I liked you straightaway, from the moment I stepped through your automatic door. Your prices were low, your checkout staff were allowed to sit on chairs, your wide carpark spaces suited my haphazard driving style. Your best attribute, though -- the thing that really made me keen -- was your lack of choice.
Finally, I thought, a supermarket with ONE brand of oats, and ONE brand of toothpaste, and ONE brand of tomato sauce! So efficient! So unique! So minimalist!
I don't need to be offered 47 types of cereal. I don't want to think about whether my toilet paper should be soft, extra soft or premium-deluxe soft. I haven't got time to examine 10 brands of plain flour. And so, when I discovered you, Aldi, grocery shopping became a breeze. Not enjoyable (because it's still shopping, after all) but much better. I could walk in, fill my trolley and be at the cash register in under 15 minutes. Busy-lady heaven.
And then you changed.
Tim Tams arrived on your shelves. Coca-Cola. Cadbury chocolate. Devondale milk.
At first it seemed like these fancy brands were just visiting. It must be a special promotion, I thought. A cameo, a guest spot. But I soon realised that the product outsiders were, in fact, permanent fixtures. And every time I did my shopping there seemed to be more popular branded items available. I tried to ignore them -- I mean, I'd been getting along just fine without Dairy Milk -- but resistance was difficult.
When did the idea of limited selection become out-dated? Why is lack of choice considered restrictive and boring?
Oh, Aldi, why did you expand your range? Your loyal shoppers obviously didn't mind buying exclusively home-brand groceries. Your cheap prices compensated for the lack of variety. Were you just trying to be cool? Did you want to hang out behind the shelter shed with the big supermarkets?
Well guess what, being cool is overrated. Aldi, I don't want more choice. I want less.
Last week my television announced that there were three new channels coming soon. I already have, I don't know, maybe 20 channels available. More if you count the infomercial networks I deleted as soon as I realised I didn't want to 'Send Three Easy Payments of $49.99!' or 'Buy Two and Get One Free!'
And that's just free-to-air television. What if I paid for cable TV or an on-demand streaming provider? I could have hundreds of channels to choose from. I could spend several hours every evening just scrolling through the guide, deciding what I might like to watch. I could spend so much time deciding what to watch that I wouldn't have any time to actually watch anything.
I remember when there used to be five networks: ABC, SBS, Channel Seven, Channel Nine and Channel 10. Sometimes there was something really good on, and sometimes there wasn't. Choosing a program took no time at all. I didn't know it at the time, but the simplicity was liberating.
When did the idea of limited selection become out-dated? Why is lack of choice considered restrictive and boring? I guess capitalism is an ideology that applauds competition. The more variety, the more consumer connection. Shopping is no longer merely a necessary chore -- it's a passion-driven activity.
MORE ON THE BLOG:
I went to a carpet shop this morning because I wanted a rug for my lounge room. It had to be a) 100 percent wool and b) 2.9 m x 2.5 m. Those were my only two criteria. The helpful sales assistant took me down the back and said, with a grand arm motion, "This is our wool range." There must have been at least a hundred carpet samples.
"Do you want plush? Looped? Two-tone?" she asked, as a starting point. "Some styles have a 15-year guarantee. These ones here are fade-resistant. Were you thinking patterned or plain? What's your budget?"
The choice was overwhelming. I didn't want to consider and compare every single sample. In the end, wavering with uncertainty, I let the sales assistant pick out three, and from that shortlist I was able to select one that I thought would look fine. And it did.
See, Aldi, I don't want to touch 100 types of carpet. I don't want 20 channels on my television. And don't even get me started on insurance policies or phone plans. I'm quite fond of you, but it makes me sad to see Tim Tams on your shelves. I liked you the way you used to be, daggy and unpretentious. If you limit my choice, I'll choose you.
You can purchase Jean's book 'Lovesick' here.