Does the Intentional Exclusion of Price Tags Exploit College Students?
Around Boulder, and elsewhere, there has been a growing trend over the past few years: the intentional exclusion of price tags. Such a practice has become a near industry norm at bars, pubs, and other places that serve alcohol (an explicit exploitation of those who are intoxicated), but until recently, consumers have rightfully expected to know what they are going to pay for what they are buying—whether it be bread, clothing, or any other good or service.
Knowing the price of something is the fundamental basis of capitalism and informed consumerism; without an informed purchase opportunity, there exists no possibility for the market to justly supply what consumers demand. However, it seems that the clever greed of particular business owners have allowed them to turn their customers into prey. Excluding the price tag on a given item forces the consumer to have to either blindly purchase the item, or go out of their way to ask the price; but if there are 1,000 (or even 100) unmarked items in a store, there is simply no feasible way to price-check them all. It seems if a business is willing to accept a consumers’ money, they ought to tell them how much money they are accepting.
Such an exploitative practice is particularly present in Boulder, where the price of retail space is high, and the cycling of the college population is constant; in the University Hill neighborhood, where a majority of the residents are college-aged renters, places like “Smelly Deli” and others exploit their geographically guaranteed customer base. These business can get away with such a practice because many of their customers who are blindly swiping a card linked to an account they have no real interest in (such as their parents’) simply do not care how much they are paying for their groceries and other goods; however, for the large portions of the population who are trying to survive on a very limited budget, paying a 400% mark-up on bread and other necessities can be a very unpleasant surprise once at the register.
When asked why they intentionally exclude price tags from their products, the owner of Smelly Deli said, “our inventory is constantly changing, it just wouldn’t make sense.” Such a statement is simply untrue; over the course of the past year, since I first asked for an explanation, I have been periodically monitoring the inventory, and it has remained nearly unchanged.
If there is to ever be an end to such a practice—one that takes advantage of college students in particular due to the fact they are a particularly exploitable demographic—then consumers must learn to defend themselves; consumers must explicitly request bars and stores that refuse to display the price of their items to change their ways, and if they still refuse, boycott them and shop elsewhere. Change is possible through the will of the people; and you can’t put a price on informed consumerism.