This past week or so of torrential rain preceded by snow let me to discover what I had already known, namely that my ten-year-old Docs are about as useful as a pair of sandals in keeping water away from my feet. It’s my own fault, I did not know where our show care kit was here in the house after we moved here for many years and by the time I got around to finding and restocking it the leather was thoroughly cracked and useless.
So I needed a new pair of boots! I had the idea of an appropriate price point for the boots, DM’s classic 1460, at $60-70 or so and was shocked and frustrated to find that the average best price for a standard-edition black version of this boot is about $120 and that the boots themselves appear to be in relatively short supply from independent sellers online, usually the best place to look for a MAP-controlled item such as these appear to have become in the last decade.
Even eBay has only a few merchants selling the boots new, although there are many individual and pro sellers offering a range of Doc Martens footwear both on eBay and Amazon. Buying direct, we see that the boots are offered at $135 + tax and shipping (with frequent free shipping offers).
eBay’s results are a mishmash of used and new goods. It was difficult to determine the correct pricing for new 1460s that met my specs. This is in part because DM has dramatically expanded the range of models of this boot. They range from high-end guaranteed for life and/or Made in England throwbacks to inexpensive non-leather canvas models made in China and Thailand. In the end, there are only a few new-in-box listings, with an offer point of about $115.
Amazon’s offerings are even more confusing. I think this is due to the platform’s stated policy of combining seller’s offers for a given SKU into one detail page. Sadly, they are not actually able to enforce the policy effectively. It’s nearly impossible to determine a set of prices for goods such as this, in which individually distinct products differentiated by style, model, materials, appearance, and size are randomly grouped together in detail pages aggregating seller’s offers both active and inactive.
It’s the functional equivalent of matrix pricing, which is the underlying economic mechanism driving spiraling healthcare costs and software licensing cost uncertainty. It unquestionably increases profitability on a unit-sales level for Amazon. Creating conditions of obfuscated pricing reduces consumer willingness to research and evaluate for cost, due to time constraints. The long-term effect is to increase the average price paid. However, in a consumer-goods environment, this may also cause lower overall volume as price-constrained consumers decline purchases, an option not available in medicine.
I was somewhat amazed to see this occurring because it inverted my consumer expectations for a shopping experience between eBay and Amazon. Amazon was once the most efficient place to locate a good, determine a fair price for it, and to purchase that good with a high degree of consumer confidence. Instead, although eBay has a smaller set of pro merchants selling the goods, I was able to find and compare those seller’s prices with DM’s full-retail price immediately. On Amazon, detail page selections changed apparently at random as individual seller’s stock levels fluctuated. Instead of a single price per detail page, each variation of an item was priced distinctly. It was the opposite of a smooth online shopping experience.
In the end, I made the inefficiencies of Amazon’s shopping model work for me by literally going through each 1460 listing’s detail page and selecting each instance of sizing that fit me and was in stock. I did not find any NIB black 1460 that fit me and met or were even close to my pricing expectations. I did, however, find two pairs in brown, one a new-fangled variation, each for about $75, each in low stock quantities and discounted by the merchants due to low demand.
Another possibility I did not pursue was locating and purchasing two pairs at a second-half-off price with the intent of selling the second pair NIB on eBay just under the $120 price point. I may actually experiment with that, as arbitrage is a pretty good online merchandising model.
To my bemusement (and living up to my site slogan, “holy cow, did I write that?“) I appear to have predicted this exact outcome specifically for Amazon and in part due to attempting to shop for boots online:
I strongly suspect that the partial progress in place in Amazon and eBay to increase transparency to the purchaser will be eroded over time as these organizations seek in turn to emulate Google in its’ disheartening turn toward user captivity. …The end result of this will be to diminish, to some extent, the long-term shift toward online shopping, while at the same time increasing margins only for the largest merchants. And it will keep the process of shopping for women’s boots online a fruitless nightmare.
I was actually referring to Google and Apple (and eventually therefore Amazon and eBay) seeking to emulate Facebook’s walled-garden approach as a means to diminish price transparency. As it happens, that is not the mechanism by which Amazon has achieved diminished price transparency. but hey, whatever works. Or makes life harder for the consumer, at any rate.