The Manchester Christmas Market has moved from the spacious Albert Square, which is being dug up, to several different pedestrian streets around the centre. That works well in the sense that different streets have different themes – so one is mainly eating places, one has stalls selling craft-type items and so on.
I was there last week for the HCSA (NHS procurement) conference where I was speaking, and I had a wander around the market when I arrived on Monday night. The big question of course was – what should I eat? Fully loaded Patatas Bravas from the El Gato Negro stall, right outside that restaurant? A large slab of pizza? The special Christmas Parma from Parmogeddon (!), including chicken parma, chips, gravy, stuffing balls and pigs in blankets?
I spent a good 20 minutes looking around the market, but given the Germanic origins of these markets, I finally settled on Bratwurst with onions in a roll from The Witch House. And it was delicious. A roughly nine-inch (22cm) sausage, very tasty, and £7.50 which didn’t seem cheap but wasn’t too ridiculous. (OK, I confess, I has some patatas bravas as well…)
I headed off back towards my hotel, taking a different route, and not 100 metres from my Bratwurst stall, I came across another selling similar products. Except… this one was offering half-metre Bratwursts – in larger rolls of course – for £7! Literally more than twice as much sausage for a slightly lower price!
I was devastated. After my extensive market research, tramping the streets on a very cold night, I had missed the key supplier that could have met my needs in an optimal value for money fashion, if I had just spent a few more minutes looking around. Or maybe if I had conducted my research in a more structured manner I could have discovered my nirvana – perhaps I could have got a list of all the sausage sellers and actually checked them all out before making my choice?
Now clearly, I don’t know how good the larger sausages were. My selection seemed very good quality, and perhaps the giant competitor was not up to that standard. A good procurement person would of course ask that question, and might wonder how the seller could offer such a low price per metre compared to the competition. But as I walked back to my hotel, I was definitely suffering from a bit of buyer’s remorse.
So, based on my sad but true story, what can we learn from this particular bit of sausage-related Bad Buying? One key learning is that it is hard to know sometimes just how much market and supplier research is necessary to support and inform a good buying decision. We can’t spend as much time on that as we might sometimes like – clearly, it would be silly to spend hours researching a £7 sausage purchase. But if there is anything to be taken from this, it is perhaps the point about structuring the research. My random walking did help me make a decision; but doing a little bit of planning, and using some information that was available to me, would have led to a better decision.
And going back to my previous existence at Spend Matters, I wonder whether procurement people sometimes choose procurement technology solutions in a similar way to my decision – a bit of a random walk around the first available products they find. So if you are in the market for a solution, do carry out some structured research, don’t just wander blindly around the many available products. Because if you do, you might just end up with the nine-inch sausage instead of the eighteen-inch.