Comparing Retailers Beyond Mere Dollars and Cents

One local grocer offers employee ownership, great health benefits, and an enjoyable work environment. Whenever I go there, I see people with badges talking about how they’ve worked there for thirty years. Whenever you have a question, there’s virtually someone in every aisle who will walk you to whatever item it is that you’re looking for.

Another grocer in the area offers no employee ownership and no health benefits. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the same person working there twice. When you have a question, you might wander around for fifteen minutes looking for someone to help you.

However, the prices at the first grocer are about 25% higher than the second grocer. Which one do you shop at?

One retailer employs more than a hundred people in the community and has donated more than $100,000 to community projects. Another retailer employs no one locally and hasn’t donated a dime to any community projects in our area. The prices at the first retailer are generally about 20% higher than those at the second retailer, after delivery. Which one do you shop at?

One grocer has a clean and well-organized store, with signs clearly indicating where most items are. The items are in consistent places when you visit later on. Another grocer seems to place items out wherever there is space and there’s no guidance as to where items are. Items are rarely in consistent places. The first grocer charges about 10% more for the items in the store. Which store do you shop at?

I’m pretty sure that different readers will have different answers to the above retailer comparisons. Some readers value how a business treats its workers and is willing to pay a bit more at a retailer that treats workers well. Other readers might be willing to pay a little more for a consistent and clean shopping experience. Still others might prefer the retailer that’s heavily involved with the community. Some might simply seek the lowest prices regardless of the situation.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these approaches. All of us should be willing to pay a little more to support the things we believe in.

Here’s the catch, though. Many of the non-monetary reasons we use to select where we shop aren’t based on fact.

We might use old experiences without real evidence. For example, I refused to shop at Aldi for many years because I had one bad experience at an Aldi almost two decades ago. In this one branch, I witnessed a level of uncleanliness that made me uncomfortable and, because of that experience, I painted an entire grocery chain with a stigma in my head.

Over the last few years, I’ve started shopping at Aldi again, with no ill experiences. In fact, there are quite a few items that we buy at Aldi for our household because the prices are exceptionally low.

We might also use personal anecdotes from friends without real evidence. One of your friends has a single bad experience with a particular retailer, then makes sure to bash that retailer to everyone he or she knows. Since that person is in your social circle, the negativity spreads and becomes almost “fact,” even though it may have nothing to do with fact.

There’s also a lot of unsourced claims running around online. I can’t tell you how often I see absurd claims about retailers, politicians, religions, political stances, and countless other things just in my own Facebook feed, let alone elsewhere. If I believed half of that stuff, I wouldn’t trust anything on earth.

The reality is that most of that information is without merit. It was made up by someone with an axe to grind, honed to appeal to as many people as possible, and made easy to share. Never, ever make a decision about a retailer (or a politician… or an idea… or anything else) without multiple sources of verified fact.

Another factor is that factual statements about the integrity or quality of one retailer may actually apply to other retailers. Just because one retailer touts how well they treat their employees doesn’t mean that another retailer treats their employees poorly. Similarly, just because one retailer has a poor reputation for employee relations doesn’t mean that similar retailers treat their employees better. Never make a broad stance with just half the information.

These are simple steps that we can all follow. With retailers, it can save us money without stepping away from our ethical boundaries. With many other aspects of life, these steps can help us find the truth hidden underneath the emotional appeals and off-the-cuff rants.

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