Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Too much choice makes shopping maddening

The arrival of Consumer Reports every month gives me an unrivaled opportunity to sit in my favorite chair — if none of the puppies or kitties is sitting in it — relax, and pore over the latest findings in the field of comparative commerce.

I don’t know if “comparative commerce” is a real term or not, but I don’t know what else to call it, because that is what it really is.

They take all kinds of things, from toothpicks to semi-trucks, and compare them so you can learn which ones are best, most durable and true bargains.

The lists they publish take a lot of time to digest, because you just never know what to buy until the instructions arrive in the mail.

Do you think I am kidding? I will give you an example. For many years, I bought brand new Chevrolet Impalas, because they got rave reviews — within a price structure I could afford.

Then, a couple of years ago, when I was ready for a new car, the magazine came out with the car ratings.
It found a lot of fault with the Impala but raved about the Malibu.

So I sought out my salesman, Jim Jarosz at Classic Chevy in Mentor, and bought a new Malibu — the brightest red they had.

The next year, guess what? Consumer Reports raved on and on about the new Impala. Simply the greatest! Since I put only 6,000 or so miles on a car in a year, I was nowhere near ready to buy a new car.

So there I was, with my year-old Malibu, bright and shiny red with not even enough miles on it to rotate the tires, and I was being told to buy an Impala.

My reaction: Nothing doing. The Malibu is a wonderful car, and I will keep driving it until it is ready to trade in, and only then will I think about buying a new Impala.

Depending, of course, on what the magazine has to say about the latest models. Don’t forget, I used to buy a new Oldsmobile every three or four years, and they don’t even make them any more.

I am betting that Chevy will still be making Impalas in two or three years and the color selections will be so terrific that I will have difficulty choosing the one I like best.

One year, the lady of the house and I bought twin Chrysler Sebring convertibles, hers white and mine silver, because Jim Brown had found them in Hawaii with only 12,000 miles on them.

They were great cars, but we are no longer convertible people. But I digress.

Consumer Reports not only gives me a lot of food for thought and much, therefore, to chew on, it also reinforces many of my, shall we call them for want of a better word, suspicions.

For example: On many a Sunday, my brother and I have strolled down the toothpaste aisle at Target and have been nearly bowled over by the enormity of selections.

Miles and miles of toothpaste.

A month ago they were featuring Crest. On Super Sunday it was Colgate. And there were dozens upon dozens of different flavors, whitening intensities, packaging nuances, and other considerations.

And by the way, Target in Willoughby doesn’t even sell Pepsodent. Why not? I want an answer. I have given up on Ipana (for the smile of beauty, and Sal Hepatica for the smile of health).

But anyway, in the latest CR there was an entire page devoted to toothpaste, headlined, “Too many choices?”

My response is, “Yes, far too many choices.”

“Do you pick a product,” the article asks, “to freshen breath, control tartar, combat plaque or attack gingivitis?”

Or because you have sensitive teeth, sensitive gums or sensitive enamel.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, CR says, because their shoppers on a recent shopping trip found (get this) 27 different varieties of Crest! (They found only 25 varities of Colgate).

I was overwhelmed. I modulated to the next page, hoping only to be whelmed. There I discovered the CR shoppers had found 11 different kinds of Cheerios in the breakfast aisle.

This is an outrage! Good grief, we are a big Cheerios family. We go through boxes and boxes of them, and I can’t even find Honey Nut Crunch Cheerios any more because I guess Target has given up on trying to stock all 11 varieties.

Once in a while, the lady of the house finds them at Giant Eagle, so she nabs four boxes of them.

But on her next trip to GE, alas, they are now gone.

I think you get my drift. The manufacturers offer far too many choices in everything these days, including Tide liquid laundry detergent (11 choices), Head & Shoulders shampoo (27 choices), and even Thomas’ English Muffins (12 choices).

But that’s the way it is now. There are far too many choices in everything.

Remember when Henry Ford said he would sell you a car in any color you wanted, as long as it was black?

I could live with that.


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