Massage Chair Buyer’s Guide
Here’s a great place to start if you are new to massage chairs. If you need more advice, or have questions about any massage chairs on the market, give us a call – we would be delighted to help!
Click Here for our 2018 Massage Chair Buyer’s Tips
Many Americans are just discovering the remarkable health benefits of owning their own massage chair. It’s no surprise that massage chairs are a growing health solution, since today 31 million Americans experience low-back pain at some time according to the American Chiropractic Association, an at least $50 billion is spent each year as Americans seek to solve this growing healthcare crisis.
For centuries Asian countries have recognized the remarkable therapeutic benefits of massage therapy to treat countless ailments in the human body. It is estimated that over 20% of Japanese households own a massage chair. Contrast that to the US market, where it is estimated that only 1% of households have discovered the therapeutic revitalization of robotic massage. The Eastern philosophy of massage therapy dating back 1000’s of years is catching on here in America.
A common misconception is that massage chairs are a luxury item reserved for people with disposable incomes. However the need for massage therapy in alleviating pain and stress affects as many as 80% of the population, and massage therapy is growing at 23% pace in the USA (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
85% of massage chairs sold in the US are purchased by individuals and families with median incomes, as American consumers increasingly recognize the quality of life gains available from therapeutic products. Importantly when compared to the personal as well as insurance-related costs of regular massage therapy, a premium massage chair can prove a valuable investment.
Owners of massage chairs can sleep better, recover faster from physical exercise, gain more mental focus, have less stress, get sick less often, improve mood, experience less muscle aches and pains, less headaches, enjoy more revitalizing lifestyle benefits than those who don’t have a massage chair or don’t get regular massage therapy. A great place to start in learning more about the benefits of massage chairs is the blog section of the Elite website.
It’s no accident you’re looking into the possibility of owning your own massage chair – you’re part of a growing number of Americans who are learning of the powerful benefits of this remarkable health solution.
You may have read “don’t buy a massage chair until you try it first”, but that’s not often feasible. That may be ideal, but no one can head down to the local mall and try 60+ massage chairs, let alone the one you might already have your eye on.
The reality is you may be lucky enough to have a Brookstone or specialty back store within an hour or so, but you will be limited to very few models they will carry, as most retailers who offer massage chairs limit them to a few manufacturers and models. More likely there isn’t a place near where you can try a massage chair.
So what CAN you do?
First, think about your personal needs, and what prompted you to consider a massage chair in the first place. If you have experienced massage from a therapist in the past, make a checklist of those characteristics of massage that are most appealing, and that provided you the most benefits. Here are a few characteristics you might consider:
- How deep do you prefer your massage?
- Are you seeking foot massage, also known as reflexology?
- What styles of massage are most appealing, such as Swedish, Shiatsu, Thai-style stretching?
- Are you seeking massage for therapeutic muscle and back benefits, or more for general relaxation (requiring light or limited pressure, or perhaps only vibration)?
- If you have tried a massage chair in the past, what aspects did you find most appealing, or did you like least?
Once you have a mental checklist, do some research online. Typically the Internet is the most comprehensive source of information about massage chairs. Visit various dealers, and get a sense whether their chairs effectively meet your personal criteria. Look for any specific features, or a description of the massage experience and mechanisms, to determine if they have your unique needs in mind.
Another key consideration is support. Take the time to carefully assess their warranty and customer support. You’re going to likely have questions AFTER your purchase, so perhaps give some of the dealers a call to determine whether you think they’ll meet your needs post-purchase. Their Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating could be a good clue as to their commitment to customer support.
Fortunately you’re not alone in your search. We would be delighted to help you in your research – both about Elite Massage Chairs as well as other manufacturers; our goal is to give you straight-forward and honest feedback about the industry, various massage chair options, and generally share our experience based on 13 years in the industry.
We’re excited you are discovering the extraordinary benefits of owning a massage chair, and we’d love to help.
Several years ago the answer to this question was yes, but not anymore. In the early days of massage chairs the gap between overall manufacturing quality was applicable. Today however, there is virtually no difference in country of origin. In fact even the chairs that are advertised as “Made in Japan” get many of their parts, electronics and other technology from factories in China and Taiwan. Some of the traditionally made-in-Japan manufacturers such as Panasonic have moved their operations to China.
Today China is home to the largest base of massage chair manufacturers in the world, and provide state-of-the-art factories producing massage chairs to the US quality standards – including advanced certification labs, sound analysis studios, and innovative engineering techniques. Still, like anywhere there are factories that don’t uphold those standards, and who are more focused on volume production and capitalizing on the growing demand in non-Asian markets for massage chairs.
As a potential buyer you want to seek dealers and manufacturers who not only select the highest possible production standards, but also know their chairs “inside and out.” Listen for signs that they focus not just on “high quality” chairs, but are actively engaged in the engineering and innovations. Ask if they regularly visit the factories – not just their own, but other factories producing massage chairs, and how they differ. Ask about safety certifications, such as ETL, Proposition 65 in California, and other standards of best practices. These can be tell-tale signs between truly high quality standards, and those only focused on volume.
Don’t go there. Save your money and get a good chair. A massage chair is an investment in your health and well-being, and you’ll want a chair that performs at the highest possible level for many years. From over a dozen years of experience designing and selling massage chairs, we’ve learned that those buyers who compromise and go with “this is good enough” ultimately wished they had invested in a premium chair that is the best possible fit for their needs.
With the spiraling cost of healthcare, a massage chair should be considered an investment. And like any good investment the value proposition comes down to price AND quality. The best possible value shouldn’t necessarily be only the most expensive chair on the market however. The costs of maintaining a large dealer network, or national advertising campaign are great for awareness and volume, but those costs manifest themselves in a higher price point to the consumer too.
Look for QUALITY. Quality in design, materials, massage mechanisms, and most importantly – quality of massage. Try to find the massage chair that provides proven deep muscle tissue relief, and full body massage experience. And look for quality in the company – which will be evidenced in their sales support, as well as warranty and support after you’ve made your investment.
A massage chair is an investment in your health, don’t compromise! You deserve it.
So you’ve made the decision to buy a massage chair. You start searching online, and come across countless massage chair sites. You’ll soon run across countless terribly designed pages, misleading marketing information, consumer trickery, and outright lies that saturate the online massage chair space.
There are other good sites of course, but here we’ll share insight on those that are not so good – and frankly, those massage chair websites to avoid. Here are some key massage chair shopping tips.
Avoid Massage Chair “Fishing Net” Sites
These are specially programmed web sites that are automated to “skim” or “scrape” data from other, legitimate web sites such as Amazon.com. Their revenue model isn’t about being a legitimate resource; rather, they want the click-through (you going from their site directly to Amazon.com) to make money as a referral site. This revenue can be nickels and dimes, but it adds up to dollars with volume.
The big question: How can you recognize these web sites that are nothing more than “massage chair fishing nets?” Here are the signs to watch out for:
- The web site design is generic looking. It looks like a template site that is designed to grab data from other, legitimate sites, and present it in “blocks” of copy. It looks this way because that is exactly what it is designed to do!
- They share the same basic layout – such as a black bar across the top, the same font, and the strikingly similar layout. Coincidence? Hardly.
- These sites typically don’t have a logo. This should be a dead giveaway that these aren’t legitimate, established businesses.
- The “About Us” section of the web site tells you very little about them. You’ll also never see a BBB rating.
- When you click the “Contact Us” button, you are likely to get a generic form that asked for your email address. Doing this will virtually ensure you’ve just registered yourself for a deluge of future spam. For certain you won’t find a telephone number – because there isn’t anyone there to answer the phone.
- The “reviews” section is NOT a legitimate source of objective massage chair reviews. The first clue you’ll note is that ALL the massage chairs they review seem to get high marks and recommendations. Again, just like the rest of the site content much of this review content is “scraped” or “skimmed” from other websites – not reviews but generic information about the chair from the manufacturer.
- The website URLs (the words in between “www” and “.com”) are variations on the word “massage chair”. Some cues to watch for is they surround the words “massage chairs” with words like land, reviews, world, best reviews, technicians, for less, etc. You get the picture!
It can particularly frustrating for consumers to shop online for massage chairs, and it is frustrating for us legitimate companies who are passionate about our products, and who pride ourselves in providing real expertise and customer service.
We hope these massage chair shopping tips helpful to anyone shopping for a massage chair. You can click here for a full version of this article.
Massage Chair "Top 5" Lists
The market for premium massage chairs is growing in the US; so how can you be sure you’re looking for the crucial things when researching various massage chair options? Here is a “Top 5” list of things to look for.
- Warranty. This is an important one, and fairly easy to assess. The warranty is a good indicator of chair quality and the company behind it. Generally the longer the warranty, the better the chair. Virtually all massage chairs come with a standard 3-years parts and labor warranty, with the option to purchase an additional 2-year coverage plan. In some rare cases a standard 5-year warranty (without having to purchase the “extended warranty” package) is offered. So how about a warranty longer than 5 years? Beware of massage chair manufacturers with warranties longer than 5 years, as this can be designed just to get your attention. Warranty coverage lasting more than 5 years almost always refers only to the frame (read your fine print). Your massage chair frame should be made of structural steel, and last (almost) forever no matter what, and the possibility of getting any comprehensive service that long is remote.
- Depth of massage. It’s better to get a strong massage chair that you can tone down easily with the remote control, than settle for a soft massage chair that you can’t adjust. The benefits of deeper tissue massage are what most buyers are seeking, and you’ll likely want a chair designed for optimal therapeutic depth of motion and range. Getting a massage in a strong massage chair is a little like working out. The first day you can be a little sore but your body adjusts and you start to acclimate to the routine and gain more benefits. The first time you experience a deep tissue massage in a great massage chair, you’ll likely immediately realize that is the experience you’re seeking. The key is a deep, luxurious massage that doesn’t feel “mechanical”, but rather with well-designed and smooth massage mechanics to mimic the feel of human hands. While a massage chair that delivers a relaxing “dream inducing” massage is great – and certainly you’ll want that sometimes – find a chair that has it ALL, plus the deepest massage possible.
- Ease of Maintenance. Even if you get a 1 year in-home service warranty…..then what? Often massage chairs will require a specialist technician to do any maintenance or repair. However most massage chair buyers never think about ease of self-maintenance. There are significant savings longer-term with a massage chair you can easily assess yourself, for periodic maintenance or even a simple repair. Look for a chair with a modular design; if you’re not sure, ask the seller how easy it is for the average person to fix if necessary. Some massage chairs are even “plug and play” and just about any part can be removed in a few minutes. These are the premium, well-designed massage chairs, and the companies that make them have thought ahead in their design, haven’t just tossed something on the market to make a quick buck.
- Customization. This is about making the massage feel just right for your distinct needs. Make sure your chair is fully customizable, with easy control settings to select a particular massage style or body location. A one button massage is great, but if you can’t increase or decrease focus or depth on particular areas of the body, you won’t be able to isolate those spots you most want to target – or worse, you will be uncomfortable. Look for a massage chair that can store your favorite massages in memory, so you can program your own personal, custom massage and play it back any time you wish. This will ensure your massage chair is “just right” for you, and one that will evolve with you for years to come.
- Innovations. There are so many massage chairs out there, its tough to know just which features or capabilities are truly innovative and unique. Some rules of thumb may help guide you to innovative massage chairs. Look for special features such as L-track PLUS 3D, special custom-designed choreography (not just the standard boiler-plate in 95% of chairs out there), features for mental recovery as well as physical, unique reversible footrest designs, distinct appearance, or perhaps Japanese design elements if you prefer.
- Don’t forget the feet! For those who have experienced a foot massage (let’s hear those pleasant “ahhhs”), you know how important and rehabilitating it can be, especially for those who spend a lot of time on their feet at work. A great foot massage can make a big difference on your overall feeling of well-being, and deliver remarkable regenerative benefits. Make sure you find a chair that addresses the whole foot — not just the sides of the feet with airbag pressure — but full rollers on the bottom of the foot, as well as grasping and compression. There’s an old saying about Reflexology in massage chairs among industry veterans: “A massage chair without a good foot massage is only ½ a massage chair!”
WHO you buy a massage chair from can be just as important as WHICH model you ultimately decide on. This is a caution applied to what happens after the purchase, the overall quality of your experience and the claims made by the seller, and ending up ultimately with a shoddy massage chair.
- Poor customer service. This is the most frustrating thing we’ve encountered in the industry. Even some supposedly big brands don’t all answer the phone. Or, if they do you’ll be routed to an overseas call center, or you’ll find they are not open for customer support on weekends, or even when you do reach someone they aren’t experts on massage chairs. Do your homework up front: Call the company, ask specific questions, and inquire about what they know about their competition and how their chairs compare. If they don’t answer the phone or don’t give you a straight answer, it would be a good time to ask yourself: What’s going to happen when I need service?
- Generic Models. This one can be what makes buying a massage chair so difficult. You see the exact same chair from 5 different dealers with 5 different prices under 5 different names. These are what we call “catalog chairs”, and as the awareness and interest in massage chairs in the US increases, these catalog chairs are more common than ever. These chairs are typically imported from the same factory by different companies (or dealers) without any modifications outside of their logo. What can be particularly frustrating is that these chairs are often discontinued as soon as their short warranty runs out and will not be supported after the warranty. Even the big stores in the mall have been guilty of marketing these generic models. A premium massage chair is singular and unique, has been around for at least a year, has undergone rigorous US quality controls, has undergone updates pre and post distribution, and will be supported long after the warranty runs out.
- “Authorized distributors”. Anyone can be an “authorized” distributor, all you need is a website. These distributors don’t stock any product and often make claims that either stretch the truth or are downright bogus. One thing you might try is to call the manufacturer first and verify the distributor or dealer status. Some manufacturers are not allowed to sell direct due to organizational restrictions and only utilize distributors and dealers. You’ll also likely come across sites with domain names mysteriously generic names, like “massage chair tech guys” or something in that vein. These are likely highly suspect, so do your homework. Buying direct from a company that is extremely selective on which chairs they sell, particularly from ONLY top-notch manufacturers can save you time, money and potential future headaches.
- Unbelievable discounts. Too good to be true? If their discounts are that big, their markup is likely outrageous despite the low price becasue and the chair itself is likely of low quality.
- Poor BBB rating or none at all. Does the company have a Better Business Bureau rating? Or do they have a BBB logo and not link it to anything? Make sure the company is BBB accredited, has a good rating and has been in business for at least 5 years. They will be rated from A+ to F. The best bet is to avoid ANY company that doesn’t have at least have a B+. The higher the better.
You’ll have no problem finding sources to buy a massage chair – there are virtually no limits on who can market them based on direct importing, or perhaps some manufacturers’ strategy is to sign up as many resellers as possible to play the “numbers game.” But here are five good bets.
- Online Dealers. This is by far the most popular option, and the method of purchase for the vast majority of massage chairs sold in the USA. So how can you be sure a particular dealer makes the “Top 5 Best” list? Fortunately, its easy: How long have they been in business selling masssage chairs? 10 years or more and you’re dealing with one of the long-lasting ones, and likely because by selling chairs that long, they are legit and trustworthy. Check their reviews -crucial intel into the experiences of shoppers like you. Assess their commitment to quality and customer service, simply by calling and getting to know them a bit. These are all common sense, but critical criteria.
- Direct from the manufacturer. As a general rule, this is the least likely option as virtually all are manufactured in Asia and distributed locally. But there are rare cases, and likely the pricing won’t be any better than via a reseller. Just be sure you understand how warranty service will be handled.
- Credible resellers who sell refurbished or “open box” massage chairs. Let’s face it, sometimes you can find great deals on lightly used massage chairs, hundreds or even thousands of dollars less than brand new models. The key word here is “credible.” Make sure they are well-established sellers, with superb post-purchase support, and have a long track record of selling high-quality open box merchandise.
- Specialty Back Stores. The potential downside of this option is that you may pay slightly more, and be limited to their inventory of manufacturers and chairs, however you do get to try different chairs through the luxury of first-hand “touch and feel”.
- Amazon. Amazon has your back. Even if you get a dud chair the online giant will back you up due to the return provisions designed to position Amazon as a good source. Beware though that you will see the full spectrum of good and “not so good” chairs, but you’ll also be able to find premium chairs at Amazon. Focus only on new chairs, and you’ll be better to avoid second-hand chairs. Technically Amazon doesn’t even allow the resale of used massage chairs, so if you find one, this is a good sign to beware. Don’t make your decision based only what you read on Amazon, visit each manufacturer’s website, and do your homework before pressing the “Add to Cart” button.
- Craigslist. There are a lot of good things to buy on Craigslist, a massage chair is not one. Plus you’ll find that the manufacturer’s warranty likely only applies to the “original owner”.
- State Fairs and Conventions. These can be legitimate dealers, or total charlatans hoping to make a fast buck. Some good Q&A will help you determine which is the case, however in both cases prices can be quite inflated. However this is a good time to try a massage chair, but be sure not to assume you’re trying a premium massage chair. As a general rule of thumb, when at a fair feel free to buy a corn dog but not a massage chair.
- eBay. Generally the place to buy used chairs no longer under warranty, discontinued massage chairs (or those soon to be discontinued), and likely chairs that are no longer supported with service or parts.
- Coupon Websites. We have found many of these not to be legitimate and often the manufacturer will not honor the purchase or discount. Sometimes coupon websites will post bogus coupons just to get your clicks, as that’s how some of them make money.
- From a Friend. This isn’t a knock on friends! It’s just that massage chair warranties are almost never transferable, but hey, if you’re doing your buddy a favor so he can get rid of his old chair and put in a new one, and you love his chair……go for it! Just beware that you may be on your own if something breaks.
When shopping for a massage chair, you’ll soon realize the industry has a language all its own when it comes to features and attributes for massage chairs from various manufacturers, and a plethora of industry-specific massage chair terminology. To help you better decipher THE most important we’ve assembled this Top 5 list of terms every Massage Chair Buyer should know.
1: 3D Depth Technology: An advanced feature that allows the rollers to push forward into your back as they roll, knead and tap your back. There are only a few models on the market today that utilize true 3D movement. Some chairs use airbags to push the rollers out towards the back and shoulders, some use mechanical 3D mechanisms, and some will even mimic 3D using creatively designed shoulder airbags. All are fine, but we are a fan of deeper, more therapeutic massage. It’s not to say 2D chairs aren’t adequate; in fact some 2D chairs feel so deep it’s hard to tell them apart from many 3D massage chairs on the market. The key here is to ask the questions about whether 3D or 2D, and how the chair was designed and for what strength level.
2: Rolling Stroke: This term could actually be listed as several, but Rolling Stroke captures them pretty well. This refers to how long the massage “hands” travel up and down the back and beyond. What controls rolling stroke is the type of track inside the massage chair. There are two most popular tracks – “L-Track” and “S-Track”. The L-Track provides a longer stroke, however in most cases the S-track chairs can provide a stonger massage to the back and shoulders.
3: Intensity Settings: This term might not make other people’s Top 5 list, but it does in our book. The reason is that we always recommend buyers purchase a strong massage chair, not a weak one. Why? The more massages you enjoy, typically the deeper you’ll appreciate them. That’s why a strong, but life-like massage chair is preferred. The settings indicate the intensity of the massage motion, and you should be able to manually or quickly adjust intensity with a click of a button. Lower end chairs typically incorporate 2-3 intensity levels, and higher end chairs 3-5.
3: Rolling, Kneading, Tapping, Shiatsu: These are the generally accepted massage “hand” movements in massage chairs, and each corresponds to a style administered by a massage therapist. There are others – but what you’re looking for is a chair that can do a wide variety of movements, and some in conjunction with the others. For example a highly popular movement is “kneading & tapping” where the two are administered simultaneously. Shiatsu is generally a more advanced movement and not all massage chairs can accommodate this Japanese massage style.
4: Warranty: Typically warranties include internal or mechanical components, and not cover external components such as the remote control (if it is dropped and cracked, vs. malfunctions) or upholstery (cat scratches and spilled drinks anyone?) Additional warranties that extend the duration of coverage can often be purchased at extra costs. Warranties vary in their coverage over parts, labor, shipping and time – so it’s worth comparing them side-by-side if you are trying to narrow your purchase from among a few different models.
5: INNOVATION: You are about to spend a lot of money on a premium massage chair, and you should demand that the manufacturer is an innovator. How long have they been in business, and how many unique innovations they have developed is a crucial sign of whether they are a manufacturer worth doing business with. The massage chair category is changing fast, and you should be on the cutting edge because the newest innovations are taking massage chairs to whole new heights!
Feel free to drop us a line and we will get back to you right away with the answers to all your questions!