The Cost of Convenience

And the Price of a Memory

Everyone can acknowledge that in current American society, the price of any random goodie from a convenience store generally costs more than that same random goodie would cost when purchased from a larger location such as a department store, grocery store, etc. When asked why this occurs, everyone notes that the answer lies in the name: convenience store. You pay more because you’re paying for the product plus the convenience of getting that product at this location (while you’re concurrently fueling your vehicle, for example.) The concept is related to that old adage, “Time is Money,” which is a phrase worthy of much consideration in a later column.

Say your random goodie was a pair of earmuffs, because it’s a particularly chilly day. The cold is bothering you sufficiently that you’ll buy a pair here for five bucks, even if they are flimsy. You just want them to last through the day, until you get home and dig out your favorite winter hat. When you get home, you toss the earmuffs in a closet and never wear them again.

Alternatively, you could have saved those five bucks, drove five minutes to a thrift store and purchased sturdy earmuffs for three bucks. Yet when you got home, you discarded these earmuffs into the closet just the same. Various other possibilities exist—you suffer for a few minutes and buy no earmuffs; you decide to order the top rated/expensive earmuffs online—but all of them engage a balance of want, time, and money.

We’re in the midst of the seasonal sales storm, and there are innumerable Sirens of Convenience, singing their songs to lure you in, Ulysses. It’s a rare moment when the price of convenience is reversed: the stores are desperately seeking to make things as convenient as possible for you for this small window of days. Ask yourself—what makes my time and money and attention more important or valuable on Black Friday/Cyber Monday than it’s worth any other day of the year?

One answer, by no means exhaustive or even most accurate, is that the company is paying you for your positive memory. The psychological attachment we make to gifts we purchase for others often gives us a good feeling that we attach to the store or seller or product. The same product, purchased on a random day (e.g. July 19) even for the same price won’t give us the same internal oomph (neural connection) that a holiday purchase will—and that’s worth it all, in the eyes of the store. (If you mentally pictured the fox trapping the gingerbread man, I’m sorry that metaphor seems apt.)

This week’s assignment, dear reader, continues on the trend of internal examination. Think about a store you like shopping at. Ponder how much you would spend on the same products if they were sold in a dusty horror movie basement. The difference tells you how much of the cost of the product is tied to the store experience.