January 23, 2019

Information poor, information rich

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I had not really planned this when I started this blog run just a short time ago, but a lot of things happening  out there in the real world just now seemed to raise questions about information in economics – in Foggy Markets it was about how information may be more complex than it should be for the purposes of market efficiency, in Copper-Bottomed Forecasting I asked if a copper cable could give better information about economic trends than a gnarled economics professor, and in the Business of Queues it was about how queues could give information about demand, costs – and multimillion dollar multinational mistakes.

And by the way all that follows below actually happened, on my honour as an academic (I nearly said “trust me, I am an economist” but that always gets sardonic laughs from the MBAs)

So continuing this information theme – or thread – I was on a family holiday last week and we arrived after dark where we knew the hotel we had booked should be but could not find it. Eventually finding a large car park in its rear gave the secret away. In the morning (and it was a nice hotel, but quiet) I could see at the front of the building there was something missing.

Missing information

Next day I mentioned this little problem to the owner and he acknowledged this by hauling out a beautiful sign and saying that it would cost him several hundred pounds to fit it and there were other priorities for spending his income.

Maybe it’s me. There was another really nice hotel near where I lived which did great bar meals, but we never knew when they would be served.  When I mentioned this to the owner, he pointed to the times for meals over the bar. When I said people would have to come into the bar to find this out he came out with the immortal; “if they are not interested enough to come in, I am not interested enough to serve them”.

Anyway that hotel now makes a nice block of apartments and has gone. As has what was a nice cafe just off the Grassmarket in Edinburgh which had unusually early opening times but only usually had me in it because there was nothing to tell people that it opened at these hours.

(at this point a little aside – on that same street – and the link here is geographical proximity and information – there is a second-hand bookshop where once in the Eighties I asked if they had any Steinbeck. The assistant looked up from the book he was reading, said “we only do authors  A to M”, and went back to reading. I know this should have invited further questions, but for the life of me I could not think of any as good as that answer.  The bookshop is still there, whether despite or because of its idiosyncratic niche marketing or idiosyncratic salesman, I have not gone back to find out)

Apple store on Michigan Ave.
Image via Wikipedia

All of which is counterpoint to what was an amazingly rich information environment on that same family holiday last week. I found an Apple store to browse, I had been thinking about an IPad, though not about buying it on holiday. There  were numerous blue T-shirted people there who I would have called salespeople except one told me they did not have individual sales targets and being an ignorant economist I could not imagine how you could have a salesperson that did not have a sales target, as did just about every salesman I had bought a car from (by the way why so few car saleswomen?).  And the Apple Blues seemed to spend their time telling rather than selling, full of information when you needed it and not giving information when you didn’t need it.

As I walked out the store with my IPad 2 under my arm,  I wondered if these blue T-shirted people would ever learn what I had thought of as traditional marketing skills and what would happen to Apple if they did.