There are definitely times when it pays to buy quality.
I used to really like BiWay (a chain of el-cheapo Canadian discount apparel and general goods stores – think half-way between K-mart and a dollar store). I used to proudly tell my friends “BiWay is *my* way!” Surprisingly I’ve never gotten a job offer from any advertising agencies…
I gave up on them when I bought a pair of hiking boots and they had a gaping hole within 2 weeks of purchase. A $120 pair of hiking boots that lasts a few years is a much better deal than a $25 pair that lasts two weeks.
I think people go too far with this and buy things that they *THINK* are higher quality, but actually just cost more.
Consumer Reports has done studies on wrinkle creams and found that the cheap ones work better than products that cost more than 10 times as much. Apparently a number of ground coffees, pops (soda for Americans or “Cokes” for Texans), and potato chips available on the market are the same, except for the packaging and price.
I keep wanting to set up a taste test for friends and see if they can actually tell the difference between store brand cola and Coke or Pepsi.
One of my aunts claims that when she first started buying household products she experimented with what was available, found the products that work the best, and has been loyal to them ever since. I’m not 100% sure I believe that she was extensive as she claims, but if she was that’s a good way to actually find things that work for you – certainly much better than assuming “higher price = better product”.
In “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” (an excellent book by Robert B. Cialdini), he relates the amusing anecdote of a friend who runs a store and was having trouble selling some gemstones. Going on vacation, she got frustrated and told an employee to cut the price in half. She was delighted to come back and find they’d sold out, but the employee had misunderstood and doubled the price. She couldn’t figure out why customers wouldn’t buy them at one price, then grabbed them up at double that price. The author explains that the customers were using the price as a shorthand for the quality, and figured they must be valuable gemstones if they were being sold at such a high price.
Knowing when quality matters and justifies a higher price, and when we’re just being fooled by a meaningless brand name seems to be one of the most valuable distinction for shoppers. The most irritating part of the whole process is there is a limit to the value of time spent investigating the difference. If it takes you 10 hours of time to figure out that a product that’s $0.25 cheaper is just as good, its going to take you a long time to recoup your time investment.
What products have you found that quality matters and which is it meaningless for?