Retail

Why is Memorial Day so big for mattress sales?

How a holiday about honoring fallen soldiers became a bedding bonanza.
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Everybody Loves Raymond/CBS via Giphy

· 4 min read

It can be hard not to say the word “sale” after Memorial Day, so ubiquitous are the discounts on the long weekend across virtually all retail sectors. But just as Presidents’ Day has become known for car sales, Memorial Day is especially popular for mattress sales. There are many reasons why and, unlike beds, we don’t have to make them up.

Decoration Day: Note, as our subject is home decor, that the holiday, which began during the Civil War, was originally called Decoration Day. Survivors of both Union and Confederate soldiers dedicated a day to decorating the graves of the fallen, and while several places have claimed to have started the custom, Congress declared in a proclamation in 1966 that Waterloo, New York, was the progenitor.

After World War I, the holiday grew to encompass Americans who had died in all wars, and to be called Memorial Day. It had been observed on May 30, but, beginning in 1971, that shifted to the last Monday of May, in keeping with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, whose purpose was to give more three-day weekends to federal employees.

And long weekends lend themselves to sales, especially for big purchases like cars and mattresses, where multiple members of the household may weigh in, comparison shopping is common, and impulse buys are verboten. When it comes to buying a mattress, people want, naturally, to sleep on it.

Changing beds: June is often the month when many mattress companies introduce new products. And—duh!—mattresses are big, so to make room for the latest models, retailers have to clear last year’s pillowtops out of their warehouses and showrooms.

That’s why the general consensus in mattress shopping guides is that the best month to get a deal on mattresses is May. And a particularly opportune time for retailers to move inventory to make room for new product is May’s long weekend known for sales: Memorial Day weekend.

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Is it called memory foam because so much of it is sold on Memorial Day? Nope. Memory foam wasn’t developed for mattresses, but rather by NASA (and its contract with Stencel Aero Engineering Corporation) in 1966, to improve airplane seats for both crash protection and comfort. But that means your Nectar mattress may also be a flotation device.

Uneasy lies the bed that wears a crown: Curiously, some of the biggest-selling items on this very American holiday are named after figures from a monarchy rather than a democracy. In the 1940s, Americans were sleeping primarily on twin or double beds, according to BedTimes Magazine, a publication of the International Sleep Products Association. Queen- and king-sized mattresses began to be marketed widely in the 1950s and 1960s, with the National Association of Bedding Manufacturers promoting a “Measure Your Mattress Month” (must we?) in 1962 with the slogan “Buy Bigger, Sleep Better!”

Sleepy sales: During the pandemic, when consumers were stuck at home and their beds increasingly played the part of office chairs and conference room tables, mattress sales got, fittingly, a big bounce. Bedding industry sales were up 30% in 2020 over 2019, estimated mattress industry veteran Jerry Epperson, while in 2021, they were up 8.8% over 2020, with sales totalling $18.5 billion, according to Furniture Today.

With more people returning to the office these days, however, sales are beginning to sag. Upscale mattress maker Sleep Number’s sales were down 7% YoY in the quarter that ended April 2, while sales at Tempur Sealy also slowed.

But here’s something that may help those mattress retailers sleep a little better: They’re about to tuck into one of their biggest sale weekends of the year.

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