Monday, January 2, 2012

Retail Paralysis

On a couple of occasions I have found myself in a foreign country needing over the counter medication and have found it rather time-consuming to decide what exactly to buy. First there is the problem of different names for familiar ingredients. Who would have guessed that acetaminophen is called paracetamol outside North America? Then there is the problem of unfamiliar brand names. What criteria to use to decide whether to buy Madame X's or Doctor Y's cough elixir?

Now, I'm experiencing the same thing when it come to buying groceries and drug store items in Edmonton. I'm in the same country, but I may as well be overseas. And the problem is exacerbated by an abundance of choice. There are no fewer than four grocery stores within reasonable walking distance from home (and as the car hasn't arrived yet, we're definitely walking). The trouble is that they're all unfamiliar. One I've visited a few times before in Atlantic Canada, but it's also the farthest and seems to be the smallest, offering mainly an upscale urban selection. Still, it does have some nice products and offers frequent flier miles. Another store I've heard of before, but have never visited. It seems to be the biggest and offers a good selection of products (plus, if only we had our car, it offers a discount on gas if you purchase a certain minimum amount of groceries.) There are too many possible criteria, some of them quite arbitrary, by which to choose a store. And the same is true of the three or four drug stores in close proximity.

But having chosen which store to shop in today, then there is the problem of unfamiliar brands. Which brand of milk should we buy? How do we decide? And there's some sugar with an unfamiliar brand name, but a familiar-looking package. Turn it over. Yup, it turns out to be made by the same company as the brand we used back in Montreal, but using what must be a Western brand name. At least with that information the choice is easy.

All of this, plus the unfamiliar layout of each store, makes shopping a much longer process than usual. We have to stop at just about every item and spend a minute or two trying to decide which version to buy. Store brand? Local brand? National brand? What looks promising? How do prices compare? It's far from an exact science to make each decision, and the criteria vary each time. We probably look like deer caught in the headlights to other shoppers, as we slow their progress.

All of this will pass, of course. Within a few weeks we'll be familiar with the store layouts and the selection of brands, and shopping will once again be a quicker process, as we become capable of finding what we're looking for. But for now, it's a learning and discovery process. Part of the latter is finding new and exciting regional products, like Saskatoon Berry jam. (Yum!) Who knows what discoveries still await us?


  1. Great post! Sounds a bit like you're experiencing the psychological phenomenon of Choice Overload.

  2. Thanks, Kitty. Choice Overload sounds like the right diagnosis, if I had to choose one. ;-)

    This, too, shall pass...