Vegetable shopping – It’s not about percentages

Some habits are hard to change. One that is especially hard to change is bargaining for vegetables. I was trained well, I must say, in the bazaars of Jayanagar 4th Block Shopping Complex. I was taught that one needs to do a full round of the market before making any purchase, in order to understand the “market price”. I was taught  techniques that would make the shopkeepers give the goods for the price I offered, I was told what demographics to approach for what kind of vegetables, and over time I must say I became an excellent vegetable shopper, when sent to Jayanagar 4th Block that is.

Another thing that is hard to change is willingness to pay, and this is where I see some irrationality. For example, I’ve just returned from the fruit and vegetable shop close to my house, having refused to buy a cucumber because the shopkeeper asked for Rs. 10 for it, a 100% markup on the not-so-longterm average price of Rs. 5. And that is precisely the problem – looking at it as percentages.

We don’t usually consume too much cucumber. If I’d bought that cucumber it would’ve lasted about a week. So by refusing to pay the “100% premium” for it, I’ve essentially saved my family a maximum of five rupees over the course of a week (and this is in the best case – conditional on my being able to procure cucumber at the “normal rate” soon. Else the loss is larger). And given our not-so-inconsiderable weekly expenses, and the fact that our “discretionary spend” is an order of magnitude larger than the five rupees I’ve saved on the cucumber, this just doesn’t make sense.

The mistake we make here is to look at the percentage increase in weekly budget of the particular item, and base our decision on that. Instead, if we were to look at the increase in the “total weekly budget” (across all items), that could help us get a more realistic figure for our willingness to pay for certain things.

Of course, the big problem here is that even if my rational mind says this, there’s a behavioural issue in paying much more than the price we’ve been “anchored” to. I don’t know how we need to get over this.

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