Market Clones: How to Pay Drastically Less for Pricey Products

by Lars Peterson on 31 January 2013 12 comments

A recent question posted to “AskMeFi” — the popular crowd sourced question and answer subsite of Metafilter.com — asked users to suggest products that were priced differently, depending on market and intended use. The example offered was food-grade mineral oil, which is costly when marketed and sold as butcher block oil, but inexpensive when marketed and sold as a laxative (as much as $1.74 per ounce versus as little as $.29 per ounce).

Same product, different market, different intended use, different price. The next time I buy a bottle of butcher block oil, I'll visit RiteAid instead of Williams-Sonoma.

How many other bargains like this are out there? (See also: 21 Disposable Products You Can Reuse)

True Market Clones

The community came up with several clear market clones as well as a bunch of money-saving ideas that didn't quite satisfy the rules of the question (buy generics, look for private label alternatives, use men's shaving cream instead of women's, etc.). Here are a few of my favorite bona fide clones from that AskMe.

Super Absorbent Towels

Super absorbent towels marketed to swimmers cost more than super absorbent towels sold to car owners. If you don't mind drying off with a towel sold at the auto parts store, you can save as much as $5 per travel towel.

Sleeping Aids

Diphenhydramine, the stuff that makes you drowsy, costs more in sleeping pills such as Nytol ( $.25 per 25 mg tablet), than it does in antihistamines such as Benadryl ($.21 per 25 mg tablet). Of course, generic versions are even cheaper.

Kitchen Twine

Cotton cord sold as baking twine or kitchen twine at the fancy kitchen supply store costs more than cotton cord sold as regular cotton cord at the hardware store — often two or three times as much per foot. Just make sure you get 100% cotton twine and nothing with wax or artificial colors, and your roast should come out fine.

Headache Medicine

Excedrin Migraine and Excedrin Extra Strength are exactly the same product except that Excedrin Migraine costs a dollar or more per 24 caplet bottle. Again, generics can save you even more.

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Market Cousins

While not quite market clones like those above, these products are essentially the same, but are priced differently, depending on where they are sold and who they are sold to.

Gasoline

All the gasoline in your neighborhood — branded and unbranded — most likely comes from the same refinery, and meets the same federal standards for quality. Several major brands tout the efficacy of proprietary detergents they add after the product leaves the refinery, but the reality is that the distribution system inevitably mixes additive and non-additive gasolines alike. It's pretty much all the same gas.

Beauty Products

When I mentioned to my wife what I was working on, and that I needed more ideas, the first thing out of her mouth was "beauty products." Apparently there's a whole cottage industry devoted to this topic. So I'm not going there.

However, these seven natural substitutes for toothpaste and lotion and so on come close to the rules of this game.

And here's something interesting. After Proctor & Gamble bought Clairol a few years ago, the base (but not the fragrance) of P&G's pricey Pantene Ice Shine Conditioner was exported to the cheaper Clairol Herbal Essences Hydration Conditioner. Pantene performance at an Herbal Essences price.

How many other beauty product manufacturers share formulations across product lines, I wonder?

Silver Cleaner

This is more of a DIY substitute, but the chemistry is cool (as is how easy it is), so I've included it in this list. Baking soda, aluminum foil, and water. You can't get more inexpensive than that.

Wraps vs. Tortillas

What's the difference between a wrap and a flour tortilla? Only the price!

This one is old news by now, but it's a good reminder that the ethnic aisle in your grocery store is usually a good place to find spices and seasonings at lower prices than the same or similar products stocked elsewhere in the very same store.

Anything I've missed? What other common products are priced differently depending on market and use?

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Guest's picture

Your point about products being marketed for different uses hit the nail on the head. I see people spending so much unnecessary money, especially on household cleaners. Why do you need something different for the toilet, bathroom tiles, regular tile flooring, for other surfaces, for mopping... the list goes on and on. I always just get a multi-purpose cleaner. Also, when possible, I get generic medication instead of the brand names. It's amazing how easy it is to rip yourself off!

Julie Rains's picture

How about VOIP - Skype vs. other phone service delivered via regular phone? There's less packaging with Skype but it is basically the same product.

In my market, there is a new commercial for the cable company with a woman citing her preference for easy-to-use products that require no technical knowledge.

Lars Peterson's picture

I'm not sure I'm following, Julie ... Same VOIP, different package (Skype versus whatever the broadband provider is offering)?

That's close, but it strikes me as more of a "generic versus brand name" pricing difference rather than a "use versus use" pricing difference.

Guest's picture
Guest

So, how do I Google to find the beauty market clones?

Lars Peterson's picture

I didn't spend a lot of time researching beauty products, Guest, but the Beauty Brains blog I linked above has lots of interesting beauty and science stuff. The "Save Money on Beauty Products" category would be a good place to start.

And, of course, Wise Bread has covered beauty substitutes extensively. Try "beauty" in the search box.

Guest's picture
FrugalCat

Sunblock bottles are much more expensive than body lotions with sunscreens in them. Compare and see. You might not get the coconut beach fragrance with the body lotions. Also, don't buy special facial sunscreen, just look for moisturizer with the same SPF you want.

Guest's picture
Jamie

This works for everday/low spf use, or please link if you found a moisturizer with higher than 30spf!

Guest's picture
Guest

Use hydogen peroxide in the brown bottle instead of mouthwash. Some teeth whiting products are just repackaged H2O2

Guest's picture
FrugalCat

And my "baking stone" for pizzas and such was $40 at Williams Sonoma. I asked what it was made of and they told me unglazed quarry tile. At the tile store it was $1.19!

Lars Peterson's picture

That's a great example, FRUGALCAT. Now that you mention it... Alton Brown's show was chockablock with this sort of thing (handheld drills for blenders and so on.)

Guest's picture

This is really interesting Lars, a lot of helpful tips. Hopefully people will continue contributing even more gems in the comments - the pizza baking stone is my favourite one so far!

Lars Peterson's picture

Yeah, I got a kick out of the baking stone idea.

Last summer I hacked together a "pizza oven" with materials from a local pottery supply store. My oven is a kiln shelf floor (designed to withstand several thousand degrees), a couple of fire bricks (also capable of tolerating 1000s of degrees) and another kiln shelf for the lid.

I stack it all up on the gas grill outside, crank the burners, drop the lid, and heat that little kiln/oven to 700 degrees or more. That's not as hot as a true pizza oven (the wood fired one's can go to 900 degrees and beyond), but my solution cost ~80 bux versus 1500 or more for the real deal. And I can take mine apart and store it back in the garage when I'm done.