Who’d have thought a box could cause so much upheaval? 

Granted, it’s a box stuffed with so much innovative tech and marketing glamour that even Pandora might have been tempted to take another peek. But – in much the same way Ikea made cabinets portable, hip and affordable – the success of the rolled mattress has taken the industry by surprise, and fundamentally changed the way we buy beds.

In a few short years, the upstart bed-in-a-box brands and their white-label imitators have claimed over 17% of the UK’s mattress sales by volume, according to the latest NBF figures. They’ve taken a US recipe – one-size-fits-all, easy returns, heavily advertised – and, one by one, made it palatable to the UK consumer. 

And, emboldened by a growing faith in online shopping (despite being Western Europe’s third-largest economy, the UK was by far its largest market for ecommerce sales in 2017, says Forbes), we’ve devoured this trendy concept.

Not content with staying out in the digital playground, these brands are now going in-store. Yes, Simba did it in partnership with John Lewis back in February 2016 – but now they’re entering Bensons, Emma’s coming to DFS, Eve to Dreams, and Leesa to West Elm (another US export).

So, what is it about these mattresses that has consumers so enraptured? Their cost? Comfort? Convenience? Perhaps, but I think that, more than anything, it’s because they’re easy to like, and simple to understand – in a world that can be anything but.

“The fact that these brands have stripped so much out of the marketplace shows that plenty of customers just don’t have the time to really consider what they’re buying,” says Mammoth’s John Tuton.

The time-starved among us are clearly susceptible to the notion of a simple solution, delivered without friction, and these disruptors (a term that’s already a bit outdated now they’ve become a new normal) have done an excellent job of screaming their brands’ straightforward stories from the rooftops. 

Yet, for all the impact they’ve made, there are already signs of wear. Eve’s CEO waved goodbye in July after the brand’s H1 sales fell well short of expectations, the brand blaming “volatile trading patterns” and “strategic missteps” in its European strategy – but could it be that the approach it shares with some other upstarts is seriously flawed?

“We are concerned that some of our highly-unprofitable competitors are overselling and under-delivering, and causing a bubble in the market,” opines Max Laarmann, CEO of rival, Emma. He believes that committing huge sums of marketing spend to courting a consumer who may take up to 10 years to make a repeat purchase is incredibly short sighted, and could harm consumer perception of the entire movement should that bubble burst.

It’s not the only criticism that’s been levelled at these new kids on the block – could the increasingly keen pricing we’re seeing from newcomers be the start of a race to the bottom? – but it’s a reminder that both winners and losers will emerge from this fiercely competitive arena. 

The rest of the industry – even those who have developed their own solutions – will just have to hope that consumer perception is not one of the victims. 

Because once that gets out of hand, it’s very hard to put it back in the box.

This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of Furniture News magazine.