By Jonnelle Marte
J.C. Penney’s deal to sell Martha Stewart-branded merchandise may mean higher prices for consumers, experts say — but not necessarily higher quality.
Whenever retailers make such branding deals — especially those with celebrities — shoppers pay a premium, says Paul Swinand, a retail analyst for Morningstar. “Somewhere along the line you’re funding money to all their endorsement contracts,” he says. J.C. Penney confirmed Wednesday that it is buying a stake in Martha Stewart Living and plans to set up separate spaces with the Stewart name inside many of its stores. Many retailers are emphasizing on brand names, sometimes locking in exclusive access to a brand, in an effort to draw shoppers, says Swinand.
Martha Stewart Living says the products will be of high quality and reasonable price. The products are designed with affordability in mind, says spokeswoman Jeanne Meyer. “There is also a quality association that goes with her — because people know Martha Stewart is discriminating and likes the best,” she says. J.C. Penney did not respond to requests for comment.
Smart consumers can save money by tracking down high-quality products that don’t have a strong brand name — or the higher cost, says Swinand. For example, a baker who knows a lot about mixers doesn’t need their choice to be backed by a celebrity chef, says Kit Yarrow, a psychology professor at Golden Gate University. “If you have confidence in what you’re buying you don’t need that” brand name, says Yarrow.
Of course, choosing a brand name can be helpful when it comes to gifts or products consumers are not familiar with, says Zan Jones, a sales consultant for small businesses.
But experts say a brand name can only go so far. Consumers will fight back if they don’t think the quality is worthy of the higher price. “At some point the consumer might balk,” says Swinand.
Another tried and true method for making sure the product is worth your dollars, say retail experts: ask friends and family for recommendations. Find out what their critiques are and if they’re happy with the purchase, says Jones.