I'm sure it wasn't long ago that you could guess the price of a product in the shops - and would be pretty close. Each product category had a price band which was generally accepted.
There was always some spread between "Makes"- the often-used term for the manufacturer, now more anachronistic. Price differential between "Makes" was established on the basis of technology, quality and then design.
With globalisation came the greater division of manufacture. Companies and retailers began to source product from low-cost economies and "Brand" became the term to distinguish products. Web broadband brought shopping experience to the TV, armchair and mobile phone- replacing window shopping with surfing.
Consumers are now surrounded with more retail channels to navigate, more brands and many more product variants as competition has increased yet retailers seek to have exclusivity. Both helping and hindering this onslaught is a rich resource of shopping data and comparisons from the good to the bad and ugly.
Despite much duplication there is now considerably greater choice across the malls, high street, sheds and the variety of web traders. However, alongside 'choice', a long-held keystone of the market economy, comes the opportunity for poor choice, and a greater need for decision-making and commercial skills if choice is to mean better and not just more time-consuming.
What does the consumer expect in all this, and what happens to the notion of a product price?
Image by www.dailymail.co.uk
At the aspirational level, the Sunday supplements and glossy magazines still promote high-design and lifestyle affinity-branded products. In the physical world, the chains and supermarkets promote both established and own-brands but they compete next door to pound-shops. On the web, the warehouses, e-traders and offshored sites sell anything from the reputable to the clones and counterfeits and amongst these is also scattered the output of ambitious Far-eastern workshops, offloading tat that neither imitates nor even operates.
Product prices have fragmented to such extremes that in many cases a consumer can simply decide how much to spend on something- £3 to £300 for a small appliance? Which of these represents value, a discount or a con (especially on a web-page) and which aligns with their expectations?
Price has undoubtedly become a more dominant factor in intentional purchase decision. The appeal of 'FMTC', price-fighters and £1 stores further entice the consumer to impulse purchase products with marginal utility. Are these as rewarding? Are they even fit for purpose, and what damage is done to perceptions of the product category for the credible brands? (Featured image bywww.mynt.co.uk)
Extended product deflation has reduced the price of products significantly. Many are the same cash price now as 20 years ago- so are 75% less in real terms. Arguably many of these are now too cheap to deliver best value given reduced longevity.
Are we better served by this? We have houses brimming with cheaper products that don't delight. Many will be 'Eco' tinted and feature recycle symbols, but the reality is they will live shorter lives, or be scrapped prematurely, with uncertain levels of reclamation.
With such distortion to price-sensitivity, market forces don't seem to act in the best interests to ensure the survival of the fittest for quality, reliability, good-design and sustainability.
In such a climate I'm sure we should welcome the intervention of official regulators to restore balance and the long-term perspective on energy usage, extended warrantees and end-of-life recyclability. (If so, we should also expect enforcement to ensure that the "CE" mark isn't undermined by the passing-off from "China Export".) We should also embrace the consumer watchdogs and review sites that spill the beans on poor product experience.
The consumer still faces the dilemma of how much they should spend to have their expectations delivered. The answer is certainly more than they need to, and probably more than they intend.