Reporter pulls blanket out of cozy bond between mattress manufacturers and reviewers: NPR

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""Mattress Reviews"" – Google News

Shoppers look online for reviews of the products they want to buy – like mattresses. However, one reporter found that reviewers often have comfortable deals with the companies they review.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now for the shadowy underworld of online mattress reviews. If you’re ready to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a new mattress, you’ll want to be smart so start Googling and reading reviews. And author David Zax says there are a few things you need to know about these reviews. He discovered a kind of wild west made of memory foam, where people who write about mattresses have cozy deals with the companies they review. Zax described this in an article for Fast Company magazine and now comes to us. Welcome.

DAVID ZAX: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Your discovery began in the spring of 2016 when you met a guy named Kenny who gave you a free mattress. Who is this guy

ZAX: Kenny is a nice guy. Let me start with that. He is my neighbour. He’s a friend of a friend. And I heard he has mattresses left over. So one day I actually ran over with a bottle of wine under my arm and traded him a bottle of wine for a free mattress. And I kind of asked him what’s going on here? I heard you hand out free mattresses left and right. And it turns out he was reviewing mattresses online and actually receiving a commission from companies when he managed to get the people who read his reviews to buy a particular mattress.

SHAPIRO: We actually have a clip here from one of his YouTube videos. This is from 2015.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KENNY KLINE: Hey, I’m Kenny with Slumber Sage. Today I am checking the Leesa mattress. I’ve been sleeping on the Leesa for about three weeks now. It was a great experience.

SHAPIRO: So he goes on to evaluate the firmness of the mattress. And just below the review is a link for a coupon, $ 60 off the mattress. This has more than 60,000 views. What does Kenny get for it?

ZAX: So I interviewed Leesa CEO David Wolfe. And with his affiliate marketing partners, as they are called, those reviewers who also receive commissions on the sales they make, he pays $ 50 per mattress.

SHAPIRO: You report that some of these mattress reviewers make more than a million dollars a year from mattress companies just for doing these reviews and making recommendations.

ZAX: It’s pretty incredible. But if you think about it – that’s what a mattress is – it’s an important product. It’s a thousand dollars on average, just right. And 5 percent of that, a standard seller commission, is $ 50. So that adds up.

SHAPIRO: We’re not going to reveal all of the twists and turns in your magazine story, including the surprising ending. But ultimately the moral seems to be that the reviews you read online cannot necessarily be trusted, at least on mattresses. How true is this for other review sites?

ZAX: Yeah, well, I wanted my story to be a way of understanding this huge industry called affiliate marketing. $ 4.5 billion was traded – last year they changed hands in affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing, in essence, means that you frequently review websites that review a product. And on a deep level, reviewers are motivated by the companies they rate.

SHAPIRO: Because you can click on the review page to buy. And if you click on Amazon to buy, for example, Amazon will give you a share.

ZAX: Exactly. Or there is a tracking code embedded in a link that leads directly to casper.com or leesa.com. There is no obligation to disclose a case where you are evaluating two competitors and one competitor pays you $ 250 per mattress and another competitor pays you $ 50 for mattresses or $ 0 per mattress. Hence, it is very difficult to know which websites are honest and which are less.

SHAPIRO: What advice do you have for people who shop online and wonder if reviewers get paid to leave positive reviews?

ZAX: You know, definitely snooping around the site. Check out the disclosures page. Be skeptical of any language that says we may earn a small affiliate commission. Sometimes I tend to think that these disclosures using the word affiliates are almost like that word is almost boring enough that I think it will make consumers – eyes glaze over. But that means in some cases – especially if it is a high traffic website – that the people behind that website are making a huge amount of money. This does not mean that the rating is inaccurate. It’s just something that consumers should be aware of.

SHAPIRO: This is David Zax, writer for Fast Company magazine. His latest story is called “The war to sell you a mattress is an internet nightmare”. Many Thanks.

ZAX: Thank you.

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