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Demand vs. Supply

It was a gorgeous day in Redmond today, and it was an unlikely Saturday where I had the day to myself. I eventually headed out to shop for a few hours – with the life I’ve been living lately, shopping in person is rare indeed. And if you’re going to shop at the Redmond mall, you’d better pick a nice day since it’s an outdoor mall. Outdoor malls made sense in Palo Alto, but Redmond? I’ll never understand that choice.

A few things struck me about the experience today.

The Borders denouement: It’s one of the anchors at the Redmond mall. I went in to see the situation for myself. It’s somehow more surreal to see a bookstore going out of business – centuries ago books were rare and hallowed objects, and at this Borders the vultures had scattered books all over the place, spilling off of shelves and onto the surrounding floor. I can’t get indignant about the end of the chain – Lord knows I’m a huge Amazoniphile (is that a thing?). But as a teenager I spent many an evening with friends at Barnes & Noble. It doesn’t seem like that would be an option now, a decade later. The experience seemed so timeless in the moment.

Supply driving semand: A strange thing happened in Macy’s. I stopped in the shoe department and was taken with a particular pair of black flats. I was a bit more impulsive than normal, and quickly sent for the pair in my size. A few minutes later, while waiting in line to purchase the shoes, I overheard a woman trying to get the exact same color and size – but the salesman told her that the display pair was all that was left in our size. As I overheard this, I felt some strange feeling of satisfaction. Why on earth would that be so? There is no merit in being the last one to acquire a particular thing, but it did legitimize the purchase in some corner of my mind. “Oh, I made a good choice – other people want these too!”

I’m not sure where that comes from – some evolutionary imperative for hunters and gatherers? It seems so illogical that shoes I’d already chosen seemed more valuable based on some stranger’s choice. It makes me wonder what effect it would have upon sales if the quantity available for particular items was made public. Amazon does this when it exposes the “Only x more left — order soon!” Does that make customers more likely to go through with a purchase? And if so, is that because there’s an implicit endorsement of a product that’s supposedly selling well?

Either way, they were really cute shoes.

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