Guest Column: Whatever you’re buying, they’re selling … for more

The lesson of Nike’s $315 sneakers: Whatever you’re buying, they’re selling. For more.

Who has $315 for a pair of sneakers? Apparently enough people to cause a stampede. That’s why Nike has issued safety guidelines to retailers planning for the fall release of its new LeBron X Nike Plus basketball shoe.

The shoes are not to go on sale before 8 a.m. the first day, a move meant to pre-empt those midnight openings that lead to parking-lot brawls as customers camp out to overpay for limited edition Nikes to resell on eBay.

More than 100 cops – in squad cars, on horseback, on foot and even in a police chopper – were called to control a crowd in Orlando, Fla., for the February release of the $220 glow-in-the-dark Foamposite One Galaxy. In December, police pepper-sprayed crowds at a mall in Seattle, and customers broke down the door of a store in an Atlanta suburb to get their hands on the $180 Nike Air Jordan XI Concord.

This time, Nike is counseling retailers to be “prudent and responsible” in their advertising to avoid inciting the public. No preselling shoes. No reserved sales.

The LeBron X Nike Plus is the company’s most expensive sneaker yet. We’re not sure what to make of that. Breaking the $300 price barrier is either a beacon of hope for the economy or a sign of the apocalypse. Maybe both.

What’s so special about the shoe? Most of the advance hype is about the built-in sensors that can measure how high you jump, which is not the same thing as helping to improve your jump. For a lot of buyers, performance isn’t the point, anyway. All these limited editions and rereleases are driven largely by the collectors, or “sneakerheads,” who own dozens of pairs of pricey shoes that have never been out of the box.

That $315 price tag on the LeBron X is partly a reflection of increases in the cost of materials, shipping and Chinese labor. But it’s also an indication of what Nike thinks consumers will pay for LeBron’s name and the golden swoosh.

LeBron’s stock may never be higher. In a few short months, he led the Miami Heat to the NBA championship, was named the league’s MVP and helped the U.S. Dream Team take home Olympic gold. The new LeBron X debuted on his feet during the gold medal game against Spain, because nothing says “God bless America” like product placement at a global athletic hugfest.

Those of us who just want to keep our kids in gym shoes are likely looking at higher price tags, too. Across the athletic footwear industry, prices are up 5 to 10 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal. So you can expect to pay more, whether your taste runs to rocker-bottom shoes that – oops! – don’t burn fat after all or “minimalist” shoes that simulate barefoot running except that they’re not free. Whatever you’re buying, they’re selling. For more.