The pricing of Apple's back-ordered $19 polishing cloth is part of a strategy that experts say makes shoppers 'feel fancy'

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The pricing of Apple's back-ordered $19 polishing cloth is part of a strategy that experts say makes shoppers 'feel fancy'
Apple; Insider
  • Apple's new $19 microfiber polishing cloth is back-ordered past Christmas.
  • That may seem like a high price for a piece of fabric, but experts say it's part of a strategy.

Apple used to include things like this for free with its products.

Buy an iMac or an iPad or even some iPhones and you would get a small swatch of microfiber cloth embossed with a tidy little Apple logo.

This fall, Apple introduced its accessory Polishing Cloth for cleaning "any Apple display, including nano-texture glass, safely and effectively."

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Priced at $19 each, the product has become such a hit that Apple's softest stocking stuffer won't be available until mid-January. Over on eBay, vendors are listing the cloths for three to four times the original retail price – and people are buying them.

While some people might think that $19 is a bit expensive for a product that you can often find elsewhere for a fraction of the price, if not for free, it turns out that the price itself is an important part of what is driving the popularity of the item.

Indeed, The Wall Street Journal tallied 18 Apple-branded accessories for sale on the company's website that ring up just shy of a pair of Hamiltons. As with the cloth, many items like headphones and charging adapters were once included with more expensive tech devices.

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It's worth noting that Apple strongly recommends using this cloth to clean the screen of the $6,000 nano-texture glass Pro Display XDR or 27-inch iMacs with the optional $500 nano-texture glass upgrade, and does include it with those products.

The tech-repairs website iFixit even did a "teardown" of the cloth, putting the fabric under a literal microscope to examine the difference between its fibers and a conventional offering. Although the material has the same suede-like texture as the iPad Smart Cover, the site gave the product a zero out of 10 for repairability.

There are really two marketing strategies at work, both of which have been carefully cultivated by retailers for decades, which Apple has perfected, the Journal reported.

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The first is "charm pricing," or the practice of ending prices in the number 9, which gives buyers the feeling that they are getting a good value.

Practically every Apple product from a Mac Pro desktop to a USB power adapter ends with the number 9. Even the cheapest Apple-branded accessory — a 3.5mm headphone adapter — costs $9.

The second is signaling, or the suggestion that these are premium products, since they cost more than average competing alternatives.

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"Apple wants to make sure that their consumers constantly feel nice," e-commerce consultant Abir Syed told the Journal. Paying a little extra makes them "feel fancy," he said.

Syed said that the $19 price point for the Polishing Cloth gives Apple both the charm-pricing benefits and signals that it is a top-tier product.

Gene Munster, a VC with Loup Ventures, also told the Journal that shoppers are less likely to fret about low double-digit prices in a shopping cart that can easily top four figures.

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"When you go below $20, those people don't think twice about it, even if [the item] could be competitively priced at $1," he said.

It's not likely that Apple expected its Polishing Cloth to go viral the way it did, but the pricing strategy the company uses for all of its products may have turned this particular bit of fabric into a meme of the company's relationship with its unusually devoted customers.

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