The Fallacy of Choice

June 07, 2012

The supermarket I shop at most frequently recently moved. They built a larger new store across the parking lot from their old location. The new store is nice but the area of the store I interact with the most, the deli counter, changed for the worse.

In the old store the deli counter always had trays of pre-sliced lunch meat -- ham, turkey, roast beef, chicken, et cetera -- and pre-sliced cheese -- swiss, provolone, colby, and so on. I could walk up to the counter ask for a half pound of honey ham and six slices of baby swiss and in two minutes I had my plastic baggies and was headed toward the checkout.

With the new store the supermarket brought in Boar's Head meats and changed their entire process. I'm sure the sell behind this was "giving the customer control" or "giving them choice". It's awful. What used to take two minutes can now easily take 15 or more. The entire new process is based around asking the customer questions.

I walk up and ask for, say, a half a pound of honey ham. They respond by asking if Boar's Head is okay.

Boar's Head is the only meat on display. I have learned that there is another, lesser, brand hidden away that you can get. I suspect the Boar's Head franchise requires they point out that you are buying Boar's Head meat and cheese.

They hunt around in the case to find the open Boar's Head honey ham and take it to a slicer. Pretty soon they return to the counter with a slice of meat on a plastic tissue and ask if the thickness is okay. Usually they hold the meat sample up perpendicular to me so I can't see the thickness. Some ask me before hand how thick I want it. I always say, "however thick you used to slice it". This usually doesn't work as all the deli people are new and have no idea about pre-sliced meat. A chart showing the various thicknesses would be hugely helpful.

Eventually they have a half pound of meat on the scale and package it for me. Then I say I want six slices of swiss cheese, and we start the whole litany of questions over again.

Deli clerk: "Boar's Head cheese?"
Me: "Yes"

DC: "Which kind of swiss?"
Me: "Baby"

DC: "How thick?"
Me: "3.75 microns"
DC: "?"
Me: "The usual thickness"
DC: Sandwich slices?
Me: Sure

Since there are so many interactions for each transaction it takes longer. If I get to the deli counter and there are two or three people already in line it can easily be 10 or 15 minutes before I get waited on. I used to leave work at 11:30, stop at the deli for lunch supplies and be home by 11:45. Now on days when I need to restock the lunch meat and cheese at home I am rarely home before noon.

The fallacy here is that Boar's Head, and be extension, Dillon's, think they are taking better care of me by giving me choice and control over my meat and cheese. They took a working, efficient process, and encumbered it with many needless little steps. I just want to buy some lunch meat, and some sliced cheese so I can make a sandwich for lunch. I don't want to play 20 questions with the deli help in order to do so.

I'd take my meat and cheese business elsewhere except that all the other deli counters in town operate on the same "Let's let the customer choose every aspect" model that Dillon's now has. I suppose I'm in the minority of people who'd rather have a selection of ready-cut lunch meat and cheese so I can just choose and go. I'll just have to get used to standing in line and playing 20 needless questions about meat and cheese a couple times a week.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.