Casper Sleep is the first name that most people think of when they hear the phrase “bed-in-a-box”. While they weren’t the original pioneers of the concept (the OG company in that industry is Amerisleep) they are the ones who perfected it. They almost single-handedly disrupted the quaint, old-fashioned mattress industry with their convenient delivery, powerful and quirky marketing campaigns, and their now-industry-standard free trial period.
Unfortunately they also used some extremely shady business practices to propel themselves to the top of the cutthroat mattress industry. Read on to learn about some of the less-than-moral things that Casper has done on their path to becoming a public company and the things that they are still doing to make sure they stay ahead of their competition.
Casper’s war on mattress bloggers
In April 2016, Casper Sleep sued three different mattress review blogs, claiming that they sent traffic to competing brands without disclosing that those brands paid sales commissions to the sites. Casper claimed that the sites were engaging in false advertising because they stated that they were providing honest mattress reviews without disclosing the financial relationship they had with those manufacturers.
It may seem petty (and to be honest it is) but it’s important to realize that, by 2016, online mattress bloggers began to have serious power over the industry. Since most mattress-in-a-box brands didn’t have retail stores or showrooms, a site that ranked highly for a query such as “Casper Mattress Review” or “Best Mattresses” had the power to make or break a particular brand.
The websites were so powerful that Casper CEO Phillip Krim personally engaged with them. “Currently you actively endorse a competing product on our review page,” Krim wrote in an email which was publicly released in court filings. “What can we do to not have you endorse another product as superior to ours?”
Krim claimed that the review sites’ practice of sending customers to a competing brand when they specifically searched for Casper was costing the company million of dollars in revenue each year.
There was no way Casper was going to stand for that.
Casper continued to wage legal war against the review companies for sending potential customers to competing brands. In the end the small sites were not able to prevail against the powerful mattress brand, which had just received millions of dollars in investor funding. All three review companies eventually settled with Casper for an undisclosed amount of money.
You would think that’s where the story ends. A tale of David vs. Goliath, but unlike the classical biblical tale, in real life Goliath wins. The review sites’ surrender wasn’t enough for Casper. The massive company was just getting started and wanted to ensure that they wouldn’t end up in a similar situation ever again in the future.
After settling with a popular review site, Casper provided a loan to another review site so that they could acquire it from its original owners.
The review site in question was originally founded by a young man in his twenties who saw opportunity when he was doing research to buy a mattress for himself and his wife in the early 2010s. After Casper financed its takeover, the site fell under the ownership of a company called JAKK Media, which specializes in search engine optimization and also owns a couple other mattress review sites (not us).
A spokesman from Casper claims that the site is operated independently and that Casper does not influence the editorial content.
The original review on the site from 2016 states that Casper is “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 went on to link to four other mattress brands like Layla that the site thinks customers should buy instead of a Casper.
As of now that review has been scrubbed from the site. A new review says that “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!”. Immediately following the review is a discount code and an affiliate link to Casper’s website.
Even though the site is supposedly operating independently, it’s interesting that a publicly traded company like Casper – who counts Target, Ashton Kutcher, and Nas among its investors – would risk the damage to its reputation that shady business practices like this would bring. Apparently the mattress review business is so critical to a matress manufacturer’s success that Casper is willing to take the hit to its reputation.
Another concern is the possibility that the new owners of the review website will default on their debt, which would give Casper full control over the site. They would then be able to manipulate the reviews and rankings as much as they wish.
Casper was sued for digitally “wiretapping” potential customers
In 2017 Casper was embroiled in a unique, high-tech lawsuit. A 21-page federal lawsuit filed on behalf of New York City resident Brady Cohen claims that Casper and a software company called NaviStone were illegally collecting information from visitors to Casper.com in an attempt to learn their identities.
According to the lawsuit, Cohen visited the site several times over a six-month period while shopping for a new bed. He was unaware that the company was using NaviStone’s technology to collect personally identifiable information (PII) including his name and address without his consent.
The court filing claimed that Casper uses keystrokes, mouse clicks, and other electronic communications to to get in-depth information about website visitor’s habits and identities thanks to secret NaviStone code embedded in the site. This functions as an illegal wiretap.
According to the filing “…when connecting to a website that runs this remote code from NaviStone, a visitor’s IP address and other PII is sent to NaviStone in real-time. This real-time interception and transmission of visitors’ electronic communications begins as soon as the visitor loads casper.com into their web browser.”
The filing also stated that “The intercepted communications include, among other things, information typed on forms located on casper.com, regardless of whether the user completes the form or clicks ‘Submit.'”
For their part, NaviStone says on their website that their technology can reach “previously unidentifiable website visitors.” They were surprised by the lawsuit, claiming that they and their clients take privacy laws seriously.
The lawsuit reached class-action status and was eventually dismissed by a federal judge in July 2018. US District Court Judge William Pauley ruled that the alleged tracking doesn’t violate the federal wiretap law because under that statute, only one party has to be aware of the wiretap for it to be legal. In this case the wiretap was legal because Casper knew about it, even though the customers didn’t.
“It is clear that the retailers were parties to the communications and NaviStone had their consent,” he said in the ruling.
Casper does make high-quality mattresses. We reviewed them ourselves and gave them an (honest) positive rating. Their war against bloggers is a terrible business practice and we believe it violates the spirit of free enterprise. If a reviewer wants to recommend a competing brand over Casper for any reason they should be able to. Casper shouldn’t be allowed to use their vast financial resources to bully small, independent website operators and force them to comply with their marketing objectives.
We think that their financial stake in the takeover of a popular mattress review site hurts consumers trust in our line of business and makes it harder for potential customers to decide for themselves which mattress is best for their unique needs.