It's easy to make a mistake buying a bed. I should know – I made a big one recently. Our new mattress felt fine in the shop but once home, my wife and I slept poorly from the start. Worse still, after a few days, I was waking up with sore hips and shoulders, too.
"It can take a week or two to adjust to a new bed," the salesperson told me on the phone, but I knew we wouldn't. Our exciting new bed was quickly becoming an expensive nightmare.
"Buying a mattress can definitely be a difficult and confusing experience," says CHOICE mattress expert, Peter Zaluzny. "There's a huge range of products, price points, materials and features on offer, which can really make your head spin. Given how important good sleep is to your health, it's a decision you really want to get right."
With so many brands and bed types on the market, Peter says it's easy to make an error, as my sorry tale of sleepless nights proves. So you don't experience similar mattress misery, here's the most common mistakes to avoid, plus Peter's expert tips for finding the best mattress for your body and budget.
1. Not testing a mattress properly instore
Looking back, we botched this badly. I remember the store salesperson telling us "some people spend hours testing mattresses in here" but that sounded funny and awkward to us. In hindsight, we should have done the same.
Instead, we made all sorts of mistakes. I laid down on my back (when I've always been a side sleeper) while my wife and I mostly trialled different mattresses on the shop floor separately (instead of side by side).
The mattress we chose was soft and luxe and made us feel like we were in a posh hotel for the ten minutes we tried it. But on our first night, we found it too soft and both rolled into the middle, making it hot and uncomfortable.
"It's really important to take your time and really give a mattress a proper test drive," warns Peter. "Most people sleep seven to nine hours a night, so a few minutes in a shop won't even come close to replicating this experience. Given mattresses are designed to last around eight years, lie down for as long as you need."
He says it's also vital to mimic exactly how you'd sleep at home. Lie down as you usually would, roll over and see how easily you can get in and out of bed (especially if you have limited mobility). Ask your partner to do the same beside you and see how much the mattress moves. Also check the bed base is similar to yours at home (i.e. ensemble, slats), as this can affect how things feel.
If this all feels silly with the salesperson close by, ask them to leave for a bit so you can truly relax. And lastly, Peter says never shop when you're tired.
"All the mattresses will feel great if you're already sleepy, so don't try them out after a long day on your feet!"
2. Assuming more expensive is always better
The more you pay, the better the bed, right? Not so, says Peter, who's quick to point out that spending more cash is never an automatic guarantee of a better night's sleep.
"Our mattress testing regularly disproves the adage 'you get what you pay for'," explains Peter. "In fact, some of the most expensive mattresses we reviewed – ones that cost three to four grand – rated the lowest when it came to comfort and sagging, which is really alarming."
The great news is CHOICE testers also found much cheaper models that scored highly in our key tests, which means you can bag a better bed for far less.
Top tip: lift the mattress to see how heavy it is. Some mattresses are quite heavy which can make transport, flipping and rotation difficult.
3. Not checking the returns policy
Luckily in my case, I could exchange our mattress for a firmer one (although we had to wait two weeks and pay an admin fee too). But be careful – different companies have different rules so it's vital to check first or risk being stuck with a bed you don't want.
"It's really important to understand a retailer's returns policy before making a purchase," says Peter. "What are the conditions around refunds and exchanges? Is there a waiting period or additional fees? These are all questions you want to ask before doing a deal."
The same applies to shopping with online bed-in-a-box retailers. In lieu of a showroom, most offer a "risk-free" trial period (that ranges between 30 to 120 days) and a refund if you're not satisfied. Some, like Sleeping Duck, will also send you additional removable foam layers to adjust the firmness during your trial.
It's really important to understand a retailer's returns policy before making a purchase
"The trial periods can be quite generous, but there's still some key questions to investigate before buying," warns Peter. "Can you return it whenever or do you have to wait a certain amount of time? Do you have to pay for the mattress to be taken back? Most companies will pick it up for free, but some don't, especially if you live in a regional area."
4. Paying full price
Let's be honest – asking for a discount on any purchase can feel awkward and nerve-wracking, but Peter says it's definitely worth your while when it comes to mattresses.
"CHOICE has been buying mattresses for years for our tests and we've found many retailers have a lot of room to move when it comes to price," he explains. "Sales are pretty frequent too so there's really no reason to pay the recommended retail price for a mattress."
"If you're confident and have done your research, you can usually shave a decent amount off the price tag by haggling. Just ask them 'what's the best you can do?' and start from there."
There's really no reason to pay the recommended retail price for a mattress. Many retailers have room to move when it comes to price, so definitely ask
Of course, bargaining is much easier to do instore than on the internet. Online retailers usually have more fixed prices and a limited range of mattresses so discounts will be harder to negotiate. They do have sales occasionally though, so keep your eyes peeled.
5. Ignoring brands you don't know
When you're spending a lot of money on a mattress, it's tempting to play it safe and stick to the brands you know. But with more mattress makers on the market than ever before, Peter says it's worth keeping an open mind and exploring all your options – especially given some of the test results CHOICE has seen recently.
"In the last few years, we've seen an influx of new bed-in-a-box products as well as recently released house brands from retailers," he explains.
"In our latest tests, some of these lesser known products rated very highly and even out-performed brands that have been around for ages and advertise a lot. Many of them cost less, too, which is great for shoppers."