A Fine Fish of Kettles

Our kettle broke. As my wife was going out for a couple of hours on Sunday morning that seemed the idea time to wander to a shop. I said I would see her when she got back as “It will not take long to buy a kettle.” Little did I know how wrong I was.

On Saturday my wife put the kettle on. Shortly after she commented that there was water leaking from places that you would not expect it to leak from. We immediately raised our electrocution risk status from Baseline Blue to Surreal Sepia to account for the unexpected quality of the leaks, and ceased boiling. Sunday morning breakfast was achieved using the manly art of boiling water in an open pan.

After a leisurely breakfast I meandered into the centre of the city. Only to encounter my first obstacle: United Kingdom Sunday Trading Laws.

With strict limitations on how long larger shops can open on Sunday and the marketing of Christmas in full swing, all ones that might sell a kettle were opening later than usual to maximise their late opening. This left me with time to fill before they opened, and only bad coffee to do it; fortunately, the grit and bitterness made a long drink longer while the heat still worked against the weather. I returned to see the shutters raised.

New Kettle
Is a photograph of a kettle boiling hip enough on its own, or should I apply a filter?
(©Dave Higgins – CC BY NC SA 2.0)

With the gates to the kettles finally open I decided to begin with a famous catalogue shop; for what they lacked in fancy displays they would surely make up for in available stock. Only to discover that kettles were sorted by unusual criteria.

The first division was into kettles that matched toasters and kettles not matching toasters. Unliveried kettles were divided into selected kettles and kettles by manufacturer. Selected kettles were divided into kettles with plastic shells and kettles with some metal in their shell. Some kettles appeared in more than one section.

Deciding that this division did not properly represent the kettles, the entry for each kettle showed four potential qualities of a kettle along with whether or not the kettle had it; apart from the reassuring statement that all the kettles had volume, the qualities were not the same for each kettle and might emphasise the absence of a low value benefit (such as a water gauge on both sides) over a major benefit (such as being cordless). Where a kettle was in more than one section the qualities emphasised were often different.

This arrangement made buying a kettle based on the quality of conveniently boiling water tricky. However, a lifetime of legal research, detective fiction, and role-playing games allowed me to overcome the challenge. I found a kettle and they had it in stock, so I submitted my order.

Only after payment was authorised did they reveal it was in stock not in the shop itself but in the warehouse elsewhere within the shopping centre. It would have to be sent for. So I thanked my habit of carrying a book and settled into the least worst of the customer chairs.

Not knowing either the mightiness of my quest or the tenor of my character, the assistant who arrived with my kettle was stunned to note me in howls of laughter upon discovering the kettle came in a box 1mm too large to fit into my rucksack.

Finally, package unpackaged and chortle recurring, I was victorious.

All I need to do now is develop a heuristic based on the new manufacturer’s assumed volume of a cup of water.

Do you find the criteria shops use to sort products amusing or frustrating? Do you value function over form?

3 thoughts on “A Fine Fish of Kettles

  1. Shop owners, especially grocery shop owners, are the spawn of the devil. I will qualify that to limit it to very large shops, but only because small ones don’t have the space to create adequate confusion. Not only is their shelving logic incomprehensible, but they monitor customer activity to find the precise point at which most people know where to find something, and then move the offending item to the least likely place. They also have a global cartel, which has a personal vendetta against me. Once their spy network alerts them to the fact that I have grown fond of a particular brand, no matter where in the world I might be, they cease to stock it, often strong-arming manufacturers into completely stopping production of it as well.


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