Yesterday, I was at the supermarket to pick up a loaf of bread and found myself there just as the shelves were being restocked. As I watched , the man from the bakery arranged loaves of 7-Grain , 12–grain , Double fiber, Oatmeal Bran, Whole Wheat, Health Nut,Pumpernickel, Potato, Country White, White, and Rye ( with and without seeds) on the shelves. I remember there was a total of 14 different types so I ‘m missing a couple. These were the varieties offered by one brand. Competing brands offered similar choices so that the customer was confronted by as many as 40 or 50 different varieties to choose from.
Before I could say anything, another customer who had been waiting alongside me articulated what I’d been thinking. ” Do we really need so many different types of bread ?” she demanded of no one in particular.
” I agree with you , lady” responded the deliveryman. ” It ain’t my decision; I just deliver the stuff. ”
As I made my choice (Whole Wheat), I couldn’t help wondering ” With having to make all these different products, do the manufacturers really sell that many more loaves ? ” I guess sales must be at least marginally higher or they wouldn’t continue to do so. Still, is there all that much difference between , say, 7-grain and 12 -grain and 15- grain bread ? Do customers really demand this much choice ? For myself, I know that I’d be perfectly happy having to choose from Country White, Whole Wheat, Multigrain,Rye and Potato bread . As it was, I spent a minute or two extra before I settled on Whole Wheat.
Last week, I had to spend considerably more time at Walmart before I chose my multivitamins. There were shelves and shelves of multivitamins and ,even though I knew the particular brand I wanted, it took me awhile to settle on one among their many products.This story is repeated over and over again every time I shop. For instance, why are there so many different types of Robitussin ? Are they all that different from each other? Since they are all meant to treat cough, why can’t there be one type which is good for all types of coughs ?
I do like some choice in what I buy and I know that competition is good because it keeps prices down . However,at a certain point the multiplicity of choices becomes redundant. It seems to me that having to offer so much choice must at some point reduce efficiency and drive prices up.
A couple of years ago, New York magazine had an article listing 20 tips for Happiness. One of the things the article mentioned was that having too much choice can cause stress . At the time I didn’t agree . Now I’m not so sure. To say that too much choice causes stress may be a bit of an exaggeration but certainly it’s unnecessary and wasteful.
P.S. Today’s edition(6/26/09) of the Wall Street Journal had an article that began thus:
“For years, supermarkets, drugstores and discount retailers packed their shelves with an ever-expanding array of products in different brands, sizes, colors, flavors, fragrances and prices. Now, though, they believe less is more.Pharmacy chain Walgreen Co. is cutting the types of superglues it carries to 11 from 25. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has decided that 24 different tape measures is 20 too many. Kroger Co. has tested stripping out about 30% of its cereal varieties.”
Looks like I was on the money…