On pricing and inherent value of clothing

I made a comment on my Facebook page while I was out shopping this weekend to remind myself to write about the relationship of price and value in clothing. I think those two are separate entities but are very closely related. You pay a certain price x for a piece of clothing that you believe has _______ value. I hope I can better elucidate below:

On price
Before starting this blog, I was an online shopping n00b. After a few months of writing, talking to friends, and checking online retailers, I find it interesting that companies have such varied pricing on their merchandise. In-store prices seem ridiculous to me now, and I increasingly can’t imagine paying the full amount on anything nowadays when I know a coupon or a deal may just be on the horizon.

To deal with the crazy pricing schemes retailers like to play in-store/online, I’ve adopted the following shopping strategy:

  • Before going in-store/online, determine set pieces I want to purchase. Rank by importance and urgency of need. Going on a trip somewhere colder next month? I’ll only look for jackets and shoes (as an example.)
  • Do online research to find that item from a retailer with the best combination of price, free shipping, and a solid return/exchange program.
  • Check for coupons, rewards programs, cashback deals (e.g. Ebates), if the item is available on Amazon Prime (free 2-day shipping), etc.
  • If item is available in-store, check for fit, quality/construction, comfort. If item is online only, read product/fit reviews from others who’ve owned the item.
  • Buy the item, make assessments. Return and research again if the item doesn’t meet spec.

It’s a lot more work than simply clicking “Buy” or heading to the store and grabbing something. Here’s what I think are the pros and cons of grab-n-go vs. researched shopping:

Strategy Pros Cons
Grab-n-go Take home item immediately May be distracted/tempted by other items
Thrill of the hunt/feeling triumphant at scoring a sale or deal in-store Prices are “have it now” prices: you pay the markup to run the storefront, pay the employees’ wages, etc. Things may cost almost 4x what they cost online
Brick-and-mortar stores feel familiar and comfortable to people. Good salespeople can build a relationship with customers and establish brand loyalty based on customer service. Limited stock/sizes especially for specialty sizing (e.g. Petites, Tall, Plus)
Immediate knowledge of feel, fit, quality of item
Online research Quickly compare prices across retailers No knowledge of fit if it’s an online only store–you’ll have to take a chance and believe their size chart
Access to online reviews by others who’ve owned the item Sometimes shipping costs and taxes might make the item cost more than simply buying it in-store
If item is out-of-stock in-store there may be more inventory available online. Long wait if item is backordered or shipping schedule is delayed
Time-intensive and possibly intimidating to online shopping beginners.
Return/exchange/refund policy varies wildly from large to small retailers.

On value

With such variance in online vs. in-store pricing, it makes me wonder how much is this shirt/shoe/jacket really supposed to cost? I understand manufacturers have costs to answer for, such as materials, labor, shipping, marketing, and store maintenance (and you can find an animated discussion about this very topic over at Well Spent.) ย In the end, I feel like today’s shopping is a roulette game where you spin the wheel and your luck will determine the price you pay at the store. Maybe you’ll find your size in THAT shirt at the store at the half-off rack. Great win! Or maybe you’ll track an item online for months and one day it simply reads “Out of Stock.” Too bad, should have ponied up at the full price.

For me the price I think is fair to pay boils down to the function or quality that I receive from the product. Those full price leather flats? I’ve made their cost back in the number of times they’ve been worn/proven indispensable to my look. More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better–it’s what the garment or piece can do for you that makes it worth the price you pay for it. I’m willing to pay handsomely for style AS WELL as comfort, utility and fit–but if I can have all for a steal of a deal, I’m a happy camper.

What do you think? How do you resolve the price-value conundrum when you shop? By what parameters do you determine the “value” of clothing–or anything you buy?


6 thoughts on “On pricing and inherent value of clothing

  1. I think an important factor that goes into the value of a piece of clothing is where it was made. What’s the secret behind the dirt-cheap clothing from retailers like Target, Forever 21, Old Navy, etc? Sweatshop-like factories and cheap labor. I’m not criticizing anyone for their fashion choices, I just want to spread the word and hope people will put more thought into the clothing’s whereabouts before buying.

    1. Thank you Michelle. That is a topic I’m currently learning more about. Thank you for dropping by and providing us all with some food for thought! Knowledge is good.

  2. A well though-out piece! Something I wish I wrote myself. I agree with you in the same line of thinking when shopping. Of course, first thing I would think about the design and then the cost-quality trade-off between similar products that are differently priced but otherwise are made slightly differently. I’m willing to go the extra mile for quality but ultimately I am a student with a limited budget so I have to make do. It truly depends on whether it is going to be workhorse or not.

    1. Thanks Joy! I’m glad you’re here. I definitely agree; the quality-price tradeoff really becomes apparent when you have a limited budget. When I was unemployed I just couldn’t justify big brand items, so I often shopped for their dupes. Some worked out in terms of quality (H&M parkas in service for 3+ years now), others turned out to be more costly in the long run, requiring extra purchases (I’m looking at you Target boots. No arch support!)

      I hear you on the perpetual student’s dilemma. I still like to pretend I am one to a certain extent as far as clothes go so I can have funds to spend on food (sashimi!) and camera gear ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. hi kristina, thanks for stopping by. loved reading your thoughts on this!

    i really like the idea of eco friendly and sustainable clothing (my latest post you commented on features new zealand label kowtow that are a part of this movement) however, the drawbacks are that ethical brands are generally more expensive than high street brands – of course mass production means cheaper clothing! but you do pay for quality though and in some cases is worth it. good basics, for one, will last forever and is something i will always pay for. i’ve bought a ton of cheap tank tops that barely last a year, and quality ones i have had for 5+ years now and still going!

    i almost never buy anything full price either. if you’re patient, some online stalking can net you some really quality items much cheap(er) than retail. i always have a few things on my stalk list but i’ve learned to let go if some things eventually get sold out before they go on sale.. that perfect leather biker WILL come along again ๐Ÿ˜‰

    and.. having fallen victim to this a few times – just because its 80% off and designer doesn’t mean it’s going to suit you. i’ve learned over the years not to give in to sales and amazing bargains on things i would probably wear once.

    1. Hi Steph! Thank you for your insight. Many things of note in your well-formulated reply–

      – eco-friendly/sustainable clothing: definitely something I hope I can move toward in terms of future purchases. Until then I’ll have to figure out other ways such as holding off on impulse buys of cheap quality clothing, repairing existing clothing, and/or buying hardier garments.
      – online price stalking: THIS. Now when I shop I add another step to my mental flowchart–check the price and its trend in the recent weeks. It’s kind of like stocks (or so I imagine) where you buy it at the lowest point you think it will hit, and then just have to be satisfied with the outcome (whether or not you get it.) I’m not going to waste time being upset if it goes for a lower price after, I’ll pay when I think the price listed is fair. But patience and wisdom (like you said–sales come and go and who knows when the item might show up again) should guide the clicking hand in the future.

      I’m very happy to see you all here on the blog! I like to hear how folks shop or what goes in their minds when they make purchasing decisions.

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