Sunday, March 31, 2013

Revealed preference and empty words

I saw this list of the 12 worst Supermarkets earlier today.

I was pretty sure Shaws, the local monopoly in Cambridge, MA, would be number one but it fell all the way to #3 because the stores are clean. Ranked just above it, at #2, was Wal-Mart.

Yes, Wal-Mart, the largest grocer in America, which faces stiff competition from a variety of regional chains and yet tends to dominate wherever it goes . . . is the kind of place no one wants to shop at.

So what should we trust, what people do when they go and shop there, or what they say when they say it is one of the worst supermarkets?

Probably the former. The survey (apparently) gives equal wait to prices, cleanliness, food quality, and service. That means Shaws can make up for 30 and 40% markups by having a clean store with clear aisles. But would you be willing to pay 30% more for the right to shop in a cleaner store? I'm not.

Wal-Mart customers complain about long lines, bad meat, and poor service, but are "highly satisfied" with the prices. Evidently if I can shave $50 off you grocery bill you're wiling to wait 10 extra minutes in line. That make's sense. $50 for 10 minutes works out to $300/hour for your time.

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