Well-tread paths

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The baby industry, if you didn't know, is kind of a racket. Take any average item, slap the word "baby" or "maternity" on the label, and you can mark the thing up by 200% - few will blink. It's a not just an [item] anymore - it's a special [item]. I have some theories about why people will just pay two or three times as much for something (which may have a cutesy pattern on it, but is otherwise indistinguishable from its non-baby alternative). It might be an ignorance thing at first - you walk into a store having no idea what things are supposed to cost, no idea that the pillow you're holding is really just a pillow (and not imbued with some magical baby-pleasing aura), and so you pay the fee. (No judgement there; I can't shop for spots paraphernalia, as an example, because I am ignorant of that market.) It might also be parental anxiety, particularly for first-time parents (like Sam and I are soon to be). Will we be good parents? we wonder. The pictures of smiley babies on the packaging do seem to suggest parental success is an accessory, free with purchase. Eventually, it might just be that people get used to paying lots of extra money for baby things. Or maybe it's just that there doesn't seem to be much of an alternative. Baby things just are expensive. Doesn't mean you don't need the stuff, so... what do you do?

I'm sure there are examples of companies that don't engage in this sort of hyper-markup, or engage in it to a lesser extent (I can think of a couple, actually) and that's great, but it's not the point. That there are alternative shopping venues for this stuff is nice and helps for some stuff. You know, the stuff you can't avoid buying.

Because that's our approach. Avoidance. I mentioned back in my 2011 post that we're trying to limit the number of gadgets and random baby things that come into our home, and trying to source hand-me-downs and second-hand things as much as possible. Because really, babies. BABIES! They are babies for like thirty seconds and then all of that stuff is irrelevant and winds up in the garage because they're too big to fit or are past the developmental stage where that toy is interesting. It's a lot of money sunk into that thirty seconds. A friend of ours (parent of two) said after the first kid, she and her husband almost felt like they had to have another kid, because they had all this stuff - it made all the stuff make more financial sense..

And so if every family who's had babies has this garage full of stuff, and it's for the thirty seconds babies are babies, why on earth buy all of it new? Especially the stuff with essentially no safety connotations - clothes, basic toys, monitors, pumps, etc. Baby stuff cocktail: equal parts friends and family, a splash of Freecycle and Craigslist, and a new-stuff olive (comprised of the things that really need to be new for safety purposes).

So today we met up with the main part of that cocktail - a couple friends with kids. To make a long story short, we brought home a lot of stuff:

All the baby things EVER.

We were selective - we didn't bring home a lot of stuff that wasn't on our list - but we wound up with a lot of stuff, and we didn't have to buy it. And our friends know that this stuff is being used for more than their babies' thirty seconds each, and they get the space in their garage back.

Win-win situation? Win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win, if you ask me.

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While it doesn't entirely explain the baby "racket," I would think that one big reason such goods cost more is potential legal liability. It's more reasonably foreseeable that a baby will "misuse" a product, since babies don't really get the whole idea of an intended use (beyond "does this go in my mouth?"). But if a misuse is reasonably foreseeable, then the manufacturer is at greater risk of being found liable when a baby does something weird with the product and gets hurt. A manufacturer of baby goods will pay higher insurance fees for product liability insurance than someone without the "made for baby" sticker on the same product. Also, the product has to be engineered with a baby and adult in mind, rather than just an adult.

Old Model Army:

I would totally buy that explanation for a lot of niche products - toys, safety devices, and so forth. Stuff that could reasonably go into a baby's mouth, as per your example, or so on. And I still think a lot of that stuff is overpriced, but it's not downright robbery - every third second some authority is declaring some item unsafe, and then there's a recall, and yes, I totally get they have to cover for that.

What is? The "maternity pillow" that is just a body pillow with a curve in it - $90 instead of $20 for a regular body pillow. The baby-wearing wrap - six yards of 22" wide cotton knit fabric for $40 (I'll be spending $25 and maybe half an hour making three of my own). The maternity band, which is about two feet of spandex sewn into a tube to help keep too-small unbuttoned pants up - another $40 (instead of the $5 the fabric would cost). I also get that there is a cost associated with production, and I think people should make a profit. But at anything like scale, you're still looking at markup that is often in the 200-500% range, without there being any significantly increased likelihood of legal liabilities. :)

I'll cheerfully admit that I don't know what half the things you mention actually are. (I'll look through Amazon, I suppose.) But if it's an item that is intended to be worn by pregnant women or babies, I'm willing to bet that it's an item with at least a somewhat heightened risk of liability. (E.g "Maternity pillow" = "body pillow to be used by someone who can sue if (a) child is born with some abnormality and (b) doctor/scientist can be found to suggest that said abnormality is the result of woman sleeping in position favored by pillow.") I'm not saying that I think such an argument is good, I'm just saying that if you specifically sell to folks with some high risk or another, you may be more likely to be targeted in silly lawsuits.

That said, I doubt it's all of the markup, just some.

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This page contains a single entry by Erica published on January 10, 2011 1:30 AM.

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