In April 2016, the mattress startup Casper sued three popular mattress review sites, claiming they drove business to Casper competitors without proper disclosure that these mattress brands paid sales commissions to the sites.
The schemes, in Casper’s view, amounted to false advertising and deceptive practices because the sites promoted their reviews as unbiased but did not conspicuously disclose the relationships with the specific mattress makers they were recommending.
In the booming world of online mattress sales, these reviews sites had accumulated massive power — often turning up high in Google search results for general queries like “mattress reviews” or brand-specific ones like “Casper reviews.” And without many showrooms to allow customers to try out these mattresses, online reviews carried even more weight.
As a result of that power, Casper at times engaged with the sites. In 2015, Casper CEO Philip Krim had a months-long email conversation with one of the site’s founders, sounding like he was ready for Casper to play ball.
“Currently you actively endorse a competing product on our review page,” Krim wrote in one email, which was made public in court filings. “What can we do to not have you endorse another product as superior to ours?”
In an email to Recode last year, Krim characterized the conversation as an “effort to figure out how to urge these sites to stop steering away consumers specifically looking for Casper to the copycats,” whom Krim alleged “were paying larger affiliate fees and provided more lucrative compensation structures.”
Casper claimed the practices cost it millions of dollars in potential sales.
In the end, all three reviews companies settled with Casper. But a bizarre thing happened after the settlement with a popular site called Sleepopolis: Casper provided a loan to another mattress reviews company to acquire the site from its previous owners.
A Casper spokesperson says Sleepopolis is run independently of Casper — meaning both as a business and as an editorial entity. It is now owned by a company called JAKK Media that specializes in search engine optimization and operates other reviews sites like MattressClarity.com and SlumberSage.com. A disclosure appears on many of Sleepopolis’ pages.
But the relationship has not been lost on Casper’s competitors or competing review sites, who have been gossiping about it since it was announced earlier this summer.
They wonder what happens if the operators of Sleepopolis default on the Casper loan, giving the mattress company control of the site. Perhaps more importantly, they question why a company of Casper’s stature in the industry — the startup is believed to be the biggest of the so-called “bed-in-a-box” startups, recently raising a $170 million investment led by Target and with its products in Target stores — would risk the perception of impropriety. I have yet to get an answer.
A review on Sleepopolis from 2016 called Casper “an above average … mattress, but it’s not above average enough. There are simply too many other mattresses available that I find offer better support, comfort, and feel for about the same price (some even less).”
The review linked to four other mattress brands that the previous Sleepopolis owner recommended at the time over Casper. His site appeared to have had commission relationships with at least three of them at the time, but not Casper.
That review appears to be gone. In its place, there’s a new detailed Casper review on Sleepopolis that is marked as being updated this September. A link to it appears on the first page of Google search results for “Casper reviews.”
The review ends on this note:
“Overall my experience with Casper was very positive – the comfort of the mattress definitely stands out from the pack in my mind. With their generous sleep-trial, if the Casper mattress intrigues you, I say go for it!”
The writer then provides a link to Casper’s website — along with a discount code.