In economic theory, most things you can buy are ‘normal goods.’ This means that, as the price rises, people buy less of them. Conversely, people buy more as the price falls. This is all quite self-explanatory but it is interesting to note that there are other types of goods that operate in different ways.
The most common example may be inferior goods. The richer people get, the less they spend on inferior goods. This includes most kinds of discount items: once people can afford something better, they make the switch. Inferior goods reflect this property both at the micro level (an individual gets a big raise and buys less cheap IKEA furniture) and at a macro level (the mean income in a state rises and demand for low-cost gruel falls). Long distance bus trips are a classic example of an inferior good, as anyone who has spent more than twelve hours in a smelly, noisy coach can easily understand.
A somewhat perverse counterpoint to inferior goods can be found in Veblen goods. Named after the economist Thorstein Veblen, these are products for which the demand actually rises as the price does. This is essentially on account of their exclusivity. People buy Velben goods (such as Rolls Royce cars and $50,000 cell phones) precisely to demonstrate that they can. Of course, this makes them a godsend for those hoping to part status conscious rich suckers from some of their wealth.
A final possibility, which may not actually exist, is a Giffen good. To qualify, the good needs to be inferior (in the sense described above), there must be a lack of close substitutes, and the good must comprise a significant share of the purchaser’s budget. With these goods, price rises also lead to people buying more, though for a rather different reason. People who have become too poor to buy a better option fall back on a worse option. The failure of economists to find any well-defended empirical examples suggests that this kind of good may exist only in the minds of academics.
Both Giffen goods and Veblen goods exist because of possible characteristics of the buyer, rather than of the good itself. Whereas Giffen goods are easy to reconcile with ‘rationality’ as understood by economists, Velben goods do so only when they are viewed as inputs in the manufacture of the commodity actually sought: such as social status or prestige.
People wanting to read even more about goods and economic theory can look into the distinction between rivalrous and non-rivalrous goods and excludable and non-excludable goods. The two ideas together define public goods and common property goods, the existence of which make even the most hard-nosed economist recognize the efficiency of governmental action to regulate markets.