Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why Won't Anyone Clean Me?

Wall Street Journal article "Why Won't Anyone Clean Me?" (February 24th, 2010) misses a fundamental insight into incentives. It speaks on firm incentives to attempt to clean up fridges by educating consumers, and putting reminder cards in fridges on how to store items and clean the fridge. However, it also describes Whirlpool's efforts to make a messy fridge less impactful.

For its new refrigerator, Whirlpool Corp. spent months inventing a shelf with microscopic etching so it can hold a can of spilled soda.

The technology is just one weapon against a dirty kitchen secret: Most Americans clean their fridges only once or twice a year.


Whirlpool hopes that increasing the amount of storage space might help. The company's new shelves—to be released later this year—are 25% roomier than previous models. And the microscopic etching creates surface tension, causing liquids to bubble up around the perimeter instead of spilling over, it says. Currently, shelves in Whirlpool's refrigerators have a plastic rim to help contain spills. Unfortunately, the rims have "the side effect of crud getting stuck in there," says Carolyn Kelley, brand manager of Whirlpool refrigeration. The new shelves—available on new Whirlpool models that cost from $1,199 to $1,499—would eliminate that problem because they don't require a rim to stop leaks.

It is important to note that when one makes a fridge that lowers the cost of it being in a messy state (such as microscopic etching), individuals will substitute time away from cleaning and to other activities. Messiness is less costly, so we invest fewer resource into avoiding messiness (cleaning).

This same issue is a common mistake made by doctors who become frustrated when individuals smoke more after there are medical advances in cancer treatment, or when quitting cigarettes is made easier. The mistake is understanding the end goal of consumers: it is not to minimize dirtiness or maximize life, but to maximize a weighting of both quality and quantity of life.

The article reads as though technology lowering the cost of messiness and education to have consumers clean the fridge have a common thread: a more clean fridge. Corrections suggests that both are working against one another when it comes to a more clean fridge, but work together to make life easier for the consumer.

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