Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cheap


No, that does not refer to me. It is the title of this lovely book. Honestly I can't recommend it unless you need a million new things to worry about every time you go shopping. If I could figure out a way to provide for my family without associating with the companies the author mentions I would. But I'm not ready for that homestead in the wilds of Montana just yet.
The main reason I'm even talking about this book is a few things I learned that I figured I would share, in the interest of spreading the frustration around.
The chapter on IKEA was eye-opening, even though I have never spent a dime there and probably won't either. Lots of stuff on their intentionally cheap design process, illegal logging and such, but this paragraph made me laugh, in a cynical, irritated way;
IKEA stores are positioned well outside city centers, in areas where huge spaces can be had at relatively low real estate and tax costs. This business model allows the company substantial economies of scale while at the same time compelling customers to drive very long distances--an average of 50 miles round trip in the United States. Customers must drive back to the store. . . to return malfunctioning furniture or retrieve missing parts (a surprisingly frequent occurrence). . . . the traffic jams surrounding IKEA stores are so gnarly that customers are discouraged from shopping on weekends when lines of idling cars can back up for miles. IKEA touts its "green side" by lighting its stores with low-wattage bulbs and charging extra for plastic bags while its clientele burns through gallon after gallon of fuel to buy disposable tables and lamps. Asked his assessment of company practices, MIT-trained urban development expert Wig Zamore said, "IKEA is the least sustainable retailer on the planet."
Just to clarify, I am do not consider myself an environmentalist, sustainable anything advocate, but I do enjoy breaking down facades, especially when they are as widespread and deliberately deceptive as IKEA's.
Now a shorter quote on Walmart, about something I had discovered for myself.
Much touted "everyday low prices" are applied selectively, often on inexpensive high-volume goods that are essentially thinly disguised loss leaders. Wal-Mart actually has higher than average prices on about one-third of the stock it carries. On those items for which prices are lower, the average savings is 37 cents, with about one-third of items carrying a savings of no more than 2 cents.
Wal-Mart is an easy target, but buyer beware, you shouldn't assume that everything you find there is the best deal.
One more quote, about the value of food. "Americans can eat pizza at about a thousand calories a dollar, or Oreo cookies at about 1,300 calories a dollar. M&Ms at about 3,000 calories per dollar are a huge bargain. Spinach is about 30 calories a dollar, not a bargain."
The statistics that poorer people are more likely to be obese is easily explained by the above information. It is amazingly hard to fight that initial impulse of price before any other consideration. I have been working on it, especially with regards to food. This book helped give that desire a shove in the right direction.

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. Ellen Ruppell Shell. Penguin. 2009

3 comments:

jendoop said...

Sound good, thanks for sharing the quotes. But I agree with the being overwhelmed part. Anytime I educate myself about deceptive retail practices I feel overwhelmed. Whatever little we change can make a difference though.

jendoop said...

An ironic thing that continues to sit in my head, something it seems the populous is saying - give me better healthcare, no matter the cost; but I can't afford to buy spinach.

Tristi said...

This is where I show what a space cadet I can be. I have your e-mail address, and you've done book reviews for me. But I have several e-mail addresses that belong to people who's Blogger identity is a nickname, such as yourself, and on a couple of you, I'm having a hard time playing connect the dots. I'd like to ask you about more book reviews. Would you pop me a note at tristipinkston AT gmail.com and help me get that dot connected?? :)