The cost of living: a penny for your thoughts

Thanks to Nigel Grant on Twitter, I discover that Sainsbury’s receipts now carry this line at the bottom:

Based on price perception data, you can live well for less than you thought at Sainsbury’s.

Nigel asks the obvious question: “Eh??”

It can only mean: “We’re cheaper than people think.” Although of course they don’t want to sound cheap – they’re not Lidl, you know! – so they have to say it in a slightly roundabout way. They’ve also tried to mix dispassionate scientific authority with warm, personal encouragement, and the result isn’t entirely happy.

I know some of those Sainsbury’s shops are pretty big, but can you really live there?

And I think there’s another ambiguity (to the kind of perverse editorial weirdo who goes around looking for these things): you can live well for less what than you thought? Less money, they mean. But it could also be less time. It could mean that Sainsbury’s is so astonishingly expensive that buying their stuff will bankrupt and ruin you in less time than you could ever have imagined.

Silliness aside, I couldn’t find any details of this “price perception data” on their website, but it seems that what they mean is:

We’re not saying that our food will always be cheaper than other supermarkets (we’ll never compromise our commitment to quality), but it will cost less than you thought at Sainsbury’s.

(Let’s skate over the implications of the missing apostrophe after ‘supermarkets’.)

What they’ve done here is sneakily blur the distinction between the average and the individual. It may well be true that Sainsbury’s food costs less than people, on average, think it does. But that doesn’t mean that the food will cost less than you, whoever you happen to be, think it does.

Or maybe they do mean that. Maybe, if you do your shopping there and get to the checkout, you can say “Oh, I thought you’d be cheaper than that,” and get a discount.

You’re welcome to try. But I’m not as good a lawyer as you think I am.

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  • Warsaw Will  On May 6, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    I really can’t understand what the perceived problem is here; I can see absolutely no ambiguity. ‘Live’ is used like this every day and is obviously to do with the cost of living. I can’t see how anybody could possibly think it meant anything else. I’ve just googled ‘live better on less’ and ‘Live on five dollars a day’ and got plenty of hits.

    As for the price perception data, that’s another matter, and I imagine that’s what Nigel Grant is questioning, not the ‘live well for less that you thought’ bit, which is simply every day language, at least it is in Britain.

  • Tom  On May 18, 2012 at 7:21 am

    Well, no, ‘live’ here means ‘enjoy a good standard of living with lots of nice things’. In their slogan, the bit that refers to the cost is ‘for less’; in your examples, ‘on less’ and ‘on five dollars a day’ are the bits referring to cost.

    My point is that ‘for less’ could mean less time rather than less money – at least, I stress again, ‘to the kind of perverse editorial weirdo who goes around looking for these things’.

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