I’ve had a frustrating few days, so I’ve been a little prone to irritation. As the current Chair of a local charity I’ve been dealing with a couple of planning applications aimed at improving facilities for residents and visitors in our village. The powers that be appear so entrenched by their reading of their regulations that they’re blind to the realities of the situation. It’s no wonder those who work for local authorities (I was employed by such for a number of unhappy years) become known as ‘Jobsworths’!
However, this piece is really about the fallacy of so-called customer choice. My wife and I shopped recently for a new sofa, as our old one no longer offers the support we need. We found a place where five different outlets are congregated on a site near enough for us to walk from one to another; an obvious place for our search.
We parked in the ample car park and entered the first outlet. One thing became immediately clear: sofas are now made for people with extraordinary leg lengths, if the depth from front to back of the seat is any guide. Not a single sofa provided lumbar support and every one proved too high for us to comfortably sit with our feet on the floor. (We’re not particularly short, but neither are we tall).
We left this first shop and tried the next. Exactly the same situation. Is there some conspiracy involving the health industry so we all develop back problems and need to seek medical help?
On to the third. Here, we again looked at well over a hundred sofas in all shapes and designs, and all, apart from one we discovered hidden behind a corner, failed to provide proper support due the enormous front to back seat sizes. That one sofa, available in two and three-seater versions, was available in a variety of different fabrics. Hopeful.
But we like proper choice, so we tried the other two outlets, only to discover they duplicated the others in the sense that every sofa was big, wide, and deep (how does this fit with the diminishing room sizes of most modern UK homes?). Fortunately, our home is a few decades old and has relatively spacious rooms.
We returned to the third outlet and chose our fabric and placed the order. We both loathe shopping, so the idea of going elsewhere was anathema. Our new furniture should be with us in around eight weeks.
But where, we wondered, was this wonderful choice we’re told we have as shoppers? What we actually found was a selection of unsuitable furniture that was merely copied in each of the different outlets – clearly a fashion trend. We could’ve missed out the other four places and confined our search to the one that housed our final choice without having missed anything at all. Really, the only ‘choice’ on offer was location and style of display. The sofas were all more or less the same.
Isn’t this the case with many consumer items, and especially with supermarkets? There’s a pretence that we have choice, but, with the exception of the ludicrously expensive and the downright cheap, there’s little real, practical choice on offer in many products. There may be many different brands and versions of the same goods, but the actual items are surprisingly similar.
One wonders at the attitude to responsible and sustainable use of resources such false choice engenders. End of rant!