a sector dominated by store-based retailing – and disrupt its business? Easy enough. You take the mattress out of the store, squish it into a box, put it online, and offer to deliver it right to your customer’s door, for a free trial and with a money- back guarantee.
That’s exactly what a growing number of direct-to-consumer start-ups, which popped up across North America, did in recent years. Companies such as Endy in Canada, and Leesa, Casper and Tuft & Needle in the United States changed everything we know about buying a mattress. And because global trends infallibly make their way to the UAE, two companies, Helmii and Whisper, brought the mattress-in-a-box option to our shores this year.
Appeal and convenience
From a shopper’s point of view, what’s not to like? We spend up to a third of our day on a mattress, so buying one shouldn’t be a rushed decision. Changing the way we shop for a mattress – by allowing us to sleep on it night after night to see how it really feels, rather than guessing at the best fit in a few, pressured minutes in a crowded store – is a winning formula, and one that has woken up the sleepy world of bedding.
“Our aim is to shake up traditional bed and mattress companies, which we feel have become stale and not developed with the changing retail landscape,” says Simon Moore, head of buying and marketing at Helmii. “And it’s really been working.” In the few months that the two companies have been operational, both report that the number of online orders they’ve received exceeded expectations, proving that the appeal and convenience of online shopping extends even to mattresses.
“Maybe one out of every 10 customers we get says they still want to come in, and touch and feel and see the product,” says Dominik Zunkovic, founder of Whisper mattress. “But the majority love the ease of ordering online, having it delivered, and getting to try it privately in the comfort of their home,” he adds.
Plenty of customisable options
The in-the-box option was originally developed because American companies wanted to create a mattress that they could easily ship anywhere; one they could move over long distances at a relatively affordable price. It’s a prescription that’s not necessary for the UAE, admits Moore. “You can drive from one end of Dubai to the other in 45 minutes, and get from Ras Al Khaimah right through to Abu Dhabi in a morning, so we don’t have those kinds of constraints.”
However, what we do have here is plenty of furniture options at the top end of the spectrum and plenty at the bottom end, says Moore, but very little in the middle, which combines high quality with reasonable pricing and effective customer service. Helmii aims to provide such an option, and become an “online sleep store”, where people can buy their mattress and also design their bed down to the last detail.
“The need to ship a mattress long-distance efficiently is not applicable to the UAE, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t take the best practices in retail from the mattress-in-a-box growth and apply it here,” explains Moore.
Creating one worthy mattress
The product is made in the United Kingdom, and offered in different sizes. It also comes with a risk-free return clause: sleep on a Helmii mattress for 40 nights and if it’s not as comfortable as you want it to be, return it and get all your money back. “We looked at what traditional mattress shops are doing, both specialists like Intercoil and King Koil, and generalists like Ikea and Home Centre. They have [a wide] range and loads of different mattresses and brands. When there’s so much choice – foam versus memory foam, spring versus coil, and so on – you add complexity and you automatically add costs,” explains Moore.
To him, one worthy mattress makes the most sense. “We figured, let’s just make the best mattress that we can and guide people,” he says. Accordingly, a Helmii mattress comes with medium to firm support, which is apparently the preference of 90 per cent of consumers. Its 2,000 individual micro pockets springs are encased with Viscoool memory foam, which is made of a blend of sustainable raw materials, including soybean oil for moisture evaporation and breathability. All of this rests on a high-density foam base on each side of the mattress for extra support.
Likewise, the premise of Whisper is to create one exceptional mattress that can be purchased in various sizes. The company is Zunkovic’s brainchild; the Italian grew up working in his family’s three-decade-old mattress-making business, and was stuffing pillows by the age of 8. “Whisper is my baby; I created it specifically for the UAE,” he says.
Cost and affordability
“Mattresses are such an important product in people’s lives, but we end up spending more money on phones and brunches rather than what we sleep on every day,” notes Zunkovic. To that end, he provides an exceptionally long risk-free trial period, and offers customers 100 nights of sleeping on a Whisper mattress and their money back if they don’t find it suited to their comfort levels.
“We haven’t got any returns; it’s that good a product,” he maintains. Whisper mattresses are made of thermoregulating fabric and open-cell foam – or quantum foam – to ensure you remain cool and cosy. The covered layer of fabric contains real silver threads, which Zunkovic says kill bacteria, prevent dust mites and eliminate odours. Plus, the Whisper mattress can be charged to protect the sleeper from the electromagnetic waves emitted by electronic devices.
So why, then, are these excellently made, high-end mattresses so much cheaper than a traditional mattress? A queen-sized mattress (180cm x 200cm) costs Dh3,499 at Helmii and Dh5,999 at Whisper. One reason is that because there are no overhead costs associated with running a physical store, the low margins dictate a low cost base. Vacuum-packing the mattresses into smaller boxes means they can be transported at a significantly lower cost, not to mention the environmental benefit of transporting more goods in one vehicle, and the sanitary factor of having a mattress that has been untouched since it was vacuum-sealed in the factory.
“The box concept is quirky and innovative, and has its advantages, but I think the key is having one mattress that’s [been made] exceptionally well,” concludes Moore.