Betting on Better Bed-Buying

Few industries are more full of customer confusion, deception and trickery than bedding sales.  We try to venture into a mattress store as little as possible.  In fact, when last we visited one it was for a “Y2K” sale. January 1, 2000 found us buying a mattress to replace a waterbed that had sprung leaks thanks to the claws of an aggressive and somewhat mean-spirited cat.
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Despite advertised so-called sales, on that first day of new millennium we needed a new mattress and felt the sharp salesman had far too much of the upper hand.  The terminology required an insider’s knowledge to ferret fact from fiction, the names of the manufacturers all sounded similar (they all started with “S” like “sleep”) and up-selling and other pressurizing tactics ruled the day.  We swore we would never buy a mattress again.
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Nearly 18 years later, we slowly reasoned that our now-aging Triple-S-Sensual-Sleep-Slumberland-Supreme no longer owed us anything.  For one thing, it no longer seemed all that rectangular, in part because we may have been lazy about occasionally flipping it as suggested. We recalled our foreboding sense of “gotcha” at the mattress store two decades previously and reasoned there had to be a better way.
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Consumer Reports (which covers only cars more extensively than mattresses) affirmed the accuracy of our worst nightmares: trickery, thievery and buyer deception abound in a yesteryear industry chock full of sharp, commissioned salespeople desperate to hit the quota that qualifies them for the cruise (or whatever). Comparison shopping on price, store-to-store, is all but impossible because model names and numbers change for the deliberate purpose of thwarting such efforts.  Worse, many times the mattress one picks on the showroom floor and the one that arrives at your home differ in materials, workmanship, durability, feel, etc. (with no way to prove it).

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Consumer Reports also advised that it is both possible and increasingly popular to buy bedding online.  Before you say “How can I buy a bed without flopping myself onto it in the mattress store,” rarely do you get the time to really experience how it might be, the mattresses on the showroom floor may differ from the ones delivered to your home, and at the store you have the salesman pressure as well as the press of other customers hurry your decision.  Trying it in the store simply does not provide the objective insight one thinks.
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Online direct-to-consumer manufacturers also can provide a higher-quality mattress at less cost because the costs of floor planning inventory, bricks-and-mortar rent, on-premises sales staff and the like are not built into the price. There are many, and the reviews are right-on-top-of-one-another, scores-wise. After much research online, we came to select the Ghost Bed Luxe.
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Now why there are competing on-line brands “Ghost Bed” and “Casper” (as in the “friendly ghost”) is something it probably takes an industry insider to know; my patience stopped before researching this unlikely coincidence. Later I learned that several of the e-commerce bedding manufacturers have been warring with one another legally – see Casper Sues the Friendly Ghost? No matter, three days after completing the online purchase (with the very helpful chat box person, who steered me to certain unpublished promotions which lessened the cost some $150), our Ghost Bed arrived.

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Though Queen Bed in size, somehow the air within its memory foam had been evacuated for shipping.  It came in a box (an 89 pound box) about the size of two cases of office copy paper.  Inside the box was the bed, tightly wrapped in much heavy plastic.  We positioned the bed where it would be (atop our existing box spring), cut the plastic wrapping and watched a miraculous re-inflation process (now I know how those under-seat life preservers work on airplanes). In a minute or two, the mattress was 8 or 10 times its volume, within an hour it was over 95% full size, and in less than 24 hours was full size and firmness.  Looking at it, sitting, lying or sleeping on it, you simply never would know it was shipped compressed like that.
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A few nights ago, our Ghost Bed had its maiden voyage. We are total fans. Summer will tell whether its embedded cooling gel makes it cooler to sleep on, but we believe the advertising.  So yes, you can safely and confidently buy bedding online. Total fan; overslept as evidence. We heartily recommend Ghost Bed (both Luxe model and not) if you are in the market for a new mattress. The pillows (made of the same synthetic marshmallow-like fluff) are outstanding too.

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Big Brother is Selling All Day, Every Day

The internet truly is a wondrous invention; nearly all of us owe a continuing debt to Al Gore for having invented it in the first place.

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Many of us realize that not only is it a means to research and gather information about news, interests, activities and hobbies, but also it is handy for any distraction from shopping to reading books, magazines, editorials and (as was the case for me yesterday), everything from a curiosity about what happened to the venerable hotels of the “Borscht Belt” in the Catskills  – some have reopened as religious retreats – , to whether the F-14 Tomcat of “Top Gun” fame still is in active service as a military jet fighter (overseas yes, but here, no).

tomcat So at some point yesterday afternoon, I was Googling reviews of Broadway shows.  Specifically, one called “On Your Feet” which is supposed to be a biographical musical of Gloria Estefan. Not so much a fan the first time around, her music captivated me as the background soundtrack to one of my favorite all-time Disney World attractions; the Enchanted Tiki Room (which I understand now to be gone). The whole skit by the Tiki Bird animatronic puppets was set to her music, including Conga, One-Two-Three, Turn the Beat Around, etc.   It was a special time-and-place for this then 43-year-old little boy.

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So “On Your Feet” is coming to the Kennedy Center, and thought about getting tickets.  However, I wanted to read a review of the show. I clicked through from my Google search, onto a review of the Broadway version of the show, on the New York Times web site, from two years ago.  Well, one of those “the internet is not as free as you were led to believe” things happened, and my review-reading was interrupted by a splash screen asking me to subscribe to the New York Times. Hmm…
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Now I knew that I could dump my cookies and clear my cache and restart that NYT cookie counter, but doing so usually is a pain because you have to log back into some half dozen or whatever web pages I use regularly (WordPress, here, among them).  So while contemplating whether to bother going through all of that, I read the Times advertising come-on, which presented the following subscription options:

  1. I could pay $8 per month for a basic NYT subscription, which would entitle me to articles and whatnot, but not their crossword puzzle or recipes.  Already I am a paid subscriber to online Washington Post (also $8 per month or so) and enjoy it; I also believe that people who work at the paper deserve a roof over their heads and the capability to pay for housing. So I knew $8 was not out of line, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted the puzzle and recipes too, so I read on.
  2. I ALSO could spend only $8 a month and get the puzzles and recipes included.  This was the NYT “Black Friday Special”, which came with its very own asterisk.  I was intrigued for a moment, as this seemed like a better value. Of course, I also knew that asterisks can be bad, as anyone who ever has read a car dealership ad knows.  So I searched for the asterisk and its fine print.  I found that $8/month would balloon to $27 a month, automatically and without telling me, once a year (at $8 per month) was complete.  Of course, I could “cancel anytime”, if I remembered to and figured out how.

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It did not take long to feel that I hated gimmicky intro ads. What I quickly realized too, was that I simply expected more from the New York Times than such a transparent call-to-action. I was reminded of the Columbia House record club, for which I always had distaste.
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Never having even begun to place an online order (no user name, password, email address, etc.), and I closed that tab and left the web site of the New York Times, my purpose (to read their review of “On Your Feet” unfulfilled). I thought that the episode of my being marketed to by the Old Gray Lady of the news media was concluded the moment I closed that tab in Chrome.  I was, um, wrong.

gray lady

Wouldn’t you know it, but bright and early this morning I was greeted with an unsolicited email from the circulation and subscription desk of the New York Times.  Seems they noticed that I had an “uncompleted order” and they were here (in cyberspace) to help separate me from my money via email, online chat or telephone.

Mind you, once again, I offered no self-identification or contact information of any sort.  They just “knew” it was me. Um, I should not really be surprised, but still, wow.

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I believe that my active Google account must be the culprit, but its too inconvenient to spend my life in incognito mode, online.  So I have acquiesced to the reality that every time I touch a button or click on a link, 192,463 different guys (no doubt all living in someplace like Mumbai and all named Patel) are adding me to yet another database they then endeavor to sell to companies worldwide for 5,000,000 names per rupee (2,200,000 per rupee if accompanied by a live email address).  Sadly, it’s either to accept this uncomfortable reality than to actively fight against it.

I never did read that review.  But I still think On Your Feet might be a good one to see.

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Small Business Health Insurance Jenga

Every year our business faces its version of open enrollment. Every year the cost of providing health insurance to our employees rises a few percent, which we always chalked off as the cost of doing business. Many things go up a few percent a year.
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This year seems different and not in a good way. A couple of weeks ago I learned that if we do nothing (in terms of changing companies, policies, how-much-the-company-pays and the like), our cost will go up by over 11%. A little of that is aging, but a lot of that is well, both political and the fact that the insurers have us all by the you-know-what.stress

So within the little part of the insurance universe that we actually control, all 3,000ish square feet of it, we set about somehow limiting the damage to our employees, their dependents and ourselves. Screaming at Congress was quickly found to be ineffective, and hollering at our insurance carrier was met only with profit-glazed giggles. They know they have won. The only question is, by how much.

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Armed with spreadsheets and some out-of-the-box thinking, this morning we unveiled a new set of company policies, practices and explained in detail, their underlying rationale. Rather than hoots, hollers and a flurry of resignation letters, the discussion went quite well. Looks like I lucked into the ’employer mensch” award once again with the following:

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1. Sticking with the traditional Blues. We’re not rocking employees’ worlds by making them find new doctors and other health care providers.

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2. Offering a cafeteria of plans, which the Blues call “Bronze” up through “Platinum” like Olympic Medals. Getting past the gallows humor that they should be called things like “transparent” and “wiffle ball” for what they seemingly do not cover, employees like choice and I like not making theirs for them.

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3.  We did away with all the silly formulas that determined employer contribution and payroll deduction.  No longer is how much anyone does or does not pay dependent on their marital status, the color of their car, the phases of the moon or which plan they deign to choose.  There is one variable, that is fair, equitable and objective and it works like this:

As the employer, we pay a certain fixed percentage of your gross pay toward your health insurance.  If you choose an affordable plan, our contribution covers most.  If you choose a lavish plan, our contribution helps some, but payroll deduction makes up the difference.  That percentage is the same for all employees.

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So far, no one has rushed to quit, scream or stage a sit-in by the coffee pot.  As the employer, we have certainty of expense, and perhaps, a relatively happy work force. It easily could have been worse. Maybe we’ve dodged this bullet for one more year.

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