I confess that I do not shop at the grocery store with the lowest prices on my staple goods. Yes, that’s right – I intentionally go to a different store that, if I buy all of my staples, will actually cost me a few dollars more than the cheapest place. If you’re interested, here’s a visual tour of the place where I sometimes shop.
Why do I choose this store, even though one nearby store has lower prices and another one has almost equal prices? The shopping experience. The store is always clean and presentable, very well organized, and there’s always a person on hand to help me find anything that I’m having difficulty with. I can also observe their meat preparation section. For me, this is well worth paying a few extra dollars on my shopping bill.
Is this justifiable? It’s hard to quantify whether the expense is truly justified, however. The largest difference is really the cleanliness, which does reflect my confidence in produce and meat purchased at the store. Many of the other products are shipped in from outside, are sealed, and aren’t really affected by the store itself. To me, the difference in service and cleanliness does make a difference in where I shop, and I would expect that a few dollars once a week to buy vegetables and other foods in a clean environment is something most readers would support.
On the other hand, I recently spent an hour in a very expensive shopping mall, where I visited a fragrance store. The store was immaculately clean, smelled heavenly, and had a wonderful sales staff, but I knew quite well that I could save a lot of money by buying my preferred cologne elsewhere. Sure enough, I checked at another store in the mall (Younkers) and they had the same exact product for half the price. To me, it’s completely silly to buy the product at the fragrance store.
So where’s the line in the sand? How can one determine whether the extra cost for better service, cleaner environments, and more aesthetic appeal is actually worth it? Obviously, paying a dollar or two more to buy food in a much cleaner environment makes sense, just as looking at other options for buying a fragrance instead of paying the high prices at a boutique makes sense. But how do we find that middle ground? Here’s the criteria I use:
Can I order this item online? This is a big factor. Many items – in fact, almost everything short of perishable food and liquids – can be ordered online and often at better prices than you can find at your local grocery store. I run almost every non-perishable purchase through some online checking before I go out and shop for it – and often it comes much cheaper that way.
Do I get personal enjoyment out of the experience of going there? For a few places, yes. I love browsing at Apple stores and at bookstores, but quite often I just jot down potential purchase ideas in a notebook and leave. If I happen to know a price is comparable, I am willing to buy from these stores. I often go to niche stores (like the fragrance place) to check out the samples and observe the items because it provides an environment where I can evaluate them without having to make a purchase.
Is there an added value from going to the store? For example, if I go to Sam’s Club to look for items, there are often tons of free food samples there, which often takes the place of lunch on Saturday for me. I’m also willing to stop in if they have a tremendous deal on a product that I want – I tend to research and hit Black Friday sales pretty hard, for example. Some people may put their pet political cause in here, in terms of not supporting some stores or products (like the anti-Wal Mart crowd). I certainly put cleanliness of consumables in this category, which is enough to justify my grocery shopping choices – cleaner food is a clear value.
In a nutshell, in some cases the quality of the shopping experience justifies paying a bit more, but most of the time there are so many options available to the consumer that they don’t have to pay significant amounts just for aesthetic appeal.