Why Consumer Reports “Best Rated Mattresses” Doesn’t Quite Measure Up

For a long time, people in search of a good mattress kept checking Consumer Reports to find out what to buy, but their report on the best rated mattresses didn’t exist. Now it does… but it’s a bit unsatisfactory.

Back when Consumer Reports refused to rate mattresses, they were quite clear about why.

It is exceedingly difficult to compare the same brands and models of mattress when they vary so much between retailers. Not only do the names change, but the biggest and most famous mattress brands produce different lines of mattresses for different outlets. As an example, Simmons makes a mattress exclusively for Sears or Serta makes one just for JC Penney. There are many other examples of these special deals and partnerships.

And it is pretty much impossible to get a meaningful rating system to determine who makes the best mattress if you don’t know exactly what you’re buying. This is why Consumer Reports declined to rate brand-name mattresses in their print and online publications for so long.

So… What Changed?

I’m guessing that the demand was so strong over so many years that they caved in to the pressure. They decided to come up with a rating system that, while having the best intentions, falls short of being truly useful AND accurate. Of course this is just my opinion.

Here are just a few problems with the CR report. Let’s use their “CR Best Buy” best-rated mattress of 2013 as an example. This is the Simmons Beautyrest Glover Park Firm Pillowtop, available exclusively at Sears.

To begin with, when I went to Sears.com and did a search for “Simmons Beautyrest Glover Park,” it wasn’t there—no such model came up on the site. This is typical—names change, inventory changes, availability changes… pretty much everything mattress-related changes in a very short period of time. The industry, especially the naming part of it, is very dynamic and unreliable. There is no guarantee that if you go searching for a Consumer Reports Best Rated Mattress, you’ll find what you’re looking for. So this is Problem #1. It’s a biggie.

There is no discussion of what is actually in the mattress. They did rate similar mattresses together—for example, their 2013 study compared innersprings as one group and memory foam as another. But there were some noticeable differences among the models in each category.

For example, what were the innersprings made from? Pocketed coils? Interlocked? What gauge of steel were used? How many layers of padding, and what were the thicknesses of these layers? They did make an effort to compare across similar firmness levels. But while one was labeled “firm pillowtop,” another was called “luxury firm” which is not a pillowtop.

And as for the memory foam group, one of the models compared was an IKEA latex… not memory foam.

To be truly accurate, identical types of construction should be compared. Consumers need to know what is inside of the mattress, especially since catchy brands names tell us nothing. So lack of inside structure discussion is Problem #2.

While the two most important components of mattress rating, comfort and durability, were discussed, many issues were ignored. For example, CR rated durability by this measure: “Showed no change in performance after eight years of simulated use.”

While this sounds pretty impressive, I am fairly skeptical that “simulated use” is an accurate representation of 2,920 nights of real-life humans — of various shapes, weights and sizes — sleeping on the mattress. Especially when you consider the effects that real years have on the aging process of steel, foam and fabrics, including exposure to air, humidity, and dust.

Lacking a truly accurate way to measure mattress wear and tear in a laboratory is not the fault of Consumer Reports… but still remains Problem #3 if it is not honestly discussed.

And finally—because this is not meant to be a bashing of Consumer Reports, which does a fine job in most areas—the rating of comfort is questionable at best. They do include a good range of measures, including support for side sleepers and back sleepers, minimizing pressure points, limiting vibration transfer, and breathability. But there is no indication of how the mattress might perform for people of different weights, heights and ages.

I can accept that CR doesn’t have the resources or ability to test such variability. However, lacking any way to test variables, the rating for comfort can’t be very reliable. There needs to be some acknowledgement of this, and also some actions taken to improve the system. This is Problem #4.

As a side note, the customer reviews posted on the CR website for the Simmons Beautyrest “Glover Park” averaged just over one star, a dismal score indeed.

What Consumer Reports Can Do To Help The Mattress Buying Dilemma

CR’s best contribution to the mattress-buying dilemma would be their consumer surveys. They have already conducted polls on consumer satisfaction regarding mattresses they have purchased recently.

In the past, they have also compared three different well-known specialty brands with pricey beds: Duxiana, Tempurpedic and Select Comfort (Sleep Number)

They came upon a number of interesting results…

The comparisons on the high-priced specialty beds all had widely varying opinions among the participants who tested them. Some loved them… and some hated them! This is typical of mattress reviews and shows how important testing of variables would have to be in rating the “best” mattresses.

Consumer satisfaction polls of all mattresses showed a somewhat higher satisfaction rating from buyers of all specialty mattresses — including all-latex, all-memory foam, luxury innerspring and adjustable air bed — over the plain ordinary innerspring mattresses.

Their in-house tests revealed the same pattern. Some employees were given mattresses to try out in their own homes… some loved certain models and types, while others had completely different responses to the same ones.

As long as the mattress was not the cheapest model, comfort and durability was attained at fairly reasonable prices. Higher prices did not necessarily result in higher satisfaction ratings.

CR also discovered that mattress retailers can be deceptive. A bed that one store claimed was the same as a model sold in a different store–was NOT the same inside. No big surprise there.

And finally — they discovered that mattress preference is very personal, and there is no one best type/model/brand for everyone. This is another reason why Consumer Reports did not used to rate mattresses. It’s your own ratings that count the most.

Advice to Consumers Looking for Best Rated Mattresses

Despite CR’s good intentions, it can’t really be relied upon to offer the best recommendations. So it remains your job to judge your own comfort level with each type of mattress, comparing them across both brand and type of construction. It’s a big job, but if you combine common sense with information, add a willingness to lie down on any mattress that comes your way (even when shopping in a crowd) and combine that with a deaf ear for hard sell tactics and a firm hold on your wallet… you will find what you really want at a price you can afford.

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