All products have a price range. In products that are viewed as cheap, everyday commodities, the range may be extremely narrow. In some cases, a small range in price may reflect a small range in quality or performance. Among products that are highly valued by some consumers, a range in prices may be extraordinarily wide even though a range in performance and quality may still be quite limited. Also of note relative to a price range is that the availability of products sold in stores may represent only a very, very small percentage of what is ultimately available in the full range of a product, and availability may reflect only those products at the bottom end of a quality, performance and price spectrum. Products sold through stores don't usually take up valuable space if they can't be sold quickly and easily (often through low prices) and with little or no effort, or if their sale requires a special knowledge of the products. This is exceptionally true among bicycle touring products, like racks and panniers, sold through bicycle stores and online retailers.
When I am contacted about my touring products, it is almost always without fail by bicycle tourists who have no knowledge of the design, performance or quality level of products that transcend the level of products sold through bicycle stores. Consequently, there is almost always an assumption that my racks and panniers will fall within the range of prices of those sold through stores with which, for all intents and purposes, they have little or nothing in common. The products that I'm building are in a different dimension, therefore they must be priced in a completely separate way.
As bicycle touring is still relatively new as a popular activity, a price range that reaches above or beyond the level of products sold through stores and which are very limited in their performance and quality, has barely begun to be established. If bicycle touring becomes more popular, and if tourists develop a greater appreciation of the vast range of designs and performance among products like racks and panniers, we're likely to see a broader price spectrum. It is common within many well-established products, in which consumers have a wide knowledge of the products or in which a special value is placed on them, that they will reflect a wide range of prices. Their are endless examples of very common, mundane products that have a broad spectrum of prices, so I can provide some examples of products that have price structures that are quite different when compared to bicycle touring products.
One product that has an enormous price range overall, but a very compressed one within most stores, is watches. If you drop by your local Walmart you may find watches that start at $15 and may not go over $100. But if watches are your thing, and if you value quality, creativity and craftsmanship, you can spend tens of thousands on a watch. Regardless of price, watches tell time in a relatively equal and faithful way and they are all about the same size. Even very, very inexpensive watches are fully functional. A range of prices among watches is based mostly upon their level of execution and in the value which consumers place upon them. Prices in watches, like most products, are not based upon size or even upon the costs of materials in many cases.
Bicycle panniers and racks are very similar to the watches sold through stores like Walmart in that bicycle stores and online retailers only carry products at, or near, the bottom end of the performance, quality and price spectrum. But how the racks and panniers sold through stores differ radically from watches sold through stores is in that they are not fully functional. In fact, the racks and panniers sold through retailers are extremely limited, through a lack of many essential designs, in their overall function. Their performance potential is very low.
A product that I'm extremely familiar with, and one that has one of the widest ranges of prices that I'm aware of, is the violin. At the bottom end of prices and performance, a beginner-student violin can cost less than $100, while at the upper end, a vintage early 18th century Stradivari or Guarneri del Gesu violin can cost nearly $20,000,000, currently. What is interesting about the range of prices in violins is that they all are basically the same size, and over about $500 or $1000 they are all made of the same types of materials. Their price range is based upon tonal production, and in some cases among vintage instruments, it is in conjunction with a value that relates to their rarity overall, and the rarity of their tonal quality. A rare level of sound quality in violins brings a rare level in price.
I've taken a photo of some of the many violins that we have around the house, and I also borrowed one for the photo. They all look pretty much the same, they are all fully functional in producing sound, but their sound quality is anything but the same. Starting at about $10,000, small variances in tonal coloration and quality are accompanied by wide increments in value. Among the five is one that cost less than $100, a Chinese custom instrument at about $4000, two American-made custom violins valued at $10,000 and $20,000, and a violin worth a couple million (I did not include a $50,000 violin and a $400,000 instrument that my kids play that are currently on loan to them). Violinists-as-consumers who purchase violins are well served if they have a finely tuned ear and a sensitive awareness of sound, and many do. On the whole, violinists are very well-informed consumers that learn about the subtleties of tonal production through practice and years of playing daily. Lots of it. Starting at an early age, young violinists may practice four to 10 hours a day for 15 or 20 years to get their chops down. In the process, they learn of the intricacies of design and sound that set violins apart. Hopefully, they become well-informed.
I've mentioned violins in relation to bicycle touring racks and panniers for some very important reasons. One is that violins have a very, very wide range in prices that is basically not a result, overall, of their size, material costs or production costs. There is variety among material and labor costs, but they most definitely are not in any way directly proportionate with the ultimate cost of violins. I think more than anything else, the price of a violin is relative to a sense of its value in producing sound. Violinists place a high level of value in an instrument that sounds great and have the experience to determine what performs well. How violinists perceive the performance and value of a violin is radically different from how a bicycle tourist will commonly perceive the performance and value of a pair of bicycle panniers.
In my experience, bicycle tourists are extraordinarily ill-informed and extremely inexperienced consumers who grow up, in terms of learning about all of the fine details of touring, in an atmosphere with little instruction and which is devoid of an experience with high-performance gear. Unlike young violinists who grow up, musically, in an atmosphere in which they are openly encouraged to constantly expand their knowledge and abilities and to play the best instruments that they can afford, bicycle tourists are often exposed to a mentality that suggests that bicycle panniers, if they don't fall off of a rack, and racks, if they don't fall apart, represent everything that they could possibly need to carry gear on a touring bicycle. It's very unfortunate, but tourists have been victimized through their lack of exposure to high-performance products, by retailers who sell very mediocre products as if they were instead top-of-the line racks and panniers.