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What is this even called?
September 11, 2006 7:32 AM   Subscribe

What kind of jobs exist for people who think about numbers and money from a consumer perspective, in a weirdly logical and obsessive way?

Some "experiments" I've done lately:

* Took a colleague's kid-oriented, preservative-laden grocery receipt to four different stores, developed a spreadsheet that compared prices at each store so he'd know where to get the best deals. (There was a more than 20 percent difference in prices between the high and the low.)

* Did the same thing with my organic hippy vegetarian grocery receipt.

* On a 70 mph highway commute, drove different speeds for the duration of an entire tank -- 55 mph one week, 60 mph the next, etc. all the way up to 80 mph -- to see what kind of mileage I got at different speeds. (I get nearly 40 miles to the gallon at 55 mph, and less than 30 miles to the gallon at 80 mph.)

* Developed a shopping strategy, by outlining the clothes I need, finding their retail prices, comparing them to online sales prices, and coming up with a meaningful-only-to-me formula that tells me when to buy on ebay and when to hold out for a more meaningful in-store sale.

* Less money oriented: At the gym, I am lifting weights using a very math-oriented periodization schedule I worked out, and I'm training for my first 5 k run using another methodical schedule.

On NPR a few weeks ago, I heard an interview with a woman who collects data for the Consumer Price Index, which we use as a measure of inflation in the US. It sounded awesome, but it's apparently a very part time job and not one that needs filling in my neck of the woods.

I'm generally happy with my career at the moment, but I can't help but wonder what else is out there that I might enjoy.

Are there people who think like I do for a living, and what is it that they're doing?
posted by croutonsupafreak to Work & Money (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
A consumer affairs reporter for the local TV station?

Also, I would look into optimization type functions. Similiar type thinking. For example, airlines try to have the most efficient use of their airplanes by maximizing the time they are in the air.

Also, Operations jobs where you are analyzing the efficiency of the manufacturing process.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:39 AM on September 11, 2006


Consumer good market research? Proctor & Gamble has open positions for market researchers for example.
posted by GuyZero at 7:43 AM on September 11, 2006


ACNielsen does that sort of market research. Where are you located?
posted by unixrat at 7:48 AM on September 11, 2006


Do you have any entrepreneurial interests? Because I'd pay you for your conclusions on a few of those and I'm willing to bet others would too. It takes a lot of effort to come up with some of those things and that is time I could be spending elsewhere. To be successful you'd need to keep the prices low though, and have each item written up in almost a "peer-reviewed article" way.
posted by jwells at 7:49 AM on September 11, 2006


I knew a guy a few years ago who did data mining working for a supermarket chain using their loyalty card data to work out which coupons to send to which shoppers. (He was a mathematician.)

You might be interested in retail anthropology. The famous guy is Paco Underhill and his company Envirosell is a behavioral market research and consulting company.Our specialty is examining consumer shopping behavior using a combination of in-store video recording, observation and customer intercept interviews. They're the ones who come up with those scary charts predicting your path around the supermarket, where to put big ticket items etc.
posted by boudicca at 9:37 AM on September 11, 2006


In general these types are economists.

It's really a large field then most think. Take a look at Freakonomics
posted by bitdamaged at 9:48 AM on September 11, 2006


I used to work with John Ewoldt, he does a similar thing in his Star Tribune columns.

Some people run sites like The Grocery Game. You pay them $10 a month, and every week they figure out the best deals at (certain) local stores. You can check off the deals you want, print it out, sort it, etc.
posted by GaelFC at 10:18 AM on September 11, 2006


You should totally work for the Cosumer Reports people.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:05 AM on September 11, 2006


Kind of Operations Research or Managerial Economics. It is to consuming as sabermetrics is to baseball.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:16 AM on September 11, 2006


Check out the Environmental Working Group. For example, another example, yet another. Here's something similar, not by EWG.
posted by salvia at 11:52 AM on September 11, 2006


For a little inspiration, check out Tipping Point. Gladwell would call you a Maven.
posted by glibhamdreck at 11:59 AM on September 11, 2006


How does one get from Point A -- doing this strange thing -- to Point B -- getting paid for it ??
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:05 PM on September 11, 2006


I'm with jwells, I'd totally love you devising a shopping strategy for me. That would be something pretty lucrative I'm thinking.
posted by hollygoheavy at 2:18 PM on September 11, 2006


You could be a personal life coach for people who need to get their lives in order in a systematic way.
posted by bcwinters at 2:18 PM on September 11, 2006


You could be a personal life coach for people who need to get their lives in order in a systematic way.

Hahahaha, sorry, no.

I have awesome spreadsheet skillz. I rock with the budgeting abilities. But when it comes to time management and home organization ... not so much. I love the idea, though.

Maybe shopping strategies are where it's at.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:05 PM on September 11, 2006


Very similar person here.

If you can program, there are lots of potential web-based applications that could solve operations-research-type problems like those you describe.

For example, I'd like to see someone use the Google Maps API to create a GUI for the travelling salesman problem, so that you could enter a list of ten places you want to go shopping, and be shown the most efficient order in which to visit them all.

In addition to the topics recommended above, I would recommend you read about heuristics for smart decision-making. Many real-world situations involve too much randomness for heavy-duty planning and optimization to provide a big advantage over the time and effort put into your analysis. In these cases, the best tools are "fast and frugal" heuristics (a.k.a. rules of thumb). Read "Simple Heuristics that Make Us Smart."
posted by lunchbox at 3:59 PM on September 11, 2006


You like doing data analysis. Large businesses have "decision support specialists" who anaylyse data and make purchasing and investment decisions. You might be happy as an actuary, or managing investment funds. A brokerage might like to have your ability to find patterns in money. You'd be a fantastic accountant in a big company.
posted by theora55 at 7:26 PM on September 11, 2006


Check out this NYT article.
posted by lunchbox at 11:38 AM on September 12, 2006


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