This weekend marks the beginning of ALDI Australia’s annual snow gear sale.
Every year, thousands of shoppers flock (some in a civil fashion, others not so) to one of ALDI’s 500+ retail outlets, in search of a so-called snow gear bargain.
The ALDI ski sale is highly emotive: it causes fierce arguments, fights, and receives main-stream media attention, including satirical pieces poking fun at ski industry fashionistas (privileged rich folk who turn their noses up at every day punters).
All this got us thinking. Is ALDI snow gear really all it’s cracked up to be, and is the dollar value of its product (measured typically in tens not hundreds of dollars) really buying you a quality product? And for those who care, what is its impact on our local retail industry?
Before we talk dollars ($$), let’s get a few things straight: comparing ALDI with other brands is not ‘an apples with apples comparison’, and the retail playing field is far from even.
So – as we put on our Teflon coats and strap ourselves in for the inevitable sh*t flinging to come, let us take a closer look.
The playing field is far from even
Like most markets, the snow industry has its global giants and its smaller niche businesses. It also has those addicted to bargain-basement prices, while others love to support local, no matter what.
The Australian snow retail industry is very small. We can count on one hand the number of specialist snow retailers in each of the major capital cities. Retailers stock a range of products from lesser known discount lines to high-end well-known products, like Spyder, North Face and Descente.
In terms of Australian-owned or locally manufactured gear, the list is even smaller again. If you were to think Billabong and Quicksilver, you’d be wrong – both are foreign owned and have been for some time. XTM and Rip Curl, on the other hand, are 100% Australian owned.
ALDI is huge – let’s not kid anyone. German-owned ALDI is the common brand of two discount supermarket chains with over 10,000 stores in 20 countries, with an estimated combined annual turnover of more than €50 billion. Presently it has more than 500 stores in Australia with more opening all the time. So when it comes to competitive advantage in manufacturing, marketing and bulk-purchasing power, ALDI hold all the aces.
The entry of a global giant to the market – with enormous purchasing power and the ability to discount their product – puts pressure on local ski shops, which already operate in a knife edge industry. Revenue has declined, gear rental has dropped off, and unfortunately a number of stores have closed their doors.
Then there’s the question of ethics. Reputable brands publish their social responsibility policies on their websites. Aussie owned XTM and Rip Curl, for example, use a number of internationally recognised standards to ensure their factories meet ethical standards. That means fair remuneration, protection for young workers and environmentally sustainable practices. In addition, XTM’s community program, ‘Heat the Homeless’, has collected over 14,000 jackets that would otherwise have ended up as landfill, donating them to those that need them most – people sleeping rough on our streets. Their business has also been carbon neutral for ten years.
It’s not an ‘apples with apples’ comparison
Let’s start with a simple comparison of technical specs:
ALDI’s range of ski jackets have water / wind proofing ratings of 20k/20k to 12k/10k respectively, and range in price from $199 to $59. For kids, water / wind proofing is static at 12k/10k. Jackets are priced at $39.
By comparison, XTM’s adult range of ski jackets have water / wind proofing ratings of 20k/15k to 15k/10k respectively, and range in price from $399 to $199. For kids, water / wind proofing ranges from 15k/15k to 15k/10k and range in price from $169 to $149 respectively.
Rip Curls’ adult range of ski jackets start at water / wind proofing ratings of 40k/30k gm to 10k/10k respectively. With higher technical ratings, come slightly higher prices. Jackets range in price from $549 to $499, or $299 in the case of the 10k/10k product. For kids, the water / wind proofing is set at 10k/10k, but the sleeves and pant legs are extendable by 2-3 cm, so you can use it for years to come. The kids’ gear ranges from $199 to $179.
But are we comparing apples with apples?
First of all, numbers can be deceiving. While a garment may be made of 20,000 mm water resistant material, a garment is also only as water resistant as its seams and zips (the main entry point for water) i.e. a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
As any of us – and particularly those of us with kids – know, it’s the qualities of the zips and seams, quality of the stitching, the insulation and the amount of stretch in the fabric that ultimately determine how durable your jacket is and how long it will last (and just as importantly, how cold and wet you and your kids will be at the end of the day!).
There’s also the attention to detail, like the quality of the pocket zips and the zip toggles (quality toggles make it easy to zip and unzip your jacket while wearing gloves).
So there’s far more to it than a simple comparison of prices and the reported level of water proofing.
We agree ALDI make products for a particular niche market – and furthermore, that they do it well. Heck, they have even been credited as being good for the ski industry by making snow sports more accessible.
However, the retort is that while the ‘premium’ ALDI products may have similar water proofing and breathability ratings to higher end products, there is more to it than that.
In Australia, we are lucky to have quality brands XTM and Rip Curl with ranges to suit everyone from first timers to elite athletes – that are both affordable and of exceptional high quality!
For example, the design team at XTM work closely with the athletes, and travel the world sourcing the best materials to ensure their garments last. It’s also true that XTM work with world leading companies like Goretex and Primaloft [which really just means their gear is really warm and lasts] and have kitted out the Australian Winter Olympic team for the last three Games. It also has impeccable ethics, and every year engages in a campaign to help the homeless.
So the question is. Are you just in the market for a cheap jacket or are you looking for a high-quality local supplier who genuinely cares about the local snow industry and the environment?
Both are worth considering next time you head to the checkout. We’ll leave it to you – the well informed customer – to decide which of the buyers you represent.
About Snowriders Australia
SRA is run by a team of volunteer snow sports enthusiasts based across Australia. The crew at SRA is passionate about the snow sports industry and campaigns hard in the protection of alpine environments and by raising awareness of the dangers of climate change, and its impact to our sport. SRA exists to serve and support recreational skiers and boarders by encouraging skiing and snowboarding as a healthy and fun activity; by sharing snow related news / media and through the production of original written content, including reviews, editorials & interviews with ski industry personalities.