by Mary Hanbury

The wall of hot air instantly makes you feel claustrophobic; it’s the kind of place where a headache comes on in seconds but stays for hours.

Consumers are creatures of habit when it comes to buying a mattress, time and again letting pushy sales men talk them out of hundreds of dollars, but now there is an alternative as Oliver Briars realized when he moved to New York and saw an advert for Casper, the new online mattress company.

“I was sold by the cost and convenience, it’s much less over-whelming,” he said.

Casper joins a long list of so-called, ‘bed-in-a-box’ companies such as Saalva, Loom and Leaf, Tuft and Needle and Leesa, who have designed spring-less mattresses designed to be squished, squashed, rolled and folded into a box and shipped to customers around the U.S. These companies are shaking up the mattress business and symptomatic of the changing retail scene in the U.S. that threatens to reshape the economy.

“There are two ways that e-retailers are having an impact,” said real estate economist Peter Muoio. “Firstly stores are going out of business, and the second less noticed impact, is changes to store formats; they now have less inventory in the backroom and it becomes more of a showroom. So the footprint is smaller.”

But boosts in e-retail have also brought about positive changes, as online companies require distribution centers. Todd Caruso, managing director of retail at CBRE said they have seen a substantial increase in demand for industrial real estate, especially in port towns along the East Coast.

The mattress industry is large, profitable and growing. In 2015, it generated $11.5 billion of revenue according to a survey done by IBIS research and the numbers are expected to rise in 2016.

Specialty mattress retailers like Mattress Firm, Sleep Number and America’s Mattress have commanded the industry for decades and until now, their main competition came from furniture retailers and department stores. In 2016, they now have online retailers enticing customers with lower prices and convenient returns to cope with.

For $850, Casper will ship your mattress and give you 100 days to try it out.

“How can you determine if a mattress will provide a great night’s sleep if you don’t bring it home and sleep on it first?” said Casper co-founder, Luke Sherwin.

Casper’s focus on customer service and extensive advertising to build the brand is made possible by not having to pay expensive rents for brick and mortar stores; IBIS estimate that around 7 percent of the revenue of other retailers is spent on rent and utilities.

Their strong celebrity following, helped by Leonardo di Caprio being one of their investors has also helped to glamourize the product. The numbers on social media speak for themselves – since starting out in April 2014 they have 55,000 followers on Twitter, substantially higher than Mattress firm’s 13,000.

However, by being so Internet based and only offering one type mattress they may threaten to alienate older consumers.

“It’s just the mattress du jour,” said Jerry Epperson, a furniture analyst of 40 years, who is skeptical about Casper’s business model.

“In my twenties I would sleep on anything but in my thirties and forties that doesn’t work anymore,” he said. “A mattress is something you have to live with for 8 to 10 years and it’s a lot of money to leave to chance.”

But targeting a younger audience is no bad thing. Millenials now number 88 million and represent more than a quarter of the population of the U.S. These are the customers beginning to buy houses and the ones with disposable income, and according to a survey done by Stifel, 27 percent of them would rather shop online than in store.

“People like to consume this way and not deal with a mattress sales person,” said John Timmerman, director of manufacturer Soft-Tex.

Reviews have meant that customers are more confident in buying online and their returns period means they have that safety net in place.

Some of the retailers do see these companies as a real threat and are waking up to change by improving their online presence. Manufacturers have also responded to this by creating their own versions of delivery bed-in-a-box mattresses for retailers to sell.

“We give them a chance to compete with the folks online,” said Timmerman, referring to Soft-Tex’s new ‘Dream Smart’ line. “It’s become a business for us.”

But so far, Timmerman has found only the smaller stores receptive to this.

“They feel they don’t need to address it now, but at some point they will,” he said.

“Casper is here to stay.”