What do you do when you get to the supermarket, for example, and you don’t find the exact product or brand you are so used to buy? Do you upgrade or do you downgrade?
This may look like an innocent question, but stop to think about it for a while.
Last time I went to the super-big-expensive_market near my office, I couldn’t find my regular hot chocolate mix brand, Nestlé’s Carnation (you know I buy hot chocolate at the supermarket and then get the hot water from the coffee machine, instead of paying $0.50 for half a cup of hot chocolate).
I get so frustrated when this happens! I don’t like changes on my routine, mainly because I have to calculate the outcomes and the costs of said changes. Then I started looking at the alternatives. Several other hot chocolates were even more expensive than Carnation, and several others were less expensive.
The cheapest ones, you know, looked cheap. The expensive ones, oh my god, all of them looked delicious and creamy and chocolatey! They have fancy packages, with amazing pictures and they are placed right there, in front of my eyes. I don’t even have to bend to reach them!
I am pretty sure you’ve been there, right? So, what do YOU do?
You have three different options here:
- You buy nothing.
- You buy a more expensive brand.
- You buy a less expensive brand.
Let’s talk about each of them.
You buy nothing.
If we are talking about a first necessity item, like toilet paper, chances are you are going to look elsewhere, right? Maybe you will get it at another supermarket or at the mini-market on your way home. In this case, we must consider asking the same question again: what if you don’t find it there either?
But if we are talking about a non-necessity item, like chocolate, maybe you just go home a bit frustrated and that’s it.
You buy a more expensive brand
From the informal poll I conducted with a couple of friends, this seems to be the default choice. Why?
First off, we like to think about ourselves as fancy little creatures. We deserve better! We can afford it, it’s just a can of hot chocolate mix, come on! And by doing this we are giving the first step into lifestyle inflation.
Dan Ariely talks about this in his book, “Predictably Irrational”. Do you know when you pass by a restaurant and see a bunch of people forming a line outside? You immediately assume this restaurant is good. By buying another more expensive brand, you are just putting yourself on a line outside of this restaurant.
If the new brand you are trying is good, chances are you will buy it again, even if your old favorite is available (and cheaper). “I’ve tried this and it’s good. Let’s take it again”. This is you looking at the line outside of the restaurant, only that you are the only one on that line. You build a mental system that “proves” you that this new brand is good. And every time you buy it, it’s like there is a new person on that line: you confirm time and again that this must be good for you.
Notice, however, that we will happily change our fidelity from one product or brand to another even if the new and more expensive one is as good as the old and cheaper one.
Supermarkets know that. I am seriously convinced they take medium-priced products off the shelves temporarily to promote more expensive alternatives. Because they know we are going to bite this bait and go for the fancier product and we will never look back.
What can we do in these cases? Well, this takes us to the next option…
You buy a less expensive brand
I know it’s super difficult to do this. You work hard, your college days are long gone and there is no need to buy No Name products, you can afford better stuff, right?
Well, if you think like this, you have big chances of be ruining your financial present and future. Like I said before, lifestyle inflation is a serious thing. If you upgrade your choices every single time this option is presented to you, it will come a day when you will not be able to afford your lifestyle anymore.
And, like I always say to my clients: “I am sorry but you cannot have it all”. Unless you have infinite money, which is not the case (nobody has infinite money).
So, consider this option. Consider downgrading the price you pay for a product. Do this once and try to be really honest with yourself. Analise if the most expensive alternative is really better. Chances are you will not even notice the difference.
Make a test!
Buy a cheaper alternative once and ask your wife/husband or kids if they see or feel or taste a difference. Of course, if the difference is noticeable by everybody, than you should consider going back to the brand you are used to.
For example, I cannot believe that rice can be that different from one brand to another to justify a price gap between them. Anyways, we bought a cheapest one, nobody complained and then we adopted the new brand.
On the other hand, we tried this same experiment with cola soda, and it was a total failure. Orange juice was the same case.
Getting back to the hot chocolate mix, I tried Nestlé’s Rolo brand (it was on sale) and I just couldn’t stand it, too much caramel for my taste. The other day I tried the No Name equivalent, and it was ok. It was not as creamy as Carnation, but it was totally acceptable for my hot-chocolate-at-the-office needs.
I’ll probably continue buying the Carnation if it’s on sale, but if it’s not available or if it’s just too expensive, now at least I know I have a choice.