At the risk of waxing philosophical, I’ve decided to write about the concept of value. This is a subject I deal with daily at work as I assess how much store credit or cash to give customers for their used books, and as I price new inventory. It used to be that the word ‘value’ indicated the inherent worth of an item, or alluded to some benefit gained from having it, hence the term ‘valuable’. Most things can possess value — there are valuable pieces of information, valuable books, valuable friendships…

A problem I’ve been seeing lately, though, is that the word ‘value’ has become misused. Companies advertise ‘better value’, when really what they are pointing out is a reduction in price: direct mail coupons are termed the ‘ValPak’; bulk foods are marked Value Size.

Unfortunately, what people have taken away from this is that the way to get a better value is to try to get the same thing for less money.

In response to this, companies have changed their strategy. Rather than trying to have the best product, many simply try to have the cheapest. Consumers initially thought this was great — paying less money has to be better, right?

That was true initially, but it’s become a slippery slope. Now companies launching new products are looking at how to make them even cheaper than the last. And they’re doing that by subtracting value. Products don’t last as long (this is a strategy called ‘planned obsolescence‘). The ingredients they include aren’t as good. The problem is, we as consumers have not pushed back enough. Companies have lowered their standards of quality, and we have gone right along with them. They are looking for the quality floor (i.e. how low they can go), and we haven’t shown it to them yet.

At some point (and in some cases that point has already been reached), this is going to have a very real effect on our society. Cheaper isn’t always better. We all know this, deep down. We all realize that something is being sacrificed along the way. Whether it be the wages of those producing the goods, the health of those consuming them, the overall economic health of the world… skimping on quality is not sustainable. Neither is skimping on service. And yet these are things we continue to shoulder more and more in modern society.

Remember when milk used to be delivered to people’s doors? Remember when all gas stations were full service? I don’t. But it used to be the case. I’m 26. It hasn’t been that long, and we’ve gone from a society where companies bend over backwards with service incentives to win our business, to one where we save a few bucks here and there. So the question for all of us becomes… does this sound like value to you?

Today’s book:

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

The first volume in a favorite fantasy adventure series of mine, entitled A Song of Ice and Fire. This is an epic novel, grand in scope, original in content, rich with numerous interesting characters. And the interesting part about Martin’s approach — no one is safe. Gone are the days of traditional fantasy, where no matter the predicament the protagonist finds him/herself in, they are impervious to harm. Martin keeps you guessing with every page, which speaks to his talent, considering each book in this series is a hefty tome (500-700 pages).

Published in: on April 19, 2009 at 5:26 PM  Leave a Comment  
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