Free boots and mattresses

Amazon reviews, mattress-flippers, millennials, data, and why I've wound up with the same boots five times in a row. Also, 7 other things worth a click.

It's weird being a writer.

Case in point, I have a friend and former colleague named Melissa. She's talented, acclaimed, fun to read, and wrote a big bestseller called The Girl's Guide to Absolutely Everything back in 2006.

But then, she hit a rut. How did she get out of it? By writing an Amazon review, of all things. This one: "Mattress is hard & hot, buy with caution."

It's entertaining, and describes her saga of buying, then testing, then rejecting a mattress from Amazon. As of last night 2,969 people had found it "helpful."

Melissa being Melissa, she turned the whole experience into a still-longer essay called "Most Helpful Critical Review," that was ultimately published in a literary journal and won an award.

‘If you wanted to scam a mattress company…’

My wife and I remembered this story yesterday, after we were talking about buying mattresses online. Specifically, returning them.

Because it turns out that Melissa might have been just a bit ahead of her time.

The Wall Street Journal's Stephanie Yang reported recently on the phenomenon of "mattress-flipping," in which people take advantage of the 100-day free trial offers that many online mattress startups have adopted.

There are now a sleep-disturbing 175 such companies out there, competing for your mattress dollars, after Casper basically created the market five years ago. And here’s how their products are getting flipped:

  • Over the course of 15 months, [Karan] Bir slept on five different mattresses, each one purchased and returned consecutively using the free-trial policies of dozens of bed-in-a-box startups.

  • Two years ago, Lily Liu-Krason, a 26-year-old data scientist living in New York, found herself overwhelmed by the sheer number of mattress options available to her, so she followed a colleague’s suggestion that she sign up for several of the free trials.

  • Dylan Markowitz, 23: “Nectar [another of the 175 brands] claims to have a 365-day warranty or trial, which sounds bonkers. If you wanted to scam a mattress company Nectar would be the one to go with.”

Why own a mattress, when you can just buy one and return it, over and over and over?

$90 billion

The Journal frames this as a generational story. In fact, it does seem that everybody is returning everything all the time now.

During the 2019 holiday shopping season for example, shoppers are expected to buy and then return about $90 billion worth of gifts (up 28 percent since 2016).

About $43 billion of that comes from online returns like the mattresses, according to B-Stock, a B2B marketplace platform that remarkets and resells returned merchandise. 

Now, I was disappointed when I reread Melissa's Amazon mattress review—not because of her writing, but because I'd misremembered. She wasn’t actually able to return her unsatisfactory mattress.

Instead, she had to negotiate with the people at Sleepy's. When she bought its replacement, she got them to agree to climb the stairs and remove the old one.

So, as her fellow GenXer, I guess this leaves me having to admit to my own non-Millennial return story, just to round this out.

Boots 5.0

It’s a war story, kind of. The year was 2007, and I was about to head to Iraq as a reporter for The Washington Post.

I tried not to be too much of a geardo, but I did drop $200 on a pair of boots from L.L. Bean.

They fell apart after just a week of walking around Washington. So, I took advantage of the lifetime replacement guarantee at L.L. Bean, and got another pair.

They went through hell in Iraq, so when I came back, I returned them again and got another pair. Then two years after that, my newer ones were looking pretty worn out, so I returned them as well.

It got to be a bit of a joke. I've lost count, but I'm pretty sure that my current pair, which I wore while shoveling snow here last week, are basically Boots 5.0. 

In fact, when L.L. Bean changed its rules in 2018, some friends who knew that I’d had a policy of taking advantage of their policy, said it was my fault.

But now I know. Everybody’s doing it. 

Open thread Friday?

That was good last week, right? I think we should do it again. I’m working on potential topic ideas.

If anyone has a suggestion they’d like me to consider including, please shoot me an email:

Volunteers from last week — I’ll have something to run by you as well. Thanks!

7 other things worth a click

  1. The Pentagon will review how foreign students in U.S. military training are vetted, after a Saudi Air Force officer's fatal gun attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola. (Axios)

  2. An Atlanta newspaper is going to war over Clint Eastwood's new movie about the 1996 Olympic bombing. (Time)

  3. The CEO of Away resigned, after reports of a very toxic culture. (Inc.)

  4. Google's $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit will now be the subject of a Department of Justice antitrust investigation. (The New York Post)

  5. It should be impossible to have a "missed connection" in 2019, right? Here's a Tinder story about one that happened anyway. But there's a happy ending. (Me on Inc.)

  6. How the Kardashians "went from D-list nobodies to A-list stars." (Buzzfeed News)

  7. Vanna White spent 37 years spinning letters for Wheel of Fortune. This week, she's finally subbing as the host. (Los Angeles Times)

Ideas and feedback actively solicited. (You read this far, please subscribe!) Find me anytime on LinkedInFacebook, or Twitter or via email at

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