Study: Uninformed consumers waste money on name brands

A man stares at shelves in a grocery store. Image copyright Thinkstock

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A new study, writes Harvard behavioral economics Prof Cass Sunstein, shows that "the more informed you are, the more likely you are to choose store brands".

Tilburg University Prof Bart Bronnenberg analysed data from more than 77 million shopping trips from 2004-2011, matching the items purchased with the consumers' occupations.

For example, pharmacists were more likely to choose store brands of headache meds over national brands, and chefs often selected non-name-brands of salt and sugar compared with non-chefs.

Consumers without a college degree were more likely to purchase national brands.

"If all consumers were better-informed, then, consumer markets would look very different," says Sunstein, who co-wrote a 2008 book arguing that poor choices are often the product of unaddressed biases.

The report found that by sticking to generic products instead of national brands, consumers could save as much as $44b (£26b).

"It is the least informed consumers who are the most likely to waste their money. Unfortunately, many of them have little money to waste," says Sunstein, who served as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from 2009 to 2012. "One implication is clear - stores ought to be doing a lot more to help people recognise their potential savings."

Notably, younger generations also have an appreciation for non-name brands. Recent research shows that few millennials will spend the large sums of money needed to sport high-end brands.

"The millennial definition of cool does not correlate with high-end," writes Jeff Fromm for Forbes. "This is a wildly important distinction that many marketers miss."


Billboards featuring women spark cultural debate - In Istanbul billboards showing women's bodies have been spray-painted to make them appear more conservatively dressed, raising questions about the public display of the female form.

"Men of all political persuasions feel free to lecture women on how to dress and how to live," writes Elif Shafak for the New York Times.

With Turkey's past headscarf bans overturned, many women are increasingly feeling social pressure to cover up their bodies, she says.

"Those who once felt pushed to the edges of society have now created an environment where modern women like the shop clerk and many others feel more and more squeezed," she writes. "An atmosphere of social inequality and intolerance persists. In cultural battles, women suffer more than men."

Central America

US border crisis is the bitter fruit of gang deportations - As waves of children continue to cross the US-Mexico border, American politicians and journalists are grappling with the regional violence behind the crisis. Americans should realise that this violence stems from their own country's foreign policy, writes Georgetown University PhD candidate Michael Paarlberg for the Guardian's website.

"The current wave is neither new nor terribly mystifying," he writes. "The factors that push and pull them - extreme violence, extortion, forced gang recruitment and a desire to reunite with family - are rooted in the US's heavy hand in the region."

The US exported the gang epidemic to the region with its deportations of criminals and "undesirable" immigrants, Paarlberg contends.

"With each planeload of deportees, the gangs grew stronger, expanding their activities and recruiting younger members by force," he writes. "And it is precisely those children they target who await processing in our border detention facilities today."


The unraveling of a fragile state - In the past week nearly 50 people have been killed at Tripoli's airport as rival political parties and militias wrestle for control of the Libyan capital. It may be connected to the nation's recent parliamentary election, writes Mohamed Eljarh for Foreign Policy.

"The Islamist forces faced a devastating loss at the ballot box and now face a genuine existential threat," writes Eljarh.

Following the announcement of the election results, Islamist militias attacked the airport in hopes of stopping the new parliament from meeting, he says.

"Islamists have now opted for more extreme and unorthodox tactics in an attempt to reach some sort of bargain that would guarantee them a role in Libya's future."


Employment is the answer to the refugee crisis - The real crisis in Jordan is not the threat of Islamic extremists, writes the Atlantic's Alice Su. It's the country's increasing refugee population.

"From a humanitarian perspective, the refugee crisis is one of survival. From a human perspective, it's one of purpose," she says. "But what happens when immediate relief morphs into long-term sustenance, spilling out of the camps and into the cities?"

Providing refugees with employment would help them support themselves and their families, Su writes, rather than relying on resources from refugee camps. Jordan is unlikely to do that, she contends, "largely because the kingdom survives off international funding it receives for hosting refugees."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Regional commentators react to reports that forces allied with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) have expelled Christians from the Iraqi city of Mosul.

"This is painful not just for the Christians of Mosul but for anyone appreciating the value of this deep-rooted and major component." - Batir Mohammad Ali Wurdum in Jordan's Al-Dustur.

"The kind of Islam that now exists in Mosul will be used by the West against us. The expulsion of Christians allows the West to verify that we marginalise the 'other', love bloodshed and crave violence." - Abdul-Hadi Raji al-Mijali in Jordan's Al-Ra'y.‎

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