Apples To Apples…Or Is It Not That Easy?

Comparing products can be very frustrating for consumers. I personally find a lot of frustration when venturing through a grocery store. Last week, my wife asked me to pick up some milk and a dozen eggs on my way home from work. I’ve been buying these products on a regular basis for all of my adult life, so you’d think the task should be quite simple. When approaching the egg section, the choices, as anyone who does their own grocery shopping knows, are borderline overwhelming. There are brown eggs vs. white eggs. There are several sizes of eggs. Hormone-free eggs, cage-free eggs, omega 3 additives in eggs, and that’s just off the top of my head. To complicate things even further, there are several companies selling each of these options. In all, to simply take a guess of how many different types of eggs there are in the average supermarket where I shop, I’d have to guess I have at least 15 (seemingly) completely different egg choices. The pricing on these ranges from the mid 1 dollar per dozen up to almost five dollars a dozen. That’s almost a 400% difference in price, for basically the same thing! As for the milk, it doesn’t get any easier.

So, why is this relevant to a blog post for me? My little grocery store frustration is not very well understood by me, but what I do understand is diamonds. On the topic of diamonds, I find people making the same assumptions all of the time, and I get frustrated from the completely opposite standpoint…As in trying to point out politely but passionately that what they’re comparing are two completely different things. And the answer I often get, which goes something like “but they’re both 1 carat diamond earrings in 14K white gold” is presumably just as misinformed, but as easy of a trap to fall into, as me saying “They’re all just a dozen eggs”.

One story that I tell my sales teams, which seems to surprise some people, is what I often do with customers when they’re making an important jewelry purchase. In particular, the instance that comes to mind, although I have been known to do this on several occasions, took place several years ago at Christmas when I was working in our Portland, OR store. A man that I was working with for quite some time was looking to purchase a pair of diamond earrings for his wife, and he was a longtime Shane Co. customer. This Christmas, he informed me, he was watching every penny he spent very carefully. After showing this gentleman dozens of pairs of earrings, we had settled on the pair that was perfect for him. When he informed me that this was the pair that best suited his needs, I very naturally asked him, “So this is the pair you are going to go with?”, and to my surprise, he said that he needed to look around a bit more, at the mall across the street. I was surprised, but said I completely understand, and wanted to know what he was looking for further, as obviously I did not completely satisfy his needs with what Shane Co. had. He informed me that that was not the case at all, but he heard that a jeweler at the mall (he couldn’t remember if it was Zales, Kay, or Helzberg) was selling the “same” earrings for a much cheaper price. I quickly told him that was impossible and I was going to prove it to him. He was shocked at my conviction, and wanted to know how I already knew that he was incorrect, so I explained our practice of constantly shopping every other jewelry store in town, how we buy our product, and how we price our product. But of course, he didn’t believe me, as a representative from Shane Co., I know I wouldn’t if I were in his shoes! To make a long story short, I asked him to please go to the mall and purchase anything and everything that he thought would beat out what I was showing him, and if he liked theirs better he could keep them, but if not , he could go back across the street and return them. I even told him that I would keep his earrings off to the side, not something we normally do during the Christmas rush. So, we had a deal. Not 60 minutes later, the gentleman came back into our store, with his head and eyes looking at the carpet. I asked him politely if he’d like me to retrieve his earrings so he can compare them to what he saw across the street. He softly informed me that he would just go ahead and buy ours. I said, “didn’t you bring anything to compare them to from the mall?”, and he said he could tell from all he had learned that day that what he saw at the mall, at the same size I was showing him, was quality he was embarrassed to give to his wife, and what he saw at our quality at the same size was significantly more expensive. I said to him something like, “then why are you so upset, I’m glad you are making an informed decision?”, and his only answer was, “I’m upset that I didn’t believe you and just wasted an hour of my Christmas shopping!”.

So, the moral of the story is, when shopping for an item that you view as a commodity, and you’re shopping solely based on price, do yourself a favor and make sure that you’re truly comparing apples to apples, and not being tricked into thinking that everything you’re looking at is the same thing. An informed shopper is an empowered shopper. Now if only there was an educator in the dairy aisle of my grocery store!

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