[Creative Writing Contest] The Rise of The Effective Shoppers

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Back in the old ages, shopping was a hobby, not a science.

People used to lazily stroll through supermarkets with their baskets, looking around to see if anything caught their eyes. Whenever something did, they’d plop it into their basket without thinking twice and continue loafing across the tile with a superficial smile.

Rather than analyze quality, people picked the products with shiny labels, bright colors, and sexy fonts, the ones that gave them a visceral dopamine burst, the ones that evoked a pure but fleeting sense of glee. They shopped for the packaging without giving any attention to what was inside. They would occasionally show off this packaging to their friends and family, as an expression of personal identity. Look at me, they said, I’m the kind of person who buys things that look pretty and feel good. This was the socially accepted and enforced norm.

There were no price comparisons, not even between stores. Nobody shopped in any store except the one closest to their home; it didn’t matter if the next closest store was only five minutes farther.

If an item cost five dollars, that was its perceived universal price. People couldn’t even fathom that it might cost less somewhere else. Nobody even dared to experiment, because the rumors would quickly spread throughout the neighborhood. Anyone who tried would be an instant outcast, a traitor, someone who had breached the loyalty of the neighborhood community.

People bought what their friends and neighbors told them to—not because they were confident in the quality judgments of their associates, but out of fear of being seen in a bad light. It was considered rude not to blindly accept the recommendations of others, and anyone who didn’t do so would soon amass a negative reputation.

This was the status quo for several thousand years of human history. It was a hopeless time. Not even fluorescent tube lights could lighten the darkness that plagued every consumer.

Then came the effective shoppers. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, they arose from nothing to quickly become a powerful and rapidly-growing movement of people who radically rethought the status quo approach to shopping.

They realized it was useful to spend time making big purchase decisions carefully, instead of impulse buying. They developed quantitative measures to carefully weigh the risks and benefits of each option, and employed them on their grocery trips. They optimized their path through the aisles, pushing their carts with laser focus. They boldly compared prices and qualities between stores, and identified the supermarkets with the best prices.

One wing of their movement was devoted to product evaluation. They would try out new products and report their results to the rest of the effective shopping community. These product evaluators would identify the most promising products that hadn’t been tried yet, and they would conduct rigorous quality tests to determine whether it was worth spending money on them. (They were careful to avoid products that had a high risk of causing the consumer personal harm, like shoddy power tools and sketchy food.)

There were also shopping priorities researchers, who thought about what types of products were worth spending more money on. They helped effective shoppers balance their carts and allocate their discretionary budgets wisely.

Some effective shoppers developed books and tools to help others shop more effectively, and to help foster productive intellectual debate over the best effective shopping techniques. (The effective shopping community placed high importance on openness and intellectual humility.) Other effective shoppers ran local effective shopping groups, taught effective shopping fellowships, put on effective shopping conferences, and hosted fun workshops to help people increase their checkout bagging speed.

Finally, there were those who made it their mission to spread the principles of effective shopping. They went to elite universities around the globe, recruiting the fastest and most competent shoppers from elite universities. They developed career advice to help these promising young candidates gain jobs at the most powerful supermarkets in the country, so that they could convince those companies to buy better products wholesale.

The effective shoppers even started effective shopping funds, which recently amassed over $40 billion in donations. They have not yet spent most of this money, because they still haven’t found the best products to purchase.

As they gained ground, a miracle happened: the makers of products suddenly had an incentive to create better products.

Rather than creating advertisements that hijacked the emotions, they highlighted the quantifiable value of their products. They competed to create the cheapest, most efficient products, the products that would help shoppers reach their goals the fastest for the least amount of money.

The effective shoppers encouraged producers to give credible and quantitative quality guarantees, developed product certifications, and pioneered transparency standards like ingredients labels. The range of products being sold in supermarkets slowly became better and better.

However, many people criticized the effective shoppers. First were the neighborhood loyalists, who thought that the effective shoppers were giving too much attention to stores that weren’t their own. Then came the producers of products labeled as high-priced and low-quality, who were indignant that their businesses were being so coldly dismissed. These producers were joined by people who argued that quantitative measures weren’t applicable to product choice, and that gut emotional reactions were instead the best ways to select products. The largest and most vocal critics claimed that the effective shoppers weren’t putting enough emphasis on changing the entire supermarket supply-chain system.

But the effective shoppers shopped anyway, and triumphed. Slowly, more and more people adopted an effective shopping mindset, until their philosophy eventually became the norm. They led shoppers out of an embarrassing phase of shopping history, and accelerated the development of extraordinarily useful products now enjoyed by many across the globe. The impact of the effective shoppers will be felt for many generations into the future.