With the proposed 2022-2023 budget having been laid in Parliament, a lot of Trinbagonians have been forced to be more circumspect in how they spend their precious dollars, especially as many public sector workers are still earning at pre-2104 rates!
Nevertheless, something has happened to us even before this budget that should be a cause for concern, as—in the words of Malcolm X—we have been surreptitiously robbed, hoodwinked and bamboozled! And what, you might ask, is the commodity of concern at the centre of this maelstrom? Would you believe it is toilet paper?
Yes, that same commodity that was the subject of monkey-see-monkey-do panic buying at the outset of the pandemic almost 30 months ago. Allow me to explain.
Possessing a membership card for a well-known warehouse chain, I am almost guaranteed to purchase a bale of toilet paper on any given trip there. Said warehouse has had an exclusive brand of toilet paper for years upon years that boasts 400 two-ply sheets per roll, compared to the 280-320 that most retail brands offer.
Recently, my mother made an observation that something seemed amiss with our purchase. Where the toilet paper is stored at home seemed inexplicably roomier than before and rolls seemed to offer more play than before when placed on the wall dispenser.
When she pulled an older roll from a decorative holder to compare with the recent roll, the newer purchase was visibly narrower than the older one!
A man of science (and known to purchase items likely to be actually utilised only years later—literally!), I unearthed one unopened roll purchased in July 2021. Comparison of the packaging with the newer roll confirmed our suspicions. The old roll is listed as being 4” by 4” while the one of more recent vintage carries a 3.5” by 4” listing.
A difference of half an inch is not much, right? Wrong! That’s precisely what the producers want you to think.
But the scientist in me has a flair for the mathematical too. So here goes: an individual sheet on the new roll is 2 square inches smaller in area. Across a single roll, that is 800 square inches less paper than previously—over five and a half square feet! And that’s per individual roll!
In a bale, there are 40 rolls. Quick maths time: that’s 222-plus square feet of product reduction. For perspective, that is more than the equivalent of the floor space of two standard-sized 10’ by 10’ rooms!
I’m certain many of you buyers of this toilet paper are only now realising that we’ve unknowingly snuggled up to a deception. But the deception does not end there. While the size of the roll went down, the price of the bale went up!
Pre-pandemic, the bale, with more bang for your buck, used to cost less than $80. Its reduced equivalent now costs over $90.
Right-thinking, fair-minded individuals will, I feel certain, be dismayed by this turn of events. Price increases are inevitable—it’s the corollary of profit maximisation. But shouldn’t your selling strategy be either to reduce the size/quantity of the item while selling it at the same price or to retain the item’s size/quantity and increase the price?
To reduce both size/quantity and increase price at the same time is to take advantage of an unsuspecting public. Par for the course, the unnaive will point out…
If pressed on the issue, I’m almost certain, retailer X and manufacturer Y will point accusing fingers at each other. Don’t blame me, it’s his fault.
We have long been told that there is no honour among thieves. But the public relations people go out of their way to persuade us—the beleaguered buying public already stressed and strained by financial issues of all types—that we can trust manufacturers and wholesalers and retailers: the profit maximisation class.
Really? Why then do we need such things as standards bureaux, food and drug administrations and the whole panoply of consumer protection organisations?
So we are left with first principles. As far back as in Roman times, we were warned caveat emptor, usually rendered as “let the buyer beware”.
Nowadays, following my discovery of this toilet paper treachery, I submit that a more appropriate translation might well be this: Buyer, be price smart.