2/17/2013

02-17-13 - Rambles on Mattresses and Retail

I'm finally getting around to trying to buy a new mattress, after the last new mattress that I bought turned out to be a dud (don't buy an S brand).

One of the better stores around here is "Bedrooms and More", which sounds just like a national chain sleaze-o-rama mattress trash peddler, but is actually not. The owner does some funny rants online and he suggests that the real shittening of the S-brands is due to private equity. Interesting idea; certainly there's no doubt that the S-brands have gone to total shit.

Of course we should be mad at the corporate overlords for sending product quality to shit, and generally using dishonest schemes to maximize short term profit. But I'm also angry at consumers for letting it happen. The only way to direct good behavior is to punish people who behave badly. And that just doesn't happen, neither in social life, nor capitalist life. People are amazingly (foolishly?) forgiving. Your only weapon as a consumer is your money.

Hanging out on Porsche forums a few years ago (zomg what was I thinking), I kept having my mind blown by how short-memoried everyone was. Even people who were pretty realistic about what fuckers Porsche had been in the past were all ready to buy the new model. (background : back in the early 90's, Porsche almost went bankrupt; they were completely restructured to focus more on marketing and profit, and less on quality. They intentionally drove the quality of their products down to the absolute minimum (actually, below minimum). This was the era of the Boxster and then the 996, and the early cars that were made were complete junk, some of the worst made cars for any money (worse than a Tata or god knows, it's hard to even think of an example of a horribly made car any more), the engine blocks were porous, the cylinders were out of round, there was cheap plastic inside the engine, and of course terrible cheap plastic everywhere in the interior, it was just a total clusterfuck). The rational consumer response should have been : whoah you guys are lying fuckers, we are never going to buy anything from you again. Instead most of the people were just incredibly forgiving and short-memoried, like yeah that was bad, but they'll fix it in the next model!

Wouldn't it be nice if products that cost more were actually better? Then you could just look at the range of products, pick your price-quality tradeoff point, and buy one. It would still be a tough decision, you'd have to weight how much you want to spend on this thing, but you would at least know that spending more got you something better. In the real world, that's not remotely the case. It's so nice when you go shopping in a video game RPG and you can just buy the more expensive sword and know it's better (and it's so fucking retarded when video games designers throw in wild-cards of expensive items that suck or really cheap items that are great, you dumb assholes, you don't get it, the game world should not make me do all the stressful shit I have to do in the real world).

I've always wanted a grocery store that actually selected its products for good cost/quality tradeof. That is, a good store should only sell things on the Pareto Frontier. Why the fuck do you have 50 different olive oils? I have no fucking clue what all these olive oils are, don't offer them to me. You (the retailer) should be an expert in this product (and also act as an agglomerator of customer feedback). There should only be like 4 olive oils to choose from, at various cost/quality tradeoffs (and also some for finishing vs. cooking oils, but let's pretend right now that there's only one axis of "quality" for olive oil), so I can just choose how much I want to spend and get the best oil at that price.

I had a funny self-realization moment at Soaring Heart when the salesman was saying how everything was made locally and they pay health care and benefits for their workers, I instinctively/subconscious thought "yeuck, that means bad value". Apparently my subconscious wants to buy products made in sweatshops. More generally I've got a major bias against ever giving money to someone who seems to be living well. When I see a realtor in a fancy car or a contractor who gets a swim and massage daily, fuck you I'm not giving you money, I want my pay to you to be barely enough to support human life, you should be in miserable subsistence conditions, not living it up! I guess I'm also biased against anything made in America; my mental image of Seattle mattress builders is not great skilled workers (like New Yankee Workshop), but something like failed philosophy PhDs who smoke weed while they work and don't know WTF they're doing (like Workaholics).

6 comments:

Roy Jacobs said...

"I've always wanted a grocery store that actually selected its products for good cost/quality tradeof."

I want this not in grocery stores but just everywhere. The problem with this is that you need people who understand what they're doing. In a chain of grocery stores this may even be doable (just get some chief buyer who knows his shit and then orders the goods to be sold by the actual stores), but for smaller chains this is probably impossible.

Basically, I want every store to be a local, friendly store where you can ask for Widget X485 and they immediately know what it is, what a better alternative is for less money, etc.

super friend said...

"Why the fuck do you have 50 different olive oils? I have no fucking clue what all these olive oils are, don't offer them to me. You (the retailer) should be an expert in this product (and also act as an agglomerator of customer feedback). There should only be like 4 olive oils to choose from, at various cost/quality tradeoffs (and also some for finishing vs. cooking oils, but let's pretend right now that there's only axis of "quality" for olive oil), so I can just choose how much I want to spend and get the best oil at that price. "

This was an interesting idea to me. I decided there was a serious problem though; for most products (olive oil is a good example) there are many more than one or two axes. Another way of looking at it is that people have individual tastes that are not reducible to a few numbers which are quantifiable in such a way that you can say "California Olive Ranch is always better cost/quality than Bertolli, therefore always prefer it". Some people might like the taste of Pompeian for some reason, some might want olive oil only from greek olives, some might want to buy a certain olive oil that they heard was good on TV. (It doesn't matter if YOU would consider their choices to be rational or correct, the point is that THEY want what they want).

Hence the admittedly ridiculous proliferation of olive oil brands.

There are probably other factors here, like the grocery may profit in the end from confusing the consumer, olive oils keep for a few months (I hope they have opaque bottles!) so it's not hard for them to keep a wide variety on the shelves. But my main point is that choices can be complicated.

For an even more extreme example, try applying your 'axes' thesis to music. I have no idea what music you pesonally like but are the Beatles always better quality than Justin Bieber? Most knowledgeable people would say yes, but obviously there's a market for Bieber and many people prefer his music. So should music stores only stock Beatles in their limited 'B' aisle?

Thatcher Ulrich said...

I've had some experience with a Tempurpedic mattress and I found it pretty incredible for back (and arm/shoulder/etc) happiness. I don't own one myself, just a generic memory-foam mattress topper, but perhaps for my next mattress.

Jonathan Blow said...

I remember the previous round of mattress discussions (I was looking for something at about the same time). I got a European Sleep Works mattress and have been super-happy with it.

Jonathan Blow said...

I remember the previous round of mattress discussions (I was looking for something at about the same time). I got a European Sleep Works mattress and have been super-happy with it.

Николай Цеверон said...

Read more: http://www.rss-news.biz

old rants