I start with the trail mix. How hard can that be?
Oh. Harder than I thought. I just want a snack for the Interstate. Maybe I’ll get some jerky instead. Where’s that stand?
Oh. It’s not a stand, it’s a whole aisle. I couldn’t get far enough back to show all of it, but you get the idea. There were:
- Different brands. Jack Links. Tillamook. No Man’s Land. Old Trapper. Something abbreviated as CC and presented graphically as a cattle brand.
- Different textures. Tender bites. Leathery strips.
- Different shapes. Rough chunks. Cubes. Sticks.
- Different sizes of bags. Snack. Meal. Party. I’m guessing here.
- Different flavours. Original. Sweet and hot. Teriyaki. Peppercorn. Wild heat. Jalapeño. Chocolate. OK, I made up that last one, but for just a second you weren’t sure, were you?
This, too, is harder than I thought. Is it harder than it needs to be? Sometimes shopping feels like an Econ 101 exam.
Copious Consumer Choice:
A blessing or a necessary evil of our economic system?
My answer seems to depend on whether the majority preference is also mine. When it is, I wonder why they bother with all these stupid options. Like, who really needs Omega-3-supplemented eggs? As for brown or white, meh.
When I don’t sit with the majority, I appreciate having choice.
When I’m buying clothes or yarn, I thank God for cotton and artificial fabrics that save me from wool. When buying milk products, I cheer the producers who offer lactose-free versions. Dentifrice? I’m glad I can (usually) get a gel, not a (yucky) paste or (yuckier still) powder. Hand soap? I want something unscented. Soya sauce? Give me the low-salt version, not (yet) for medical reasons but for taste preference. (And could the makers of oyster-flavoured and hoisin sauces get with my program?)
And so it goes.
Oddly, when I don’t care about the distinctions — when you might think that anything would do — the seemingly endless and personally pointless fracturing of options (known as “product differentiation” in marketing lingo) still drives me crazy.
Am I missing something?
Does ‘free range’ really matter in canned gravy?
When I know *exactly* what I want and am trying to find it quickly in a strange store, a shelf-full of close-but-no-cigar options drives me crazy.
Am I not seeing It, or is It not here?
Should I keep looking or kap-It-ulate?
When I know what I want (whew) and they have it in stock (hurray) and featured prominently (hurray hurray), I’m a happy shopper.
OK, I am outta here.
As I was, eventually, outta the Interstate gas station with my beef jerky. I know you’re curious so I’ll just say that I went for No Man’s Land brand because it looked authentic or maybe regional in some undefined way, I chose the larger bag (for sharing, natch, although it was not so marked), and I selected Original Flavour, teriyaki likely being too sweet and all the spicy ones likely being too hot.
I restrained myself from asking the cashier where they kept the chocolate-flavoured jerky, because I’m trying to be part of the solution here. Or at least trying not to create a problem that might cause the cashier to reach for the (definitely possible) armament under the counter. Choice has both its moments and its problems and the difference isn’t always clear, but that would not have been a good choice.
Post script: Some retailers eliminate the potential frustrations of choice by simplifying their product offering admirably.