NewsChannel 5 Discovers Used Mattresses Sold As New
By Jennifer Kraus Consumer Investigator
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The next time you go shopping for a new mattress, beware. You may not really be getting a new mattress.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates went undercover and found area stores selling used beds and telling customers they were new.
Our investigation discovered, some of these mattresses have a lot more than just a few scratches or dents -- and the stores selling them are breaking the law.
When our undercover shoppers went into the stores with hidden cameras, clerks repeatedly told the shoppers that their beds were all brand new and that those that had been marked down had come straight from the manufacturer as "defects."
Some employees even insisted that their store didn't even sell used mattresses.
Tennessee law states stores are supposed to attach bright yellow tags to used mattresses to let customers know they've been used. But we discovered that's just not happening.
"People are being lied to about what they're purchasing," said Keith Crenshaw, who has worked in the mattress industry for more than 16 years.
As a warranty consultant for mattress manufacturers, Crenshaw has examined hundreds of used beds.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked him to check out the mattress we bought from Mattress Firm.
"It looks consistent with someone sleeping on it," he said.
Yet, this was the same mattress that the salesman at Mattress Firm had insisted had never been slept on.
"Sometimes the machine that manufacture these won't layer 'em right and if they don't layer 'em right, you'll get that hump. But, it's just extra foam," he told our undercover shopper.
But Crenshaw told us there's no mistaking the ridge running down the middle of the bed and the sunken areas on either side.
"These are obvious body impressions from two people laying on the mattress for an extended period of time -- no question about that," he explained, as he ran his hands over the bed.
During our investigation, NewsChannel 5 Investigates also bought a mattress from an Essex Retail Outlet.
Again, we were told it had never been used -- even though it had large stains across the top. The employee at Essex maintained the stains were simply water stains.
But, when retired Metro Police detective Brad Corcoran pulled out his evidence gathering equipment typically used at crime scenes, many of those stains appeared to be bodily fluids.
Under his black light and with special glasses, Corcoran could easily see what he described as "large" and "heavy" stains across the mattress.
"There's something that has run down the edge," he noted, pointing out one of the large stains down the side of the mattress.
These bodily fluids, Corcoran explained, were urine or perspiration, blood -- and worse. He then pulled out a test kit and swabbed several of the spots he found near the middle of the mattress.
Testing showed several of them were, in fact, likely semen.
"That's horrible. That makes me cringe," said Peter Adams, the vice president of retail operations at Essex, when NewsChannel 5 Investigates shared the findings of the test with him.
Adams also confirmed that, despite what his employees told our undercover shoppers, his stores do, in fact, sell used mattresses.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Adams, "So if someone comes in and buys one of these mattresses, it's possible they could be buying a mattress with semen on it?
"In your case, yes," he replied.
Adams insisted that the mattress we purchased was an isolated case. Yet, it didn't take long for us to find others on his showroom floor that also had large stains on them. And, he also confirmed that Essex gets its mattresses from a company that specializes in customer returns.
We wanted to know, "So it's possible then that all of the mattresses could be used?"
"It's possible," he admitted.
We also went back to Mattress Firm where we asked the manager, "Have these mattresses been slept on?"
Instead of answering the question, he explained, "These are all clearance pieces and they're sold as-is."
We asked again, "Have these mattresses been slept on?"
Again, he replied, "All of these are clearance pieces."
After dodging our questions, the manager told us to leave the store.
But a spokesman for Mattress Firm later contacted NewsChannel 5 Investigates and confirmed that the company does sometimes sell used beds, even though employees at the store told our undercover shoppers they didn't.
Yet, when we went in undercover, we didn't see any of those yellow tags that again are required on used mattresses by law in either Mattress Firm or Essex.
"We have laws in Tennessee to protect the consumer from purchasing these mattresses, but no one's enforcing it," Keith Crenshaw said.
The state Attorney General's office confirmed that it has never cited a single retailer in Tennessee for selling a used mattress without a yellow tag.
And that means folks who think they're getting a bargain mattress may wind up getting a lot more than they bargain for.
"In reality, they're not getting a deal at all. They're getting a used mattress," Crenshaw added.
Essex told NewsChannel 5 Investigates they had no idea they were breaking the law and they plan to add yellow tags to all of the mattresses they sell.
Mattress Firm, meanwhile, maintained that what happened was an associate's mistake and the bed we bought simply wasn't tagged like it should have been.
But we visited two Mattress Firm stores and talked with several employees. We didn't see a single yellow tag in either store. And employees in both stores told us their mattresses had never been used.
So what can consumers do?
When you're buying a mattress look for the white tag attached to the head of the bed. It has information about the mattress including when it was made. On a new bed, the manufacture date should be just a couple of months old at most. If you see the mattress is three and a half years old like the one we bought at Essex, there's a pretty good chance, it's been used.
Also, check the bag that the mattress is delivered in and make sure that it's still sealed and has not been torn open and then taped shut.
And, finally, set the mattress on a level surface, stand back, and make sure that the top of the mattress is flat and smooth and that you don't see a ridge running down the middle of the mattress or visible valleys on either side of the bed.
Here's a statement from Mattress Firm:
"The vast majority of products sold at Mattress Firm are new. Occasionally we sell scratch and dent and gently used mattresses as allowed by law and after it's inspected, sanitized and clearly labeled for resale. Unfortunately, it appears an associate did not follow Mattress Firm's well-established policies on clearly labeling and selling used product and miscommunicated our 'sold as is' policy. We have taken the appropriate action with the associate to ensure this does not happen again, and we apologize for the mistake. As a matter of course, we regularly conduct thorough audits of our inventory to ensure it is properly labeled and tagged in accordance with Tennessee state law. In addition, we will be implementing random inspections in our stores to ensure compliance with our sales policies."
Here's a statement from Essex:
Most all of the mattresses sold at Essex are "Factory Seconds" which means that they are overstocks, floor models, freight damaged, scuffed and scratched, demos, customer returns, warranty claims, discontinued models, or flawed units that do not meet the strict guidelines set forth by the manufacturer. All mattresses have been tested, inspected, cleaned, sanitized and bagged by our supplier before hitting our showroom floors. Unfortunately our associate made a mistake in describing the condition of the mattress that was purchased by News Channel 5 as "new". We sincerely apologize for this error, and we will do a better job of properly training our sales associates. All of our mattresses now have the bright yellow tags describing them as seconds, and we are compliant with all state laws and regulations. Ultimately we want to make sure that our customers are 100% satisfied with their purchases. That is why we have offered and continue to offer a 30-day "No Hassle" return policy on all of the products sold by Essex. If any of our customers are unhappy for any reason with their mattress purchase or anything else purchased from Essex, we invite them to come back with their receipt and we will issue a full refund. Essex is committed to selling quality products at discounted prices. There is nothing we value more than satisfying customers.