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Should you buy a mattress online?

Or is it no different from buying one in-store? The Wirecutter’s Kevin Purdy answers your questions on Too Embarrassed to Ask.

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All of a sudden, ads for online mattress companies seem to be everywhere.* Companies like Casper, Tuft & Needle and Leesa claim to sell cheaper mattresses that are also more comfortable.

Not so fast, The Wirecutter’s Kevin Purdy said on the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. Speaking with Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, Purdy talked about his extensive testing of all the foam mattresses you can buy online, and said the startup world isn’t creating a new product so much as finding a new way to sell it.

"The companies themselves are a collection of CEOs, venture backers, people who are good at making sleek-looking websites, and usually some person inside who’s a former mattress person or some kind of designer," Purdy said. "They always like to tout their MIT engineers."

By selling direct to customers over the web, they can cut prices below what you’d see in a showroom. But the uniqueness of the mattresses themselves is often exaggerated, Purdy argued, because these companies are still "contracting with an established American regional mattress maker" — what big traditional rivals like Temper-Pedic, Seely, Simmons and Serta also do.

"The exaggeration comes from the terms they use to describe how their mattresses will work for ‘everybody,’" Purdy said. "Casper has used the term ‘perfect mattress.’ Tuft & Needle has said that it ‘adapts to every individual’s body.’ And Leesa, the one I recommend in our guide, has a ‘universal feel.’"

These claims, he explained, come from the fact that companies are focusing their brands around one or a few designs that are engineered to please a high percentage of sleepers, but might not work for everyone.

"The making of foam mattresses has been around for a long time," he said. "They’re making a product that is aimed at the most people. To do that, they’re usually aiming at a medium-firm mattress, which is like the medium-rare steak of the mattress world."

Later in the show, the trio answered your questions about the differences among these mattresses and the riskiness of their warranties.

Have questions about mattresses that we didn’t get to in this episode? Or have another tech topic on your mind? You can tweet any questions, comments and complaints to @Recode with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed. You can also email your questions to, in case Twitter isn’t your thing.

Be sure to follow @LaurenGoode, @KaraSwisher and @Recode to be alerted when we're looking for questions about a specific topic.

If you like this show, you should also check out our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
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If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on iTunes — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara and Lauren. Tune in next Friday for another episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask!

* Disclosure: In fact, Recode Radio has read some of those ads, for two mattress companies to date. Casper has advertised on several of our podcasts and Helix Sleep has advertised on Recode Media. However, as with all our advertisers, neither had any say in or influence over the content of this episode.

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