Thought for the day – do we really need so much consumer choice?

What most of us want is a good product. If it’s food it has got to taste good. If it’s a gadget or piece of furniture it should not break down or fall apart days after the warranty period expires! And why do manufacturers the world over only provide a years warranty? Because they don’t even trust their own products to last!

What we need are good products, not thousands of products covering the same need, or want. Todays so-called consumer choice is a farce!

Capitalism and Consumer Choice are no longer happily married. 🙂

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20 Responses to Thought for the day – do we really need so much consumer choice?

  1. earthpal says:

    Absolutely Matty!

    T’is a throwaway society that we live in. Nothing is built to last these days.

    Another great picture by the way. 😉

  2. matt says:

    It’s a wonderful photo isn’t it … one giant beer fridge of inspired madness!

    Unfortunately probably all as bland in taste as the next one.

  3. suburbanlife says:

    How to raise a consumer who believes in an illusion of choice?

    Take a child of three, con her into brushing her teeth by convincing her she has to have her own type of toothpaste. Child runs out of toothpaste; her brother’s tube is offered her to use as a substitute; child throws major tantrum, cries, throws self on the floor, tells father of the indignities visited on her by being forced to use the toothpaste available! This really happened with a friend’s child I was minding 10 years ago, and I was aghast that even in relaively unimportant things this little “consumer” was being given choices. Her mother explained it like this, “I want her to know that she has choices in the world she is going to live in!” Duh? Utter stupidity? I think, yes!

  4. matt says:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having choice! But these products should be of good quality. Half the rubbish that ends up in dumps is there because of planned obsolecense.

    Weaning people off from choice per se is an impossibility. 🙂

  5. the Grit says:

    Hi Matt,

    While, to some extent, I agree with you, particularly on the quality issue, there is also the issue of employment to be considered. With current technology, workers are far too productive for long lasting products to be allowed. Really, if all vehicles were constructed as well as my GMC pickup, which will be 18 this year and still (knock wood) running just fine, and everyone kept their vehicle for its useful life, then all the industries connected to the production of automobiles would collapse. That, by the way, includes everything from mining, through every stage of production of the parts, up to the final assembly, and would throw hundreds of millions of people out of work around the world. Beyond this, without the spending these people do, even more people would be affected.

    Carry this logic over to all the industries which produce durable goods, and you should see that, if we only made high quality long lasting things, we would quickly sink back to pre-industrial times, at least so long as we have an expanding population. On the bright side, just think of the fortunes waiting to be made 50 or 60 years from now by harvesting the bounty stored in our landfills!

    the Grit

  6. Dave On Fire says:

    so basically Grit, you’re saying that eternally making stuff and throwing it away and making more is essential if we’re to keep busy?

  7. Pete Smith says:

    Hi Dave,
    Yes, the Grit obviously thinks “The Space Merchants” is a serious economics textbook.

  8. Stephan says:

    Doesn’t economic theory go something along the lines of we demand and the market supplies? We have the power in this equation, both through our consumer, and political choices:)

  9. Pete Smith says:

    That’s classical economics in its simplest form. The waters get muddied when we think about what stimulates our demand, over and above satisfying our basic needs. Advertising? Life-style? Social aspiration? A constant search for novelty? Increasingly, the latter.
    The discourse of ‘choice’ has become a mantra for modern retailers, along with ‘freshness’ and ‘value’. The choices offered are ways for retailers to differentiate themselves from their competitors, not necessarily what the consumer really wants. It’s out of control.

  10. Pete Smith says:

    Matt,
    Love the picture, is it real? I agree with your general point about choice, but …. 🙂
    Taking your beer example. Presumably these are regional beers drawn from all over the world. Wouldn’t the world be a poorer place if there was only one brand to drink wherever we went? The problem isn’t that the Anchor Brewing Company is producing steam beer at its California micro-brewery, but that retailers think I need to be offered the choice of buying it at my local supermarket in the UK. Usually at the expense of excellent UK local brews that don’t have the same ‘image’.
    I blame globalisation.

  11. matt says:

    Stephan,

    > Doesn’t economic theory go something along the lines of we demand and the market supplies? We have the power in this equation, both through our consumer, and political choices:)

    Bang on the button (btw, didn’t you say you’re ill …)

    Grit,

    Jobs? Yup, central point but, have you noticed as we have passed manufacturing jobs over to China.com that we’ve had to create service jobs. OK, alot of them are bloody annoying; call centres; CCTV operators; parking ticket officers, more & more crap TV channels!!

    But the whole point of how we occupy people’s time & provide USEFUL income is a fascinating subject in itself.

    Pete,

    > I blame globalisation.

    Yes, there is that element, especially repetition of product and crap products bulldozing their way into different country’s markets purely on price. Lager is a classic example. Each country produces their own lager but still Calsburg, Fosters, Becks and Budweiser are everywhere stacked high, selling cheap.

    But as Stephan says, consumers have the choice to not buy these cheap options and support good quailty local prducts instead …. and that helps local jobs doesn’t it Grit. 🙂

  12. Pete Smith says:

    I can remember when the global lager brands you mention were excellent ‘local’ brews that took some tracking down. Carlsberg Export in bottles is still one of the finest lagers I’ve ever tasted, ranking alongside SA Brewery’s Castle and Lion. The big change came when they started to brew Fosters or whatever in the UK, rather than import it.
    It’s a tad simplistic to say “consumers have the choice to not buy these cheap options and support good quailty local prducts instead”. First, they’re trapped by their own personal tastes and habits, often built up over decades, by laziness and by the lure of a cheap skinful. Second, they’re trapped by the power of the supermarkets/off-licences/pub chains and the ‘choices’ they offer, which quite often only include the ‘usual suspect’ brands. Third, even if you know about genuine local products it can be very difficult to track down outlets. The Westerham brewery, a few miles out into Kent, produces fantastic beer but you try finding it on sale outside its home patch. Waitrose supermarkets deserve an honourable mention for an unusually enlightened approach to stocking local brews, similar to the ‘guest beer’ concept in pubs.

  13. the Grit says:

    Hi DOF,

    That’s part of it. Governments over the years have learned to be very afraid when large parts of their population are unemployed. Idol hands, the devil’s workshop, and all that.

    Hi PS, Stephan,

    True, but economic theory also allows for demand to be driven by external forces. Advertising, as you may have noticed, is a booming business.

    Hi Matt,

    Outsourcing is an interesting, and often misunderstood, subject. The US still manufactures a significant percentage of all goods produced in the world. We just do it with fewer and fewer people every year. Manufacturing that is shifted outside the country is, most often, moved to circumvent overly burdensome US rules, regulations, and taxes. Oh, and to avoid labor unions. It’s a by product of free trade.

    As to supporting local products, that could work, but switching our economy to support it would be very traumatic. Besides, I like Wal*Mart 😉

    the Grit

  14. MeOmee says:

    amazing pic.

    Ed. (MeOmee very cheekily gives us an example of advertising via her link. We’ll leave it there for poetic effect. 🙂 ).

  15. Stephan says:

    Advertising gives consumers information about what is available in the market, it allows them to make informed decisions. To me the key is correcting market failure. If product prices reflected their true value, including social costs such as pollution, welfare equity etc (this is partly achieved in organic and fairtrade produce resulting in their higher prices), advertising would reflect this and could be a force for good.

  16. Pete Smith says:

    Advertising gives consumers information about what is available in the market, it allows them to make informed decisions
    That’s one function of advertising, sadly one that’s increasingly seen as unimportant. Advertising is designed to make people want things. It plays on their fears and aspirations, it makes them lust after products without knowing why, it’s essentially irrational.

  17. matt says:

    1 each to Pete & Stephan. 🙂

    Was in Ikea today to check their bed ‘choices’/range. They were all shite. Quality is not even a word you could give to any of them. As most of them are made in countries with little regard to pollution controls, H&S, pension systems, rights to unions (Stephan’s point) Ikea starts and ends on a low, low benchmark; cost.

    They’ve given up caring. Cost is the over-riding variable and the deciding factor. There is no pride in finished product. And remember, Ikea doesn’t even bother with service!

  18. the Grit says:

    Hi Matt,

    You also have to take into account that high quality items are not always called for. A college student wanting to do a bit of cooking in his dorm, doesn’t really need fine china. Young couples may not be able to afford to furnish an apartment with the best of everything. People who need to move frequently, may want to buy cheap furnishings to avoid having to move them. Another for instance is why I wear $12 Wal*Mart blue jeans instead of a $50 name brand. With normal wear, the higher quality might be worth the price, but, as I manage to ruin at least two pair a year, I would never see the savings.

    As to beds, we have a Mallard (sp?) quarter canopy that was built some time around 1850 and is still holding up nicely. Of course, at an insurance value of $75,000 it is a bit pricey, but the quality is undeniable. Fortunately, my wife’s family bought it new, for a considerably lesser sum 🙂

    the Grit

  19. Pete Smith says:

    The thing about IKEA is they’re deliberately and ostentatiously down-market, the furnishings equivalent of Primark. If you want quality, they’d urge you to go to Habitat (acquired by IKANO, the IKEA parent company, in 1992).
    So you do have a choice after all 😎

  20. matt says:

    I’m a bit of a John Lewis boy me … but only for white goods. About the only retailer in the land that does a 2 yr warranty. Beggars can’t be choosers after all.
    Oh well, guess my daughter will have to have the £300 bed then from Warren Evans Ltd. (a North London chain). But is it FSC sourced wood 😉 .

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