Next time you’re in Paris, go to the Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, the luxury fashion center of the city. There, you’ll find jewelers, haute couture shops, antique dealers, and just about any high end clothing brand you can dream of. It doesn’t have the shiny look of a Vegas mall but, on this very street, you’ll find some of the most luxurious stuff on earth. Some of the most expensive as well. (And you’ll also find 5€ croque monsieurs but that’s what makes Paris fun.)
Now, most of these products are fragile. Take a Versace T-Shirt, that can easily cost in the hundreds of euros, if not a lot more depending on what’s on it, and boil it in your washing machine with a dash of Downy: there won’t be anything left to wear once the cycle is finished. The Walgreens equivalent however, sold for a mere $2.50 would have held up perfectly. Or take a Hermes cashmere wool coat, a couple blocks away: if not worn carefully and folded (never hung!) at the end of every day, it won’t retain its shape more than a week. The JCPenney equivalent however, would, without doubt, do.
Why? After all, Versace’s and Hermes’ products being more expensive, they should be more resistant, right? Well, they aren’t. They may be better cut, made out of more expensive materials, more attractive, they may hug your hips in a way that no other garment can but they will be fragile. A luxury product is often (luckily not always) a product that requires special, sometimes maniacal care.
Now, do Versace or Hermes customers go and sue the companies because they couldn’t boil their clothes? No, because it is understood that these products should be handled properly. It is understood that you pay for style, originality, quality of materials, but not for robustness. Yet, these products are extremely expensive and I think most people would agree they are worth what they cost. (Whether you or I, as persons, would be willing to put that amount of money in a product is another matter.)
How come in the computing world we then want everything that is expensive to be solid? Whenever I hear people complain about their iPod nano being covered in fingerprints, the sentence ends in “for a $200 device”. Why on earth should the price of the iPod nano make it more resistant to finger marks? Of course, users who say “I believe this is a design issue because the iPod is clearly represented as being held by hands in the launch commercial, without showing marks, and this is misleading” may have a point. Users who say that the iPod nano is “represented as a device fitting in an active lifestyle and, therefore, as a device capable of withstanding daily wear and tear” may as well. But users complaining of fingerprints “because it costs a lot of money” are missing the point — a process we would describe in French as “jumping from the rooster to the donkey”.
I don’t own an iPod nano, have never seen one in real life (I know, I know!) and, therefore, cannot comment on it. I am merely commenting on the complaints I hear. There might be issues with a product, its robustness may be misrepresented but the price of something does not indicate its robustness. And robustness and quality are two very different concepts.
Actually, the price of a product is merely a measure of its scarcity and the scarcity of what it is made of. Price is not a measure of a product’s quality, robustness or reliability. There is a lot of expensive crap out there, just as there are plenty of inexpensive great products. A company does not owe its customers anything because it made them pay something, provided they did not misrepresent what they were selling and complied with laws governing hidden defects and warranties.
The quality of something depends on how you look at it: a Hermes coat is of great quality because its wool will retain its color and shape for years if treated with care, because the sleeves are just the right length, because the zipper is stiched securely… If you are after a robust coat, then, the relative quality of Hermes’ contraption will suck and you’ll be much better off with a Barbour rain jacket — another great “quality” product in its own right.
Now, we, as people, may feel cheated, may feel like we placed too high a hope in a product and regret it deeply. We may discover, down the line, that we equated price with a specific characteristic that we do not find in a product: this happens daily — and, between us, I have boiled enough T-Shirts to know. But it is a whole other issue altogether.