I have recently moved house. I moved from a small and very ordinary town in Oxfordshire to a bustling area of London. What a contrast! From largely white to multi-cultural, from sleepy to vibrant, from staid dormitory to entrepreneurial.
One of the big differences is shopping. In Oxfordshire, there was little choice but to buy all your groceries from one of the big supermarkets. When I first lived there, there were many butchers, greengrocers and bakers. Over the years they have all shut up shop, unable to compete with the demand for the convenience of “all I need under one roof” and “open when I get home from work”, even if supermarket prices can be high. Here I am spoilt for choice, especially with butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers. What a delight to be able to wander up and down the stalls, with the noise of vendors shouting out offers, with the bright colours of peppers, tomatoes, oranges and lemons and the indefinable smells, looking for the freshest, the fattest, and (wishfully) the tastiest.
The right price
One thing though took me by surprise. The price of bananas. Most of the market fruit and vegetables are good value by comparison with the supermarkets. But bananas? I’d guess the market price is about double the price in supermarkets! What is the right price?
What is going on? The big chains compete with each other, not with market traders. If one shop puts a price down, the others pretty much follow suit. If one decides that bananas are to be a loss-leader, probably the rest do too. And this sort of pricing is like a ratchet – if it becomes established, it is very hard to move it in the other direction. The supermarkets may paint themselves into a corner.
Pricing matters – and not just because companies exist to make a profit. Price sends a signal about what something is worth. “You get what you pay for” as the saying goes. Paradoxically, you may get more people coming to an event for which they have to buy a ticket than will come to one that is free, because the free event is not valued. Needing an income, I once took a job which paid considerably less than I had previously been earning. Result? I got very bored because no-one thought to use my higher skills. I was pigeon-holed by my price, and I left as soon as I could. Pricing that does not match value may serve a necessary short term purpose, but in the end it serves no-one very well. The right price matters.