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Citing the rising costs of labor in China, of materials like cotton and of shipping, Nike is reportedly going to raise prices on its sneakers by between 5 percent and 10 percent this fall, according to the Wall Street Journal's Shelly Banjo. The across-the-board increase will result in a $5 bump on low-end kicks like the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars (the choice of Dan Devine since round about 1999) and a somewhat steeper price tag on the Oregon apparel giant's higher-end items, including the forthcoming LeBron X, the 10th edition of LeBron James' signature sneaker.
James unveiled the LeBron X — which are "inspired, both aesthetically and metaphorically, by the diamond, a precious and nearly indestructible gemstone," according to NikeBlog — during Team USA's gold-medal win over Spain at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The hotly anticipated signature shoe will hit the market this fall in two models: the standard version, which will retail at $180 a pair, and the LeBron X Nike Plus, which will include the company's Nike+ technology, built around embedded pressure/motion sensors that track and store data on stuff like how much/how far/how fast a player moves during a game or workout, or how high he/she jumped on a dunk.
The model's going to run you $315, making it the most expensive pair of sneakers Nike's ever brought to market, according to Banjo. And while the sneakerhead community's known what the LeBron X will cost for nearly
a month now five months now (shouts to CounterKicks), the WSJ report brought the news to the world at large, sparking notices in financial notes columns and business-specific news sites, and even on National Public Radio. The general tenor of such outsider discussion of the price point — which, again, is the going rate just for the high-tech, Nike+-infused model, and not the regular shoes, which will cost $180, or $10 more than last year's LeBron 9 — has been characterized by surprise and, in some places, dismay.
Gawker's Hamilton Nolan offered a fairly succinct encapsulation of the blowback:
As unemployment ravages the working class, our lower and higher education systems shudder in crisis, and murder decimates our forgotten urban poverty zones, Nike is rolling out its first $300+ sneaker. But mom, you don't understand—it's worth it.
Here's the thing: While it's always good to have more information about a topic and it's certainly worthwhile to consider myriad opinions on stuff like sports, marketing, economics and social responsibility, it's kind of hard to see any of what's come down the pike Tuesday about LeBron's new shoes actually changing anyone's opinion about anything.
If you were of the mind that it is ridiculous to pay multiple hundreds of dollars for a pair of sneakers before you opened up your Wall Street Journal or turned on "Morning Edition" on Tuesday, learning that Nike is raising the pricing bar isn't going to change that. If you are someone who thinks having a cool-looking sneaker is important, that having a cool-looking sneaker that can tell you how high you jump sounds neat, and that having a cool-looking sneaker that can tell you how high you jump and is endorsed by the guy who's won just about everything you can win on a basketball court in the past couple of months is worth paying a premium for, then A) you probably already knew what the new LeBrons would cost and B) your opinion on that price is unlikely to be altered by a bunch of people who only write about sneakers when aghast on your behalf.
Everyone wondering Whether People Will Really Pay $300 For A Pair Of Sneakers??? probably isn't really wondering, because they know that people with money always have, and always will, pay lots of it to own things they think are cool and to be perceived as cool themselves. The wonderers, especially those coming from outside sneaker culture, might not have known just how strong a market there is for expensive basketball shoes (thanks, Chris Littmann) and for Nike Basketball's product in particular (thanks, Business Insider), but they do know that.
What they're wondering about, and judging, is why people who like sneakers value them as much as they do and how anybody could be crazy enough to do so, in the same way folks wonder about and judge the relative cachet of designer/boutique options in clothes, drinks, works of art, clubs, restaurants and a million other things. That's not an unreasonable perspective, of course, but apparently, it's one that's not shared by the millions of consumers who continue to beef up shoe companies' revenues despite what analysts cite as a 9.4 percent overall year-over-year increase in basketball shoe prices. The question of why Nike is going to charge $315 for a pair of sneakers has a pretty simple answer — because they can.
No matter what your stance on the price point itself, the only thing that really seems to matter is consumer safety — namely, avoiding the kind of violent, chaotic shopping-mall hysteria seen during the re-release of the Air Jordan XI Concords back in December. Nike has reportedly established new rules for sporting-goods stores to follow on release dates, including eliminating midnight openings that lead to lengthy lineups and hectic rushes to the front as soon as store doors open.
That's a start, but it's unlikely to help too much if Nike continues its long-held practice of releasing only small numbers of pairs to retailers, keeping supply low to stoke demand to a fever pitch that has, time and again over the past couple of decades, boiled over into violence. If Nike's serious about increasing customer safety and limiting violent incidents related to releases, it'd be great to see them eschew the exclusivity argument and simply ship more LeBron X units when the fall comes; whether they'll actually do it, of course, remains to be seen.
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