I stopped at the Shell station near Pierce College on my way to school this morning.
I stop there periodically because Shell sometimes offers 44-ounce fountain sodas for 99 cents (as opposed to the usual $1.19-$1.79), and I know that one thing I often need in the morning is some fizz.
Sometimes, I’ll grab myself a plain, simple Mountain Dew. I love the stuff as is and I find it especially tasty at 7:30 in the morning. Other times, I’ll dispense my specialty. I call it Black Gold. It’s a mix of cola, root beer and Dr Pepper. I assure you, it tastes better than it sounds.
Well, this morning, Shell was not having its 99-cent soda sale, so I climbed back in my car and carried on to school. When I arrived, I made a beeline for the campus café, which it has its own soda fountain. Sadly, when I got there, I was confronted by a cold reality: the prices in the café are higher than Shell.
At Shell, the fountain sizes range from 20 ounces to 52 ounces, and the prices range from $1.19 to $1.79. The café soda sizes are 16, 22, and 32 ounces, and the respective prices are $1.29, $1.49, and $1.79. In other words, you must pay an extra dime (plus tax) for a 16-ouncer from the café, vs. a 20-ouncer from Shell.
You must pay $1.79 for a 32-ouncer from the café when you can get a beverage nearly twice the size for the same price at Shell.
Of course, I haven’t touched on the worst part of this. The café soda fountain has only half of the selection that most convenience store machines have. I know this well–––it has cola and root beer, but no Dr Pepper, leaving my Black Gold beverage incomplete.
Fewer choices but higher prices? I can say I’m surprised, but I know I shouldn’t be. The campus café is a monopoly; there is only one on campus.
As such, there is no space for competition. No space for competition means that the café is permitted to set prices as high as they want, and have as few choices as they want.
What’s more, the campus café can take advantage of another trend: Students come from every which direction, but all eventually end up on campus. Students could stop at a convenience store and satisfy their cravings for a tall Mountain Dew but that would add more time to their commutes.
Wouldn’t it be easier to get to school, stop at the campus café and get an overpriced small Mountain Dew, which may satisfy a little but not quite enough?
This convenience factor may be considered a deal-breaker for some students, but it’s not for me. Economics is about supply and demand––I want the campus café to know that while I have demand for its soda, I do not want its supply. Maybe if I don’t buy from them, they will have incentive to lower their prices. Granted, I don’t expect this to happen just from my refusal. After all, I am just one customer, and I can’t single-handedly change its prices.
Fortunately, I do know of my other choices. I want to take a moment to give props to the Chevron on the intersection of 112th Street and Canyon Road. Its sodas are slightly cheaper than Shell’s, and if you hang on to your cup, you can go back repeatedly and refill it for just 95 cents.
Every time I go in there, I refill my cup. (I use one cup for about a dozen fills.) I give the cashier an even 95 cents. This woman must think I’m crazy, but she voices no judgment. For this, I am doubly thankful.
So, unlike some on campus, I will skip the overpriced, monopolistic college café.
When you deny me a Mountain Dew at a fair price, I will deny you my business.
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