Saturday, May 4, 2019

Costly candle.

     Luxury is a scam, right? A trick to see how much more rich people will pay for something that's only a little better than the usual. I've driven a Bentley: nice car. Double-glass windows. Breitling clock. But a price tag of about $180,000. If money means nothing, and you want those windows, and that clock, I suppose you might as well pop for it. What's the difference? But the truth is, a person who can get by with regular windows, and an ordinary digital clock, can drive a perfectly good car and pocket the extra $150,000.
     When I first visited Ancient Aire, the faux Roman baths opened late 2017 in an old factory on West Superior, I was impressed. Big, dim, quiet and, since I was in the media, free. Free is a sauce, a spice, that enhances any experience. I was also by myself, and as I soaked and cogitated, I thought, "I should really take my wife back to this." So I did, last Valentine's Day. Our friends were jetting off here and there, I had this big trip to South America coming up, and rather than fly somewhere nice, we thought we'd explore our home town—a "staycation" Edie calls it.
    Ninety minutes of burbling hot pools and aromatic steam rooms. Plus a half hour massage. Not hideously expensive—$276 for the two of us, plus tips. We couldn't both fly to Cleveland for that. Overall, a positive experience. Indulgent fun. I paid the tab. We were almost out the door.
    But stapled to our receipt, was this little card.  Selling an Ancient Aire candle in a box. For $54.
    That card irked me. It's as if they were saying, "Before you go, we're curious: just how gullible ARE you? After all, you came here, paid a lot of money for, in essence, the hot bath you can take at home. Maybe you'll shell out half a C-note for a votive candle in a black box."
     There's no way to tell scale. Maybe the box is a yard square, but I doubt it. I would expect it to be, oh, three inches on a side . And maybe it smells nice. But really, it would have to release the perfume of paradise to justify that cost. (Checking online: bingo for the size, about 3 inches. And it smells of orange blossoms). 
    It is limited, if that helps. That's what the fine print says, "Limited to 250 pcs. of bathrobes and 250 pcs. of candles."  That wasn't written by a native English speaker, was it? "250 pcs. of candles." You'd think, for $54, they'd perfect the translation in their ballyhoo.)
      I shudder to imagine what the robes cost. ($65, not bad really, though that also underlines the scam aspect of luxury, as if the prices were assigned randomly and not dependent upon market forces). 
      So the candles are limited, but it doesn't say limited by what. The dreams of avarice, I assume.


  1. Not meant for the rich as much as it is for those pretending to be rich for a day. An impulse buy to say to yourself "so this is how the wealthy live." I don't think the wealthy got that way by being duped into buying $50 votive candles.

  2. The pricing of luxury goods is a recurring subject in William Poundstone's well researched and highly readable "Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)". I recommend it to anyone in a position to put a price on anything, which really is everyone. One of the basic ideas is that the highly priced items makes the prices of other items seem more reasonable. I don’t remember what he wrote about the “irk” factor, but I’m sure it’s been studied and is in there. Given the investment the owners of Aire have made in their business, it would be surprising that they’d price the candle randomly.

  3. The notion that rich people will pay big bucks for something that's only a little better brings to mind David Ogilvie's classic ad for the new Rolls Royce, with a headline that claimed the loudest noise you hear at 60 miles an hour is the sound of the electric clock. The last paragraph gives a nod to those wishing to hide their wealth under a bushel by saying if they feel diffident about driving a Rolls they can spring for a Bentley, which is the same car with a less ostentatious hood ornament.

    Some years ago my seatmate on a flight to New York turned out to be a buyer for Marshall fields, who confided that they found some articles sold better when they jacked up the price. So much for "the invisible hand."


  4. It's the difference between a "name" brand and a generic. At Target, I noticed a guy (old like me) buying Tums. I mentioned that the Target brand was on sale. He was adamant that the Tums was better when they are essentially the same. He absolutely would not believe me that he was throwing money away by buying the name brand. I once saw this very old couple agonizing over the various sizes of Bayer aspirin trying to find the best deal when they could have bought 100 generic for a couple bucks. Consumer Reports did a study that $200 sunglasses are the same as $20 sunglasses, and most people can't tell the difference. Before they went out of business, Payless Shoes, as a marketing tool I guess, opened a boutique selling their regular shoes for $200-300 under a faux-Italian designer name. People ate it up. (Payless obviously returned their money.) Apparently you can sell anything with a brand name on it. So a generic candle isn't nearly as good as an Ancient Aire candle.

  5. World-class orchestra, world-class art museum (and one of the few anywhere that's still free), excellent ethnic restaurants, and all in a neighborhood that's an hour by train from the no need to rent a car. Next time, pony up the additional money and fly to Cleveland. More and more people are finding they like it.

  6. One might argue that spending $275 for a bath is pretty darn indulgent and even more wasteful than $54 for a candle.


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