Bugaboo, the brand that introduced the $800 stroller to America, has put a new model on the market that can retail for as much as $1,659. It is called the Donkey and no, it doesn't walk your baby by itself, or work by remote control, or carry enough water to last three days in the desert. It doesn't even claim to be safer than other strollers. What it does do is convert from a very fancy single stroller into a side-by-side double and back again. And despite the price, people are lining up to buy it.
"It's expensive, but the price point was what we expected to pay for the quality and the durability," said Billy Kobayashi, a father of one with another on the way, while picking up his family's Donkey at the Bugaboo store in El Segundo.
The price of strollers has been on an upward climb since the mid-'90s. It is still possible to buy a low-end umbrella stroller at Target for $45. But even now, despite the struggling economy, a stroller by the midpriced Graco brand can set a parent back $100 to $200, depending on whether it comes with a baby tray, a cup holder for Mom, how far the seat reclines, how cleverly it folds up and how easy it is to push.
Still, nothing on the market touches the price of the Donkey, which comes in three configurations: a single with a storage basket ($1,200), a double with one bassinet and one stroller seat ($1,499), and two bassinets ($1,659). The only other stroller on the market that breaks $1,000 is the Stokke Xplory, an unusual-looking single stroller that can also function as a portable high chair, which can cost as much as $1,229. In the double stroller market, the previous highest price was the iCandy Pear Tandem, which retails for $700.
"The Donkey is really in a class of its own," said Lauren Logan, owner of the Juvenile Shop in Sherman Oaks.
"It's up there all by itself," said Alan Fields, co-author of "Baby Bargains," a book that serves as a kind of Consumer Reports for all things baby.
Logan has been selling baby products since 1979, and Fields has been writing about them since 1994. Both remember when Bugaboo arrived in the U.S. in 2003. "Nobody had ever seen a stroller in that price point that looked that way, that pushed that way," Logan said.
"Back when we started writing this book, there wasn't a lot of stroller envy," Fields said. "Strollers were more of a utilitarian concept. That changed in the earlier part of last decade."
The outrageously priced stroller might have made sense in the first few years of the millennium, when America was on a spending spree. But what about now, when buyers have generally cut back on all spending, and on luxury spending most of all? Who is going to buy the most expensive stroller on the market now?
Stacy DeBroff, chief executive of Mom Central Consulting, a social media consultancy that markets to mothers, identified two types of people who might buy a Donkey. The first, people for whom the price is beyond what they can reasonably afford, might consider the Donkey like a designer handbag or an astronomically expensive watch. "People go premium on items like that because they think, 'This is my life, this is going to be THE ONE. I'm going to run it into the ground, but every day it is going to define me,'" DeBroff said.
The second type is the older gen-Xer or tail-end baby boomer parent who still has plenty of disposable income. "These are buyers who are past the starter program," said DeBroff. "They are living an upscale life and this is just another upscale purchase for them."
I recently took an informal survey of moms about their thoughts on the previous Bugaboo strollers on the market. Almost everyone who had one loved it. They talked about its "amazing push," how the seats go into full recline, making it easier for some children to sleep, how much storage the stroller has, and how much they like the way it looks.
Several also mentioned that, like a luxury car, it has great resale value.