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Shopping for a Bed

By Miriam

Our society makes it pretty easy to shop for certain types of items. Need a new smartphone? There will be more reviews than you need available online, multiple stores where you can try one out, and likely you have interacted with the different models your friends and family own before when they ask you to take a photo for them or show you something on their device. We get immersed in the terminology, specs, and features to look out for with phones through ads and everyday conversations. I did not have a smartphone until part-way through high school, though I felt confident in buying one due to having so many experiences with the devices of my classmates, family, friends, etc. Buying my first car was a similar experience. I had ridden in so many, seen so many ads growing up, and done enough research to find a great car for a low price, despite having never purchased one before. Sure, both times I learned of more small things to look out for when buying the more I owned them that helped me make better purchases in the future. I found buying an inexpensive phone from a lesser-known brand is not worth it, because no one knew how to repair my last phone when it started having issues less than a year into owning it, but past when the warranty ran out. The features and such were great at first on my last phone, but I have had a much better experience over a year into owning a higher-end, name-brand phone now. I still love my car years into owning it, but it has trouble going up hills sometimes. Now I know to make sure to take a car on hills, if I can, next time I test drive one. Regardless, all the cultural osmosis I received around smartphones and cars made me feel confident and knowledgeable when buying my first ones. The only real obstacle was the price, with both being unaffordable at earlier points in my life. 

You would think the same would be true for beds, considering we use them daily. Like with phones, I have definitely experienced multiple types before. Between my old bed, staying over other people’s dorms and houses, and hotel ones, I know what sleeping on a couch, futon, spring mattress, or sleep number feels like, and am familiar with a twin versus full-size bed at least. However, unlike phones and cars, we do not tend to talk about the brand or model of bed we own. When my current bed was starting to wear out significantly, I had almost no clue how to go about purchasing a new one. I know I liked the beds in a particular college dorm but knew nothing about what type they were except that they had springs. I know I find twin beds too small and couches are even worse usually. I once helped someone set up a new bed that came in a box, but I do not know where they got it from, what type it was, or if that bed was even comfortable. I know when I stayed on an air mattress at someone’s house a few times, it kept deflating in the middle of the night despite no signs of holes. My only real starting point was having passed by a few mattress stores before that I could possibly visit. I really did not know anything about shopping for a new bed, but I still did not expect it to go as badly as it did. I bought a new vacuum last year after doing a lot of online research that ended up not being perfect, but still better than the one I had before it. Like beds, we do not discuss vacuum models the way we do cars or phones, but that purchasing experience still was nowhere near as bad as buying a bed. 

My current bed is a futon. It is not the kind with thin cushioning that looks like a giant, bending leg rest that typically comes up when searching for one. Mine has a big, thick wooden frame that can be adjusted so that it is angled up like a couch or flat like a bed. It has a full-size mattress laying on top of this frame that contains cotton instead of the typical memory foam or springs found in other mattresses. When it is flat, it could easily be mistaken for a regular bed that does not have a box spring. The futon is just slightly older than I am. I am not sure how old exactly, but probably twenty-two or twenty-three years at least. For a few years, it was kept in an upright position and used less heavily as a couch. Most of the time, though, it was what I slept in every night for years on end. At times growing up, I would sit on it for hours instead of at my desk while doing homework, reading, or watching something. So after being used so much, it did not surprise me when it started to show its age. 

When I went to move the futon temporarily a few weeks ago in order to vacuum the dust that had gathered in the rug behind it, the wooden frame was very loose in spots and separated slightly were two pieces of wood met as I went to lift it. After moving the bed back, some of the legs were not sitting right no matter how much I tried to adjust them. A few mornings later, the whole thing flew into the air as I got out of bed. It was balanced only on two legs with the rest up in the air behind me as I sat on the edge of it startled. I carefully lowered it back down, thankful it had not hurt me or damaged anything nearby. In all my years of using it, that had never happened before. Then, it tipped forward one or two more times before I finally got the frame to sit a bit better. At that point, it seemed to be in more of a V-shape pointing towards the floor, still not as it used to be.

During these weeks of trying to get the wooden base to be back in its old position, I noticed the mattress seemed much firmer than it used to be. My back began to hurt after sleeping on it. One night, I woke up with my shoulder bothering me and it felt better the longer I waited to lay down again. The futon had always been a bit on the firm side, though it definitely seemed firmer than before. While I was worried about the frame, I debated whether I needed a new mattress. I thought the back pain might be some acute health issue or possibly from my also very heavily used and pretty old desk chair. Maybe both the chair and the mattress were contributing to the pain. After a week, I convinced myself it was hurting to lay on the futon and went shopping for a mattress. 

The first store I tried was a well-known mattress seller. Their website advertised that they had multiple beds from big-name brands that were under a thousand dollars and hundreds less than usual due to Labor Day sales. However, when I went to the store to physically try some of their mattresses, the only ones available there were almost all over two thousand dollars, with some thousands more than that. They had a “value” section with mattresses under a thousand, but these were very low-quality ones that were definitely uncomfortable. It turned out the ones I had seen online were not available to try in-store and what was there was way more expensive than I was willing to pay. I did not particularly like these more expensive mattresses anyway when I tried a few while there. Disappointed in them not having a better selection in-store to try before buying, I thought about where else to go. The department store at a mall further down the road from where I was at the time came to mind, so I headed there. 

The department store definitely had a better selection. They had multi-thousand dollar mattresses, ones similar to the value section of the other store, and a couple of very nice ones for a little more or less than a thousand dollars. I found a spring mattress with individually encased coils that I thought I liked and another that made a close second. Looking forward to a better night’s sleep and no more back pain on this new bed, I purchased it. That is when the trouble really started.

The department store told me that they would not have the bed in their warehouse until sometime in the following week and that they would call me then. I was not happy about this considering the first store I went to said they deliver in 3-5 days, though I understood they needed time to ship it to their warehouse and I know why shipping can take a while. Then, they called me over a week later and said the earliest they could deliver was not for at least another week and a half from that phone call. I knew that once the bed was delivered, it would likely last me years, but the delay was upsetting considering I thought my current bed was causing me to wake up in pain. At first, the pain had continued to worsen, with no other clear cause except for possibly my desk chair. The strange thing is that pain started to go away in the days following the phone call and I began to sleep better. While this confirmed my initial concern that the pain might only be acute and not due to the bed, I thought I should still get a new one if the frame is that loose. It did not move around anymore when I slept in it, but I worried it could still break if I moved it even slightly. 

With still a week to go until the new bed would be delivered, I took a trip to Trader Joe’s. Unfortunately, Trader Joe’s is not that close to my house and there are other grocery stores that are much closer. Since my family particularly likes some foods you can only get there, we tend to do most of our grocery shopping at other stores closer to home and then stock up on the Trader Joe’s items we like in bulk every few weeks. I had forgotten until I parked at Trader Joe’s that there is a large, brand name furniture store right next to it that is a different brand from the two I had already tried. They had an ad outside promising next-day delivery for everything and a free base with certain mattresses. As I walked by, I regretted not remembering this option sooner. At first, I was not going to go in, but I kept wondering if they only had more expensive mattresses in-store as the first store had or if they had ones similar to what I had bought in the department store. Since I had little else to do that day anyway, my curiosity led me inside, despite having already purchased a mattress. 

I saw this store had mattresses of the same brand as the one I had purchased. They also had other models not available at the department store for around the same price. I took out my department store receipt and noticed it did not have the full name of the mattress I had bought. I should have taken a photo of the label on the mattress I tested before leaving the department store, but I did not think of doing so at the time. I then tried entering the item number listed on the receipt into the search bar on the department store’s website and got zero results. The more I looked at the department store receipt, I realized it did not make sense. At first, it seemed to be listing more items than I purchased. I had bought three items total (the mattress, box spring, and base). When doing the math the first few times, I could not figure out how they got the total they came to, but it seemed they undercharged me if anything. I kept playing around with the numbers on the receipt while writing this piece and finally figured out that there were multiple reasons why they were not adding to the same total before. First, they displayed the new price for one of the three items while only showing the original price and amount discounted for the other two and that number for the new price could get easily mistaken as another charge based on the overall formatting. The receipt is full of abbreviations and numbers packed closely together at various levels of indentation per line, so it is not simple to see they are showing the one line is the new price. It also seems they discounted each item by 20% and then the whole purchase again by 20%, which does not make sense, but figuring that out helped me finally understand how they came to the total they did.

The salesman at the furniture store could not make sense of the receipt either when I showed it to him, but he showed me a mattress he thought was the same model based on the partial name. Testing it out again, I no longer felt certain I liked it, though I think it might have been a slightly different model of the same brand. When testing other mattresses while at the furniture store, I think I found one for around the same price that I liked more anyway. I decided to cancel my order with the department store and instead buy a bed from the furniture store. The department store transferred me five times when I tried to cancel the order, eventually sending me to an invalid number. I called once more and got stuck on hold for a long time. Already frustrated with the delivery delays when the other store had a seemingly better mattress they could deliver in one day, this further motivated me to cancel the order, since I worried I might run into similar issues trying to contact the department store in the future if the mattress ended up having an issue covered under the ten-year warranty or for any other reason if I did not cancel the purchase. That might have been a mistake. 

The staff in the furniture store had been so professional and patient as I repeatedly tried their mattresses and asked questions, mentally debating at first if their other mattress was actually better than the one I had purchased from the department store. I had a better in-store experience there than in either of the other two stores. They gave me much more detailed paperwork describing their protection plan and warranty, along with a very easy-to-understand, clearly itemized receipt. They tried to price match the department store at first, but we could not figure out how the box spring, mattress, and base were each individually less expensive at the furniture store yet totaled to more than the department store (this was before I realized 20% had been taken off twice). I double-checked the furniture store’s math and it was definitely correct, but the department store receipt continued to confuse us and was just another motivation to cancel that order. I felt confident at that point that switching my purchase to the furniture store was a good decision, but I would regret it the next day. 

The staff in the furniture store told me I would get a text that night or the next morning telling me when my delivery time was since I asked them to deliver it the very next day. They said it would probably not be delivered earlier than 9 am. I woke up at about 7:30 am the next day, still having not received a text yet and thinking I had time to eat breakfast at least. While I  was still eating, I got a text and then a call almost simultaneously saying they were coming in a few minutes. They arrived right around eight, earlier than expected. The two men that came barely talked to me and were very unprofessional, the complete opposite of the in-store experience. They rushed by me without saying anything to me when I opened the door and did not listen when I kindly told them where to put the bed. They started setting it up in an orientation I know does not fit the room well after I already told them how I wanted it set up. Again, I politely told them where I wanted it and they asked in response if I wanted it in the direction they were already setting it up in. They were about to leave when I asked a third time, still very nicely and clearly, for them to put the bed in a slightly different part of the room. This time, they listened, but they slammed it against the wall and a neighboring bookcase. They slammed it so hard that the bookcase shook. The bookcase shook so violently that it knocked into a set of drawers on the other side that was not sitting directly against it, making that shake as well. While they were moving it, I noticed a large tear in the box spring. I bent down to take a closer look, but they rushed out the door without saying anything as soon as they slammed the bed against the wall. I yelled for them to wait, my reaction time slowed a bit as I stared at the shaking bookcase, worried something might fall. I ran out the door and towards their truck, waiving, but they were already pulling away, not paying any attention to me. Remember this part for later in the story. 

The store was not open that early in the morning, so I could not immediately call them about the box spring. As I waited, I looked over the bed more closely, making sure that the other pieces were fine. Unfortunately, I found that the mattress had a row of little grey stains, lots of hang strings, and a whole section that was obviously not sewn right. The base had big scratches on all of the legs, even though everything was supposed to be brand new, and one spot where it looked like pieces had chipped off entirely. I’m sure some of this might have been the manufacturer’s fault, especially because I saw them unpackage it, but I was shocked that all three pieces were in such bad shape. The more I looked, the more I continued to find spots that had issues. The mattress itself also smelled awful when the one in the store had not. The bookshelf they had bashed with the bed, along with the wall, also appeared to now have some small damage at the same height as the bed. That bookshelf and the paint on the wall are too old to really know if the delivery men caused it. It was possible my old bed had and I never noticed, since it used to be in the same spot, but there was still no question that the delivery had gone terribly. 

When the store finally opened and I called them, the salesman I had dealt with before asked why I had not just refused the delivery after I told him about all the issues with the bed. This really made me angry, because I not only had to explain how the delivery people had slammed the bed, rushed out the door, and pulled away as I chased after them (making it impossible to refuse the delivery), but I knew that whether I refused the delivery or not shouldn’t matter. Most of the issues I noticed with the bed would be covered under both their protection plan and the bed’s warranty anyway. Then, the salesman tried to offer to exchange the bed. After all three pieces had shown up in such poor condition, along with the way the delivery men acted, I did not trust them anymore and just wanted a refund. The salesman agreed to refund it and take the bed back, but not before asking if I wanted to hold onto it for the night and decide in the morning. They asked me to take pictures of the damaged parts of the bed and said they would send me an email for where to upload them to, but then never did. I ended up injuring my foot on the edge of the base while walking around it to take the photos, which wasn’t their fault but further added to an already terrible morning. It took hours before the store called again to say someone was coming over to get the bed, at which time that staff member again offered to exchange it and I had to yet again state I wanted a refund. The people who came to get the bed were very professional and friendly, confirming who I was when picking the bed up and wishing me a good day before leaving. The furniture store handled everything so well, except for what mattered most. Even when arguing that maybe the two delivery men who smashed the bed against the wall were not the way their staff typically act, the bed itself came damaged beyond anything that could have happened in the truck alone. If anything, it was extra upsetting to get the whiplash of interacting with such professional, friendly staff before and after that awful delivery. 

A few hours later, I called them again after seeing the refund was not yet starting to process. I was told I had to wait for them to confirm the bed had made it back to their warehouse and to call again the next day. This further upset me considering they had sent me an email within minutes of the delivery asking me to rate the experience, so they obviously had a system for tracking this in real-time and not simply when the trucks leave and return. By that point, I was exhausted, injured, and not sure what to do about the bed. My family had luckily decided to keep my old futon. If I had told them to take the old bed, which they offered to do for free, I would have had nothing at all at that point. I messaged a friend I knew had recently bought a house to see where they bought their bed, but unfortunately, the type they purchased was a kind I know I do not like. I then reached out to a relative who had also moved recently who then said they did not like the bed they bought. With no other immediate solution, I moved my old bed back into my room for now. I have been sleeping on it a few nights relatively well, with no back issues at least. The wooden frame is again not sitting right and I will likely have to play around with it for a while. I think I will keep sleeping on the futon for now, but I will hopefully outlive the futon. One day, it will definitely be too worn to use, unlike the state it is in now where you could still debatably sleep on it. Maybe I will have kids one day and need to buy them a bed. I could move to another city far away and decide it is not worth shipping the futon to my new house. I think regardless of which scenario comes true first, buying a new bed at some point is an unavoidable part of life, but a strangely difficult one. I could understand if the reason there are so few mattress stores is because people only buy one once every few years, if not once every few decades, but I still never expected the level of difficulty I ran into. It surprised the people I discussed it with as well, though no one really knew where to buy one either. At least now I better understand why some people start sleeping on a couch or air mattress when their bed breaks or is ruined some other way instead of buying a new one. I just assumed cost alone discouraged them. I also want to emphasize none of this is due to me being autistic. If anything, my sensory sensitivities helped me notice the light grey stains in the bed and other tiny, yet important issues other people might not have as quickly. I hope no one reading this runs into as much difficulty shopping for a bed as I did and maybe this story will motivate us to find ways to improve the process in the future.