Supermarket mind games

As you race through your weekly shop, bargain hunting with the best of them, stop to consider what really lies behind all the discounts. Peter Sherwood reports.

Maybe I’m beaming a light on the obvious but take a closer look when next you’re on a merry romp to the supermarket, that great swirling black hole into which you dump loads of cash every day. For awe inspiring silliness observe the pricing trivia, and tell me this is not twaddle on a galactic level. Tell me it’s all fine and dandy and does not insult your intelligence, perforate  an artery, or tempt you to rip the liver out of the jokers who devise it. 

Ask why a supermarket works to create the illusion of cut-throat competition – with itself. Why frustrate when it could just as easily make shopping fun? 

Institute of Food Foolery 

I picture a rollicking meeting each morning as management gather and, blindfold and giggling, throw darts at a multi-price products board. It’s not business rationale that sets the level of customer irritation for the next 24 hours, but luck and a lot of laughs. They don’t call it a game, but sport it is – winners and losers. And because they own the game the outcome is predictable. 

If I hope for regular sustenance I have to play, starting with wine, that ancient relaxation tonic that stops me whacking retail racketeers on the noggin with a pile of ‘still fresh’ pig parts. The wine fiasco begins with a bottle reduced from HK$80 to HK$65. The eternal sucker in me dives in for a dozen. Two days later it’s four for HK$108. 

Any effort to express contempt  only raises a sly caveat empto snigger: ‘Hey Scrooge, we saved you 15 bucks on an HK$80 bottle. Stop your bellyaching.’ 

Among the losers some will be seen as winners, while all victors will become the vanquished soon enough. Simply put, we will eventually discover we’re being mocked  courtesy of an infuriatin rollercoaster gleefully controlled by suits in Central. 

Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. Unless, of course, you’re in Spain in August. Every year the impoverished village of Buñol holds La Tomatina, donating 100 tonnes of over-ripe ‘love apples’ for tourists to throw at each other. In Spain, a can of tomatoes costs about HK$4 any day of the week. In our locale it can be anything from HK$15 to HK$30. 

So back to our supermarket bosses and their Institute of Food Foolery which attempts to raise the mundane philosophy of flogging baked beans to high art. Rejecting monopolistic accusations, the owners will snigger and point to ‘that other’ emporium with the news that this second voracious same price vortex that devours your hard-earned cash makes the system a duopoly – inspired propaganda reinforcing a depressing truth for the defeated. 

I’ll never know when the vino  hits bottom. I’ll consult the law of averages, grab five dozen, and deliver a nervous Shiraz-soaked thank you to Bacchus – at least until tomorrow.

Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 18 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and he has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.


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