Routine – And The Importance of Choice

This is a weekend ‘not really anything to do with work’ follow up to yesterday’s post about the importance of routine, and not being a slave to it.

An Illusion of Choice

Just down the road from where I live, there’s a Sainsbury’s supermarket in the final throes of construction. How convenient, I’ll now be able to get my shopping from somewhere a mere 400 metres or so from my house. As this map shows, this will be the fourth Sainsbury’s to open in our neck of the woods, the distance between point A and point D is around 800 metres.

Sainsbury Locations near Wallington

I may be wrong, I often am, and I’m worried that shortly after this new shop opens its doors in just a couple of weeks, several independent local businesses nearby will forever close theirs. I’m not anti Sainsbury’s, we shop there, but I am pro choice. A quick look at the map shows me a big company doing its level best to make sure the main choice you have is simply which branch of their shop you visit. It’s all too easy – all too…routine.

I’m a little surprised it’s that simple to just walk into a town and try to monopolise it like this. Although we signed a petition in one of the local shops objecting to the store being granted planning permission, I could have done more by objecting directly to the council too, so I have a share in the responsibility for this outcome.

I found myself exchanging notes about this situation on Twitter with my friend Anthony Allinson, and he suggests that whilst changes in planning approaches may stem the tide, the root of the problem lies in the way the supply chain is locked down. This scenario is called a monopsony, from Ancient Greek ????? (mónos) “single” + ?????? (ops?nía) “purchase”, a market form in which only one buyer interfaces with many sellers. There’s your word of the week folks – monopsony. Why not pop over to read this excellent blog post of Anthony’s by way of a thank you for the introduction to the wonderful word, monopsony?

When I spoke about this situation with Carole, she recalled stories of Marks and Spencer contracting with suppliers in such a way that they could not produce for anyone else. Then, when that contract expires and is not renewed, the supplier, with no other source of business, fails. I doubt very much that M&S are the only big company pulling this trick, and it’s got an unpleasant anti-competitive tone to it.

A Choice

Just off the area covered by the map, is an independent greengrocer called Carshalton Patch. I discovered this shop a few months ago and I love it. They work hard to source close to home, several of their suppliers are just a few miles away. They compete on price, not across the board but several staple items are just as good value as in Sainsbury’s (I’ve just done a price check and a large cucumber at the Patch is £1.20, it’s £1.30 in you know where). They source interesting varieties of produce, stuff you don’t always find in you know where, and here’s the kicker. Their food tastes great. I buy my tomatoes from Carshalton Patch and I often eat a couple on the way home.

Stop and think for a minute, when did you last buy produce from a supermarket that was so tasty you couldn’t wait to get home to try it?

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People often dismiss this kind of choice because they’re too busy to fit it in. The Carshalton Patch is close by to one of the stations I use to travel into and out of London from (see yesterday’s post for nerdy train map), so I can easily divert to it. The shop is about a mile from home, so I can and do fit my visits to it into my local walks. Yes – I have to make a little effort to use Carshalton Patch, and when they are clearly making a lot of effort to bring me choice, I’m more than happy to reciprocate.

Have you got any great local businesses near you?

4 thoughts on “Routine – And The Importance of Choice”

  1. Variety is The Spice of Life

    After our exchange yesterday I spent a bit of time (I went for a long run) thinking about choice.

    I came to the conclusion that I want to have choice, it is a central feature of freedom.  Pretty obvious that.  So why is having lots of choice so frustrating?

    I then wondered whether it was the wrong question. I routinely decide that questions I struggle to answer must be the wrong ones.

    In the end I decided I prefer variety.   In other words I am less bothered about choice than that the options change from one day to the next.  

    As an aside, I rather think this is where Aldi is getting it right.  There is a narrower range,  the basics are mostly unchanging, but there is always something new, you actually find it because there is less other stuff for it to hide in and, most of all, it is transient, so you know you need to try it now, this very day, or you will miss it.  

    The other things supermarkets have done is an accidental con,  I think they have even deluded themselves.  They have standardised everything to the point where they all sell the same things the same ways.  That means that one can claim to be cheaper than another because you can make comparisons, apples with apples, carrots with carrots.

    Supermarket 1 can claim it’s carrots are cheaper than those from supermarket 2, and they will be right.  The thing is I don’t need or want products to those specifications.  I am happy to have wonky carrots.  I am happy to only eat Braeburn apples for a few months of the year removing the cost of storing them in nitrogen rich atmospheres so I can eat them all year.

    There are all sorts of agendas in there. 

    Carrots from my excellent green grocer Kenyons in Andover are nicer and cheaper.  

    They sell us things we do not need using criteria that do not matter.

    Give me variety, a little bit of random, with fewer choices, and shopping, cooking and eating is an adventure, not a chore.

    Anyway, a bit of planning discipline might slow it all down. As you know, I think the real root cause is control of supply and that fabulously awful word I stumbled on.



    PS Thanks for the blog plug

    1. Thanks Anthony – this is a really valuable addition to the discussion. I really like the Aldi angle – try it or miss out. Either is fine and not something I’d considered previously.

      Cheers – Doug

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