Why there are two gallons of milk headed for a dumpster

| Thursday, February 17, 2011
The simplest reason is that I made a mistake.

I was sent to buy milk which was on sale. I bought the wrong milk. It was on sale, but not the right milk or the right sale, so it cost too much. I was sent back to return it. Here begins the system.

For health and marketing reasons, the milk will be thrown out rather than resold. It is perishable, so it could have gone bad or at least been left out long enough to go bad sooner than could normally be expected. This is a small health risk, but a more significant marketing risk. Customers want a reliable product and will go somewhere with trustworthy milk.

I could return the milk because allowing customers to return items helps maintain their business. To make such an unprofitable concession builds goodwill, as much as can be expected toward a chain. It is expected, having become fairly standard, so to not allow returns would drive away customers. It shows some faith in products, that the store is willing to risk the wasted time or profits, since they believe their products will not often be returned, and if there are defective products, the customer doesn't bear the full burden of that. They let me return the milk because that is less costly than not having me as a customer.

I then walked back to the dairy section and picked up two gallons of milk of a different brand. What a strange scenario, where I turn a small profit of a couple dollars, for effectively destroying a worthwhile product. I'm in the defense industry or a record company, so this is unexpected. It seems more rational to instead give me the difference in price and let me keep the current milk. I get my money and they get to keep the milk. Everyone benefits. For now.

It's the reverse of the return scenario. When returning a product, the store loses in the short term of the one transaction to safeguard future profitable transactions. In this case, the store would gain, but it would be backing a simple scam: buy expensive perishable, return to buy less expensive, take difference and keep more expensive. For a person with sufficiently cheap time, or who likes evening walks, this would be a way to get expensive items more cheaply. It could also be an accounting and inventory issue for the store.

In the future I will pay better attention when buying milk.

But I will mourn the fact that the most economically sensible fix for my mistake was blocked by fear of the dishonest. Then again, when all parties are acting out of economic self-interest, it would take a lot of naivete to think that the other person will not scam, cheat, and steal the first chance they get. Maybe this has something to do with self-destructive self-interest.

But I'll still demand the exact brand to buy next time.


Leah said...

I had a conversation with the butcher of our local Pathmark about a month ago. I wanted to see what they did with cuts of meat that still look and smelled good but were past their technical expiration date. because you see - I've read that its possible to buy said cuts fro a fraction of a cost and I figured I could use that to up the protein intake for our dogs.

Turns out they throw it all out. loads and loads of perfectly good meat - into the dumpster. they didn't used to before though. they used to have a contract with a pig farmer, where they would sell him that meat for almost nothing and everyone was happy, until that farmer got a bee in his bonnet and decided to sue pathmark because of some sick pig or whatever. so now they get rid of the meat rather then let it be used. safer and cheaper for them that way.

loads of people (and animals) are starving all over the world, and because of the greed of one idiot, perfectly good food goes to waste.

sigh... don't you just love it?

Klepsacovic said...

That's a sad story. Sounds to me like it could have been avoided by writing a better contract, something to the effect of "we won't give you meat older than X days and you won't sue us if your pigs get sick" and then the pig farmer figures the chance of sickness and uses that when negotiating a price.

On a similar note, my family has a couple compost bins out back, which means that between that and recycling we have next to no garbage. Except meat waste. That would stink too much. I'm sure some vegan can make some point about how rotting meat smells so much worse than rotting plants.

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