I find myself talking about the idea of value often in my blog posts. So often, in fact, that I thought I should sit down and write this post outlining my philosophy on the subject. After all, I think value is something we all want, yet it is easy to get wrong.
Cheap As Chips – why the cheapest items are often not good value
I am a bargain shopper, I LOVE finding the cheapest price for things. I still go on about how much of a bargain my NEFF oven was, more than a year after I purchased it (it really was a great bargain – mint-condition demo unit at under a third of the RRP…). There’s no doubt about it, price is a massive part of the value equation.
BUT, I could have purchased a slightly cheaper oven . I could have gone to a local retailer, asked them which oven was their absolute cheapest and bought that one. The thing is, that would have been a big mistake.
I have had years of experience of buying the cheapest product available, only to find it isn’t effective, or it breaks quickly. A quick glance at the reviews on the ultra-cheap ovens was enough to convince me to stay away. Uneven heating, elements that died quickly… the list of problems was endless.
The thing to remember here is that cheap is great, but there is another key component in the value equation – quality.
Quality Is King
Quality is now my first thought when searching for a new product to buy. It is the number one thing that I look for in reviews, and when I examine the product in store. Companies that impress me with their quality the first time I purchase of one of their products are far more likely to retain me as a customer for future purchases.
The reason that quality is so important is simple – quality products last and are enjoyable to use. Sure, I may have to pay a bit more for them. In fact, I sometimes pay a lot more for them. But if a product is going to last three times as long and costs twice the price of an inferior model, then I would be silly not to buy it.
High quality products really are more enjoyable to use too. My oven is beautiful to look at, it heats quickly, it has more settings, it is easier to clean and it has fancy little pop-out buttons that are fun to use. I really, really enjoy using it. I cook fantastic food in it.
The same can be said for my WÜSTHOF knives. There is nothing more pleasurable in the kitchen than using a perfectly sharp knife. The best thing is that, with the proper care, I will get many, many years’ worth of slicing pleasure out of them.
As I said, I have made the mistake of buying cheap and nasty stuff. Every time I do, I feel frustrated with myself when a short time later I’m returning it (if I can), or sending it to landfill. If it is of poor quality, no amount of discounting in the world can make it a good deal.
Sadly, it can sometimes be hard to spot true quality. In recent years we seem to have become geared towards everything being disposable. It blew my mind when I discovered that most fridges have a 2 year warranty. 2 YEARS! Is that really how long we are supposed to expect an expensive home appliance to last? The thing is, many of those fridges looked great. They had shiny stainless steel and all sorts of fancy things inside.
However, if you look closely, the differences become apparent. Longer warranties, the strength of the plastics used and the energy rating are all good indicators that you are dealing with a quality product.
Then there are reviews. Not the had it for three seconds and it is the best/worst product ever reviews, but the ones from people who have used the product over time and can speak honestly and articulately about its strengths and weaknesses. Take the time to do the research and the products will begin to reveal their true quality.
Bells and Whistles
One mistake that is easy to make is to assume that a long list of features makes for a quality product. I have been there and done that.
It is so tempting to go for the oven that has a thousand different settings, or the car with the automatic closing boot and the extra speakers. Fridges with built-in water dispensers look great, and that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the gimmicks that can be found in that industry.
Some of those extras are great! Some of them are truly enjoyable to have and they do give the product an x-factor. Many of them are of very little value. How many of those setting do you really use? I use two of the settings on my dishwasher and there are a couple of the settings on my oven that I have no idea of their function. If I had many, many more settings on both those appliances, would it change the way I use them? I doubt it, I would still be sticking to a couple of useful settings and the rest would do nothing.
I didn’t buy a fridge with a water dispenser, because it cost several hundred dollars more. Fortunately I came up with a workaround – I put a bottle of water… in the fridge. AMAZING! Don’t be tricked by the flashing lights and shiny things. Bells and whistles can be nice to have, but a quality product they do not make.
Sometimes, the best quality is found in the products that are focussed on doing the core task properly. I ultimately decided on my fridge because of its 4.5 star energy rating, long warranty and good reviews. Compared to some of the other fridges out there, it is actually a fairly basic unit. It does have a little trick or two that add a little extra flair, but they were not the primary consideration. Does it cool and freeze my food effectively? You bet it does. Will I expect to have it for a long time? Absolutely. I’m planning on getting ten years or more out of it. My fridge is a focussed product. It is designed to do its core job well.
Should I Always Buy The Most Expensive Version?
It may sound like I am advocating for always purchasing the most expensive products available. I am not. Rarely will you find the best value in the top of the range. My experience of such products is that they are usually built to a very high standard, but they also contain a plethora of bells and whistles that you really don’t need.
There are exceptions to this rule. It’s fair to say I was sceptical about the value that the BabyBjorn portable cot offered when I first agreed to review it. It was the most expensive portable cot advertised. It didn’t even have any extra features that some of the cheaper models had.
Yet the value of the BabyBjorn travel cot became apparent as I put it to the test on our lengthy trip around Japan. It is a product that has been perfectly designed to do the job of being a portable cot. It is two things – highly portable and very comfortable. Would I buy one? Absolutely. It is a superb product with an excellent build quality and it is so well designed that it can fit in a suitcase. Is it worth the premium price? Yes, it really is.
Usually, however, the truly value-packed products are not the most expensive. They are not the cheapest either. They are the ones that occupy that happy place where price and quality intersect.
Often, I find good value in the base models of premium brands. My oven is a great example of that. My BOSCH dishwasher is the most basic model they make (it came with the house), yet I wouldn’t want anything else. If I were to move tomorrow, I would probably go out and buy the same model again. Companies like Breville produce some amazing premium kitchen appliances, but I have found their entry-level equipment to be very capable too. The Kitchen Wizz food processor that I purchased last year has been brilliant!
Sometimes older premium models present opportunity for good value. They are often heavily discounted to clear stock when a new model is released. I have found more than one great bargain that way. Of course, the newer product usually has lots of bells and whistles that the older one does not. However, it if the older one does its core task very well, it may be worth getting. Just be aware that things like energy ratings change over time. My old fridge had a 4 star energy rating, but that was from ten years ago. The goalposts on such things shift regularly, and by today’s standards that fridge is fairly inefficient. Consider the old models, but check carefully to make sure they are not obsolete.
How to Find the Best Value
Research is the key. Before you make a significant purchase, take the time to really look around. What options are available, from the budget to the premium offerings. Look for reviews from several different sources. Pay careful attention to the reviews that offer a genuine appraisal of the product, rather than just being a glorified add.
Look at the products. I like to do a lot of my shopping online, but for expensive items I still take the time to see them in store and hold them in my hand. You can tell a lot about the quality of a product by physically interacting with it. That may just be enough to make up your mind.
Keep your eye on the prize. Think about the core reason for purchasing the product then figure out which one does it best. Extras are nice to have, but they aren’t worth it is the product doesn’t serve its core purpose well.
Hunt for bargains. If you are reading this, then you have the most powerful tool for finding value right at your fingertips. Google (or Bing – I’m not here to judge your lifestyle choices) the product you are interested in and find the lowest possible price. If you are not happy with that price and you have time to wait, play the waiting game. Watch the prices regularly until it goes on sale. Delaying your purchase until you can land a bargain makes the purchase so much more satisfying!
Finally, when the product is advertised at a price you like, go to another store and ask them to beat the price. Some places, like Officeworks, will beat their competitor’s price by 5%. While that particular retailer has always been very good with honouring their policy, just be aware that some others like to try and squirm their way out of these discounts. I recently had a salesman insist that they only matched prices, not beat them. Unfortunately for him there was a giant “We’ll Beat It!” poster on the wall behind him.
Finding the best value isn’t always easy. However, when you do the research and take the time to find your chosen product at a good price, it is extremely satisfying. You work hard for your money, don’t blow it on stuff that just isn’t worth it!
If you have any great tips for finding value, leave them in the comments below.