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  • Ofer Setty

To buy or not to buy? That is the question.

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

I approached the grocer with a package of blueberries and he said: “Don’t you want another one? One costs $5 and two cost $8, it’s worth it.” I made my decision and walked away with a couple of insights.

A few days ago, I was walking around Tel Aviv and passed by a fruit and vegetable market. It was Friday and I thought it would be a good opportunity to buy a package of blueberries to make pancakes on Saturday morning. “One package is enough, and the blueberries will be fresh,” I thought to myself. I acted a bit like a tourist and didn’t check the price, but when I approached the grocer, he asked me: “Don’t you want another one? One costs $5 and two cost $8, it’s worth it.”

The wheels in my head started turning. If he wants to sell me the second package for $3, that means he’s making a pretty good profit. Let’s say, $1? 33% is a reasonable profit, so what then is his profit on the first package, the one that I actually need?

“Well, I won’t probe into his finances. I’ll just try to decide what’s best for me,” I said to myself, but then I realized that neither option is ideal. If I only take one package – I’ll miss out on a consumer opportunity. If I take two – I’ll be stuck with something I don’t really need. I made my decision and walked away with the realization that two things actually happened here:

The first – that in just a few moments, I transformed from a carefree urban tourist to a consumer focused on products and sellers. The second – I came to the market knowing what I needed, and all of a sudden, I was no longer sure of what I wanted. Need – one package. Want – perhaps two. This is precisely the way in which our desires can change and adjust themselves to what we can (sometimes barely) afford. The result is a persistent feeling of not having enough. It doesn’t matter how much growth we’ve manage to sustain, we will always feel that there is a reason to buy just one more thing, we will always feel that there’s a reason to work just a little bit more.

Our shopping experiences often involve deliberation, and this is by design. From the perspective of the seller, a scenario in which he can present two alternatives maximizes his profit. On the one hand, without the discount on the package of blueberries – you would leave the market with exactly the one package that you wanted. On the other hand, the discount causes you to think and perhaps purchase the second package (even if you won’t use it in the end). This is often what happens when we visit stores and malls as well.

However, unlike in the fruit and vegetable market scenario, in the world of consumerism – which is jam-packed with sales, advertisements, promotions, and customer retention tactics – the customer doesn’t always take the time to do the math. Some will benefit and others will lose, and at least in my opinion, all of us are part of a society that sanctifies consumption over need.

In the end, I chose to buy a single blueberry package. I left with what I really needed. The conflict between need and desire within a consumer opportunity context did not escape me, but it did make me think about what I wanted – to be more of a person and less of a consumer.



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