The shopper’s dilemma goes a little something like this:
“This refrigerator is so much cheaper, but will I be buying a replacement in two years? Maybe, I should buy the one twice as expensive, because it will last longer? What do I do? Buy the cheapest or pay a lot more for quality?”
Think of all the time you and your spouse have spent trying to answer this basic dilemma. It is such a difficult decision to make that there are many consumer comparison sites on the web that offer to make the decision for you. The problem is that the question is not as simple as cheap versus quality. Deep down consumers know that they want neither; they want the best value for their money and that means that sometimes you’ll buy the cheapest, sometimes high quality and sometimes a mixture of both.
While the pursuit for ultimate value is a complicated consumer mystery, my experience as a shopper has taught me a few rules that help me to decide the best course of action.
Buy Cheap When the Product Doesn’t Get Much Use
If you don’t plan on using an item very much, don’t pay for the expensive version. It sounds like such an easy, common sense rule, but it’s broken all the time. Think of how much brides pay to wear a dress for a single day. Brides, deep down I know you agree. Cork screws are another great example.
There are obviously people that take drinking wine to extremes, but how many bottles do you open in a year? I’d be willing to bet that for most people, it’s less than 30. Now, for each bottle, how long does it take you to use a cork screw? A minute, if you are slow, maybe? This means that a frequent wine drinker with no skill with a cork screw will put that tool to use for no longer than 30 minutes a year. Why then do some people pay $20 or $30 for a cork screw, when a simple, cheap one costs $.50?
Usually, the answer is that expensive cork screws have a more sophisticated look. However, I have yet to hear someone receive a compliment on how beautiful his cork screw looks.
Pay for Quality When It Will Get a Lot of Use
The more you use something, it makes sense to pay more money for quality. Purchasing a quality product means that you will get more use out of the item. Getting more use is an important benefit. Although quality costs more up front, the more use you get, the cheaper the cost per use becomes.
Furniture is an excellent example for illustration of this rule, because the quality of the workmanship and construction materials has a large impact on the lifespan of the product. Let’s say that you are looking into investing in leather sofas for your living room and family room.
Have you ever thought of how many hours a day you and your family spend on the sofa? If taken care of properly, a high quality sofa will last decades and is far more enjoyable. In the long-run it may be the most cost effective, but even if it isn’t, think of how much extra enjoyment you’ll get because a sofa is a high-use item.
Learn the Difference Between Paying for Quality and Paying for Brand Name
There are many consumer products that are priced higher simply because you are familiar with the company name. For example, most toothpaste has all the same ingredients. Why are some more expensive than others? It’s not because one has a higher quality fluoride. No, it’s that one company spends a lot of money advertising on the TV and you’ve never heard of the company selling the cheap stuff.
Sometimes the higher price is because of real quality, but often you are paying for all the hard work the company put into their brand name. You will save a lot of money if you can distinguish between the two.
Avoid New Technology Because of Low Quality
GM released the first, fully battery powered vehicle, the Chevy Volt. It is an engineering marvel that could change how cars are made forever. While the technology is new and impressive, there is just one problem. The coolant system for the car’s massive battery was poorly designed, making the Chevy Volt prone to catching on fire during car accidents.
New and amazing technology doesn’t equal quality. In fact, new technology takes time to work out issues and flaws. However, the cost of technology is based on newness of the product and not how proficient the breaking technology works.
Buying the coolest new technology might get the attention of your friends, but new technology is expensive because it is new. You are better off buying a later iteration for cheaper and with higher quality.
These basic rules won’t fully resolve the consumer’s dilemma in determining the value of products, but they can help you avoid some of the pitfalls that easily snag shoppers.