Friday, April 24, 2009
Two nights ago I was relaxing here at home when my doorbell rang -- a rare occurrence in my apartment building. It was an older woman, armed with a stack of paperwork, conducting a consumer survey. As president of the co-op, I was about to ask her to leave the building when she waved $75 in cash in my face.
For $75? Sure, I’ll take your survey.
She ran through a list of questions about my reading, TV watching and moviegoing habits, and had me name the magazines I’d read in the past month. Then she paid me and gave me a thick questionnaire, saying if I completed it, I’d get another $75.
Now, I do not buy a lot of stuff, and as you may remember, I don’t have a TV. I could skip whole categories of the booklet devoted to things like automobiles, make-up, hair care and television. So when I sat down with it last night, I thought I'd make quick money.
Man, was I wrong! This book asked about everything: My clothes-buying, banking and grocery-shopping; travel habits; personal values; media consumption. For every product I had to note whether I’d bought it in the last six months or year, which brand I’d bought, which type of product (baking soda or non-baking-soda toothpaste, tartar control or regular, gel or paste) and how many times I’d used it in the last month or so.
There were whole categories for things like Cornish hens (did I buy Perdue or Tyson?) and Frozen Corn on the Cob (Bird’s Eye or Green Giant?). Granted, I was able to skip most of these categories, but it was exhausting to comb through so much! Breath fresheners, lip care, domestic dinner and table wines, foreign travel, batteries, computers, movie viewing, ready-to-eat sweet rolls and pastries, frozen hot snacks (love that disparity, don’t you?), fresh fruit and vegetables, frozen orange juice, rubber gloves, cat litter, “removable self-stick notes.” I was horrified to discover under toilet paper a variety called “moist wipes,” which I don’t want to think about.
It took me nearly five hours to complete the book. Which makes me think I should get more than $75.
I discovered some interesting things, though. For one thing, although I am generally brand loyal, I sometimes don’t know what brand I buy. I shop purely out of habit, grabbing the same product from the shelf that I bought last week or month. When the booklet asked me, for example, which brand of tuna fish I eat, I had to go and look. (Turned out to be Bumble Bee.)
I was nearly crazy by the end of this project. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been for people who shop for an entire family!
(Photo: Tribeca, April 2009)