Are We Too Accepting of Information?

by Meryl K Evans | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Shopping 5 comments

Even with all the gadgets I have and time I spend on the computer, I still look forward to reading the print edition of my local newspaper every morning. Recently, I saw an ad in the paper from a hypermarket (combination of grocery and department stores) that I’ll call CubeMart.

Normally, I don’t pay attention to ads, but this full-paged ad caught my eye because it’s misleading. The ad shows a customer’s shopping list and compares her receipt from two stores. What store first comes to mind that would be CubeMart’s competitor? Bull’s eye. It’d be another hypermarket.

Not in this ad. CubeMart decided to compare itself with a drug retailer that I’ll call CubeGreens. If there was ever a time to use the apple and oranges cliché, this is it. Both serve different purposes. I shop at those two stores in very different ways. When I go to the drug retailer, it’s usually to pick up a couple of items or grab things on sale. It’s walking distance from my house, so it comes in handy during an illness.

I certainly wouldn’t buy pull ups at the drugstore — not because I don’t have kids that need them — but because they’re almost always overpriced. Pull ups, laundry detergent, snacks, toiletries, medicine, plastic bags and nine other items appear in the two store receipts CubeMart used to show the customer would’ve saved 15 percent had she chosen CubeMart.

Even if CubeMart had used a direct competitor in the ad, I notice the fine print says prices may include special prices good through a certain date and they may not be representative of prices in other stores of the two chains. And, of course, it covers itself by saying that prices at CubeGreens may have changed.

This is a simple example of how companies can skew data to tell a story that reflects positively on their brand. Here’s another example. Every year, a popular news magazine publishes a list of the best schools in the U.S. Dig deeper and you’ll find plenty of stories reporting problems with the data used to create the list.

Many accept information without questioning them. This also happens with expert commentary, encyclopedias (both famous encyclopedias have published errors) and wordgraphics. (I call them that because they’re too wordy to be true infographics).

We’re overloaded with information, but we don’t have time to question it all. It requires we change how we absorb information and what we do with it.

Most of the time believing reported information is harmless. If a customer believed CubeMart’s ad and switched (still apples and oranges), the worst that can happen is the customer doesn’t save as much as money as she could have at the real competitor’s store.

When should we believe or verify the information we receive? How do we know what sources to trust?

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5 comments

  • Posted by Lisa B Marshall on August 3rd, 2012, 8:53 AM

    As a child my father would tell stories at the dinner table. He would tell colorful stories–some from the news and other he made up. Why? Because he wanted to teach us to think critically about what someone told us –including authority figures!

    I’m still undecided if it was a good idea or not. I certainly learned the importance of verifying what others say and come to my own conclusions. However, it that has also hurt professional relationships when more initial trust might built the relationship quicker and more deeply.

  • Posted by Lisa B Marshall on August 3rd, 2012, 8:53 AM

    i notice you are using commentluv…what has been your experience? I am considering using it too.

  • Posted by meryl on August 3rd, 2012, 10:45 AM

    Lisa, wow. I think your dad was onto something. Not many parents teach their kids to think critically. What part makes you doubt that it was a good idea?

    As for commentluv, I planned to drop it. It doesn’t work right anymore, but removing it has been a problem.

  • Posted by Lori on August 15th, 2012, 8:01 AM

    Meryl, I love this. I’m also quite tired of the skewed comparisons that stores (the big box stores in particular) are making. It feels desperate, and it feels as though they can’t survive if the mom-and-pop stores are still in business. Very strange.

    I don’t shop at the “cube” stores unless there’s no other option. I go to the local pharmacy, which has a great selection. I buy my groceries at the local grocery store (one store, no chain) and the slightly larger chain grocery store. And the farmer’s market. I buy repair things from local vendors — the blind and drapery store, the garage door installer, the local mechanic, etc. I would hate to see smaller competition gobbled up by the big conglomerates intent on squashing them like bugs.

    But I’m contradictory by nature anyway. :)

  • Posted by meryl on August 15th, 2012, 3:55 PM

    Lori, that’s exactly what I do. Each store has its purpose. Just reminded of this quote that fits this: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics!” :)

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