Saturday, October 18, 2014
Combing the Supermarket Shelves
In the supermarket today I wanted to buy a comb. Just one, plain, simple, ordinary comb. You would think that wasn’t too much to ask. But no. I couldn’t buy a comb. I had to buy a pack of four different combs, for three of which I had no use whatsoever. So I would have to pay $3 for a comb that should have cost me... let’s say, $1.
The marketing company would probably say that I was saving money by buying the four combs because if I had bought all four combs separately it might have cost me... I don’t know... let’s say, $5. So, by buying the pack of combs I was saving $2!
How many times are we persuaded by advertising to buy something we neither want nor need, because the thing we want plus the thing we don’t want, together cost less than if we bought them separately... but more than if we simply bought the thing we wanted. I can buy four punnets of strawberries for $5, when they cost $1.50 each. So I save a dollar. Except that... I actually only want two punnets of strawberries which would only cost me $3. So, I buy the four punnets—what a bargain!—and either eat more strawberries than I actually want to eat, or the two unwanted punnets rot in the fridge.
And it’s even worse when I don’t even appear to have a choice. I now have the task of searching other supermarkets and stores to find a single comb... one single, ordinary comb. The main competitors will probably sell the same four-pack of combs. A smaller store may have a single comb, but charge two or three times what it is worth. And, in the end, it will cost me extra time and money to find just that comb. How much time and effort am I actually prepared to put in? In the end I will probably cave in and buy the four-pack.
Isn’t the free market a wonderful thing!