I was shopping at a mall the other day, and I noticed a high-end department store selling mason jar drinking glasses. I grabbed one to take a look, and was almost knocked over by the price – $25 each.
I did some looking around to see what would make such a glass cost $25 (since I know I can buy them for $2 to $5 at big-box stores!), and I spotted it – a little square of chalkboard paint on the side. Maybe 1″ x 2″. Not even a fancy shape or anything, and no additional modifications to the glass – just a rectangle of paint on a regular mason jar drinking glass.
Now….this isn’t a rant about mason jar pricing. If somebody really wants to spend $25 on something like that, they’re welcome to.
But it did get me thinking about how the corporate marketing machine works.
Sometimes, it seems like companies have run out of innovation. So they take a product that already exists, dress it up on some trivial way, or make it available in a new color, pattern, or style, and offer it for sale. In this case, they painted chalkboard material on the side of a drinking glass.
70 years or so ago, a lot of new products were created to meet a need or a perceived benefit. If you could make a tool that would do a job in half the time, a product that was easier to use, or a food product that tasted better, you could market it and get some customers.
Now, though, a lot of the stuff we’re seeing for sale is the same stuff that was for sale last year – they’ve just tweaked it a little bit in order to get us to want to buy it again. Or, sometimes, they’ve tweaked it in a way that makes it a little bit less durable so our replacement cycle is shortened.
Because of that, I think there are some valid questions to ask ourselves whenever we’re considering buying something new.
Some Questions To Ask
Whenever I’m looking at a product in a store, and I’m considering buying it, I try to remember to ask myself some basic investigative questions.
Is this product something I was actually looking for?
Sometimes you see a product that fills a need that you’ve been having, and it just “clicks” – and you buy it. That’s fine, if it actually fills the need – but in a lot of cases there are products that create a need or desire that you hadn’t had before. A lot of decorative products (including these mason jars!) are intended to create a need or desire.
**Is this product something I *should be looking for***?
Without getting into details of the value calculus, there are some products that will legitimately save you time, money, or both. If you’re washing clothes for a family, by hand, and it takes you 3 hours a day, a washing machine will save you substantial time. And if you’re seeing one for the first time, you might not have known that they existed before – but it’s not hard to come to a rational conclusion that you could use one.
Other products that create a need or desire are more aspirational in nature. Yes, mason jar mugs are neat – but if you already have a whole cupboard full of mugs and glasses at home, are these going to be useful enough to justify their purchase?
Does this addition make this particular product more useful?
Let’s say you’ve already decided you want some mason jar mugs. A chalk surface on the side of a drinking glass might look cool – especially if it’s accompanied by sales copy that suggests you can label peoples’ drinks, write cute notes, etc.
Are you actually going to write on the chalkboard part? And are you going to know where the chalk is when you want to write on it?
If you buy these, even on a great sale at $12.50 each, would you use them enough to make them a better option than the ones that cost 1/3 of that price?
Does this addition make this product less durable?
In this case, we’re talking about something on the side of the jar that has the potential to flake off, crack, etc. If you’ve ever owned a printed coffee mug and run it through the dishwasher you know what I’m talking about. There are mason jars that are 50+ years old and still very usable – will that be true for these?
And if not, once the little chalkboard thing wears off, gets damaged, etc., are you likely to keep them anyway? Or are you likely to get rid of them because they look ratty?
This is especially important if the answer to the previous question is “no” or “maybe”. At that point, you’re looking at spending extra money to buy something that’s probably going to be discarded much sooner than it otherwise would be. That’s usually not a good purchase.
A Clutter Hypothesis
I think that a lot of our clutter has to do with us purchasing products that were primarily created for the purpose of being purchased, rather than for the purpose of being used.
What do you think? Have you ever bought something that you thought was going to be useful, or life-changing, or revolutionary, and discovered it in your Goodwill donation bin a couple years later?