| March 03, 2014
A few weeks ago I spent several hours teaching my Mum to shop for groceries online. The experience was a new one for her, but by the end she seemed reasonably comfortable with the process. There were, however, a couple of things that gave us pause for thought, the most obvious one being how do you choose a cauliflower online?
A visit to my Mum’s larder is like taking a step back in time to my childhood. All the familiar brands are there: Fray Bentos, Del Monte, Baxters, McVitie’s, Marmite and more. These are the brands that habit and salience ensure are on her shopping list time after time. I am not sure she really believes these brands are the best any longer, or would seek them out if they were not in stock, but now her behavioral loyalty is hardwired into the Waitrose system as a list of favorites.
Once we got to grip with the site’s navigation and search functions, shopping for brand name packaged food and household goods was easy. It was not until we tried to buy fruit and vegetables that life became more difficult. Packaged goods are manufactured to be the same each time you buy them, fruit and vegetables are inherently variable in quality (no matter how much the supermarkets pressure farmers to make them all look uniformly wonderful).
This issue was thrown into sharp relief when we tried to choose a cauliflower. If you wanted a whole one there were three alternatives as follows:
The most expensive was organic priced at £2.00.
A little lower in price was a “trimmed” cauliflower at £1.80. This did not look too different from the organic one. Both came wrapped in film, with a label and had the ends of the leaves cut off.
The cheapest was the essential Waitrose cauliflower at £1.00. It looked pretty similar to the other two but was not trimmed or wrapped.
Unless completely motivated by price, my suspicion is that many would simply choose the mid-priced choice given that it is anchored by a higher and lower price. Stores know that the natural tendency is to pick the middle option when people cannot be bothered to think much about their choice. If, however, you do think about the choice, then it becomes very hard to make the decision based on anything other than the price. Is organic really worth more than the other ones? Is it worth more to have your cauliflower trimmed and wrapped? And is the cheapest variant really good value or will it be smaller or in poor condition?
Online, the cauliflowers will look just the same in 10 weeks as they do today, and it will still be just as difficult to choose between them. Failing the ability to review the vegetables in person (anyone fancy show rooming the grocery section today?) the primary means to choose between these alternatives is price, our intuition as to which might best meet our needs, or advice from someone who has actually checked out the produce. If buying a cauliflower online gives pause for thought, what are the implications for other types of brands? Please share your thoughts.