Hurricane Shopping, Bottled Water and Brainwashing

Friday, September 15, 2017

The nation was abuzz with talk of Hurricane Irma, a powerful category five hurricane headed toward Florida.

While the inevitable destruction and economic devastation were quite upsetting, the storm did provide one noteworthy benefit - the opportunity for me to people watch and see how they allocated their spending money in preparation for Irma's arrival.

I must admit that I was perplexed by many of the buying decisions.

I watched with amazement at the local Wal-Mart as people bought anything and everything with little thought to the practicality of their purchases. Some folks followed my lead and filled their carts with high calorie, shelf-stable items that required little in the way of preparation. Others were a bit more adventurous.

Many items that I would have never thought of purchasing overflowed from customers' carts. Items that required refrigeration like yogurt, or required significant heating like hamburger helper, were flying off the shelves. One person's cart held a large tub of mayonnaise, a selection that made about as much sense as the purchase of road salt in the summer from a south Florida gas station.

There was one item in particular that was in great demand - bottled water. Companies like Best Buy have found that selling bottled water can be hugely profitable during times of natural disaster, a strategy that is even more reprehensible than Best Buy's novel approach to selling chromebooks. Nevertheless, why were customers buying it?

Sure, ensuring access to potable water is vital when preparing for a nature disaster. That said, bottled water is relatively expensive when compared to the cost of tap water - a close substitute that is so inexpensive as to be unmetered in many instances. Why aren't consumers simply filling up reusable containers with tap water, instead of suffering long lines to acquire its more expensive substitute? The question becomes especially puzzling when one realizes that, at least historically, bottled water has been covered by fewer safety and quality regulations. This in addition to the environmental impact of the creation, transportation and disposal of the plastic bottles, many of which contain chemicals toxic to humans.

So why were people buying bottled water, rather than saving time, money, irritation, the environment, and their own health? Why didn't they just store containers of tap water?

It's difficult to say. Perhaps, as described in my undercover investigation of Whole Foods' bizarre pricing strategy for salt, people have simply been brainwashed. They have been trained to think that the only way to store water for an emergency is to purchase it in bottled form.

While I'm thrilled that people are taking the threat of natural disaster very seriously, I wish they would give a bit more thought as to how their dollars were being allocated - if for no other reason than they could use any saved dollars to buy one of my books to read while the power is out.