Multiple Choice

Posted on June 1, 2010


Have you been down the shampoo aisle lately? More to the point, when did shampoo rise to the level of deserving its own aisle? Why are there so many different kinds? And as if trying to keep track of the dizzying number of brands and variations of this product weren’t confusing enough, they all suddenly have dopey names like “Color Me Squeaky” and “Tressed to Kill.” (I made those up. I hope.) There’s shampoo for dry hair, oily hair, permed hair, colored hair, curly hair, straight hair, damaged hair, thick hair, thin hair, and the one almost nobody has anymore, normal hair.

Is the vast selection necessary? Or is this another case of consumers falling for marketing razzle-dazzle? Because it’s very likely true that we could get by with five or six different kinds of shampoo. This is detergent we’re talking about, after all. The demand is there, you may be thinking, so what’s the harm? Well, another nibble at the wallet, for one thing. When health & beauty companies decide to introduce a new product line (never just a product, but always a line), the cost in research, development, manufacture, packaging, advertising, and shipping means higher prices for everyone. Even those of us who simply want to wash our hair without making a public statement.

Shampoo is just one example of this trend toward more and more choices. Are you old enough to remember when you could go to the store and buy a bag of potato chips? Now it’s a twenty-minute project: dill pickle, roasted chicken, ketchup, sea salt & peppercorn, zesty jalapeno, garlic with a hint of rosemary, kettle chips, organic chips, thick cut, extra thick cut, baked, low sodium, low calorie, and on and on.

Orange juice. At one time, not that long ago, you could grab a carton of orange juice on the run. Now you need to get a graduate degree in chemistry before you go to the store. There’s pulp-free, low pulp, extra pulp, calcium-enriched, low acid, acid-free, Omega-3, not from concentrate, extra vitamin C plus zinc, light, homestyle and country style, and original.

Same with pain medicine: night-time, daytime, cold & flu, allergy relief, headache, toothache, muscle ache, joint pain, migraine, extra-strength, ultra-strength, aspirin-free, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, non-drowsy, fever relief, tablets, capsules, caplets, liquid-gel. Just trying to find the right product can give you a pain somewhere.

How about vacuum cleaners? These are machines that suck dirt off the floor. Next time you have a few hours to waste, go visit the vacuum cleaner section of an appliance store and notice how many different models each company makes. Then take a look at how many different vacuum cleaner bags there are.

The selection mania has even reached the pet department. Can a dog tell the difference between chicken & veal and chicken & beef? Have you ever watched a dog eat? Does any pet need food with the word cuisine in its name? What about the ever-present homestyle? (It’s hard to know what that term means in general, but when it refers to dog food, that’s a real mystery.) There are dog shampoos, too, which is probably a good thing. They don’t have their own aisle yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Speaking of time, I have my whole day planned out tomorrow: I’m going to buy a bottle of vitamins. Wish me luck.