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Be Careful When Using Cheap Versus Expensive In the Grocery Business

I worked for an older gentleman (Jim) in the health food industry many years ago. He had spent his adult life working in the grocery business and eventually owned two small local grocery stores. One was a small mom-and-pop store for those who needed essential items; the other was a vitamin shop that evolved into a health food store. During all of those years, he acquired the necessary knowledge and a unique way of communicating with his customers to help grow his business and make it a success.


One day, I asked him which bread was cheaper, the whole wheat or the rye bread. Before he responded, he emphasized the importance of not using the word ‘cheap’ or ‘cheaper’ when comparing prices in the grocery business. According to Jim, using ‘cheap’ would convey inferiority, which you try to avoid – especially in a small grocery store. If you want to compare prices, you should use less expensive, more expensive, or least expensive. Using that five-letter word in a grocery context, especially when Jim was around, was strictly “verboten.”

Indeed, even though I learned a valuable lesson that day while in the grocery business, I'm still not inhibited from using it in some situations, if I find something in a toy store, electronics retailer, or hardware store that is not well built and will not last regardless of how much money is thrown towards consumers by marketing departments, I may use this 5 letter word: context is everything.

Cheap conveys an inferior product, especially in the retail business. 

However, that one day, I was corrected by Jim, who stayed with me not only while I worked in the health food business but still resonates with me today. Over 30 years later, when I hear someone use the word 'cheap' or 'cheaper,' I slightly cringe, although it's not my place to correct them or suggest an alternative unless they may be receptive to such a suggestion.


Anyway, it's been a blessing and a curse. If I don't know the person well and they use the word 'cheap,' I have to understand the context. Are they conveying that it's a good deal at a very low price and might be a valued purchase, or should I stay away as the item is not manufactured well? When people are not nuanced when using 'cheap,' it can be irritating but, of course, expected.


I guess sometimes ignorance is bliss.

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