Wednesday, March 21, 2012

St. Patrick's Day topic: Paddy O'Furniture

Every so often, we manage to get ourselves on a mailing list that's completely inappropriate for us. A month or so ago, for instance we bought a small rug on clearance from the Home Decorators Collection, and now we're regularly receiving catalogs touting $400 TV stands and $50 fake flowers. The latest issue features outdoor furniture, and I'm agape at how much it's possible to pay for it. Here, for instance, is a set (admittedly, a very nice set) with a 42-inch-square table and four armchairs, made from eucalyptus wood, for $650. And this is actually the least expensive set in the whole catalog; other dining sets for four range from $700 to $1,000.

I might actually have started thinking that $650 was a reasonable price to pay for something so simple you could practically make it yourself out of two-by-fours, if I hadn't just recently received a flier from IKEA with a similar focus: "Celebrate the Great Outdoors." This flier features a four-piece dining set for just $100, marked down from the regular price of $150. It's not identical to the Martha Stewart set—the table is a bit smaller, and it has a bench and two chairs instead of four chairs, and it's made of acacia wood rather than eucalyptus—but it's pretty similar, and it costs less than one-sixth as much. (Okay, so the Martha Stewart set includes cushions—but you can add a set of those to the IKEA furniture for just $50, and it's still less than one-quarter the cost.) And moreover, IKEA offers several comparable sets ranging in price from $100 to $650. The most expensive set they sell is the same price as the least expensive set in Home Decorators.

Now, this is all a moot point for me anyhow, since we don't actually have a patio (after two years, we still haven't gotten around to making use of all those free pavers we picked up from Freecycle), but it is a puzzle. If it's possible to sell decent, basic lawn furniture for under $500, why aren't more stores doing it? I've looked at outdoor dining sets in Home Depot, and I didn't see a single one in the store with a price tag under $400. Wouldn't you expect Home Depot to sell more lawn furniture if they offered some for a reasonable price? Maybe they just assume that people will bite the bullet and pay $400 or more if they aren't offered any other choices—but in today's economy, is that really a safe assumption to make? Is there just something special about patio furniture that makes people willing to pay hundreds of dollars for it, even when they're cutting back on everything else?
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