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Consumer choice, or IQ test?

Posted October 19th, 2012 by Andrew Goodman

As a consumer, the more experienced you get, the more rituals you see played out, the more often you develop a certain set of convictions about what is truly “throwing your money away,” as opposed to paying for convenience, style, or a true indulgence. Most of us have stored up some variant of George Costanza’s scornful “Get my car repaired at a dealership? Why don’t I just flush my money down the toilet!,” to be applied in familiar situations.

Now I do get my car repaired at a dealership sometimes, and it’s usually under warranty in any case. But I have more and more of these kinds of convictions. I never buy the “insurance” and “additional warranties” that come with seemingly every consumer electronics and appliance product today. And I’m pretty sure that I think people who do are innumerate and being exploited by those who are actuarially sharper.

And of course, in many car dealerships there’s the extra salesman you talk to after the first salesperson. This is the guy who tries to sell you tinted windows and strange insurance packages and extra warranties on a car that is already costing you an arm and a leg. A fool and his money, etc.

A family member is buying a condo, and we recently sat down to look at the finishes and the offered upgrades. And I couldn’t help but think that the people who work in that industry must think of their upgrade price list as some kind of IQ test. Like they talk about the buyers after they leave the “upgrade meeting” — “Yep, they were standard well above average IQ. Looked at the entire list of 42 potential upgrades, and the only thing they bought was the electrical & lighting upgrade.” You *could* buy yourself $15,000 worth of hardwood, extreme counters, better cabinets, and the fanciest kitchen faucet on the market, or you could put that on your down payment and figure out if you wanted to and could afford these little touches in a couple of years, when having them installed privately would be 30% cheaper anyway.

There are, of course, exceptions to the IQ rule. Older people with plenty of money who are downsizing from a very nice home, for example. They have good reason to expect the best. And for younger spendthrifts, “dumb” could just be a way of saying “vain.” They’re not quite the same thing.

Regardless, we found out some time ago that the “dumb, vain” markets of McMansions and easy credit and nickel-plated showerheads isn’t recession-proof. At some point, people realize they don’t have the money for this stuff.

But happily (as the lipstick effect shows), recessions can’t dissuade us from enjoying small indulgences that cost a lot less and allow us to stand out and feel special, or just take a nice break with friends and family. The “home foodie” market is exploding, for example.

And snacks are clearly a form of personal expression. I sure found that out when I gave out 1 lb. bags of various different kinds of treats (from my friends at at the PPC Mechanics session at SMX in New York recently. Having my own views on snacks and healthy indulgences, I tend to fall into the trap of thinking we’ll run out of one type of treat and be left holding the bag on other kinds. “Who would want those?” But there is no accounting for taste.

  • One marketer in the audience specialized in skin products. He seemed to be right for the role, clearly a health nut and attired impeccably. What did he request? The multi-flavored pack of Gummies. He tore open the back and began chowing them down.
  • One of my panel-mates most definitely wanted the chocolate covered espresso beans and said they would be perfect on the 2.5 hour train ride home. I’m glad I wasn’t her seat-mate there!
  • The sound man was happy to be offered a pound of joy and chose probably the least healthy option (but devilishly good and unbeatably fresh): malt balls.
  • Other people had strong opinions about dark chocolate covered almonds, fresh raw almonds, and the other generally healthy choices.
  • Poor Matt van Wagner, the guy responsible for the whole panel and keeping everyone engaged and laughing along, was stuck with the last remaining treat (one of my personal faves: the BBQ peanuts). I hope he liked them.

Sometimes — happily — being a consumer isn’t an IQ test. You pick what you like, and munch on it. That concludes my “analysis.” Anything else is going to be too much for a Friday afternoon!

And if you’re looking for something a little different for Hallowe’en;)

One Response to “Consumer choice, or IQ test?”

  1. says:

    Hi Andrew, great article! We’re going to feature it with a short blurb on our website. It’s scheduled to publish tomorrow evening. You’ll be able to find it at

    Take care, and keep writing!



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