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Chipotle Filming Trend and People in Free Markets

When customers come to your store, they expect a certain amount of value for their money.

Americans are upset about inflation and shrinkflation. Not only have prices gone up, but many consumers feel that companies have reduced the portion sizes of their products. Understandably, this has left them feeling upset and even robbed.

Among the companies that have been accused of shrinkflation is Chipotle. There have been widespread accounts on social media of customers claiming that despite rising prices, the portion sizes at Chipotle are smaller. Some customers have even walked out mid-order due to their outrage over the portion sizes.

Customers decided to take action by filming employees as their burritos were being made. There are widespread reports in outlets such as CBS and the Huffington Post that people are using this strategy to get employees to provide them with more food.

While Chipotle denies that their portion sizes have been reduced, and employees have expressed frustration with being filmed, this phenomenon is nevertheless an instructive example of the power that consumers have in a free market to work together and execute a form of “consumer collective bargaining.”

All transactions require the participation of at least two parties. Suppose one of the parties in a transaction feels that the situation is unsatisfactory. In that case, they can not only vote with their dollars and purchase elsewhere, but they can also express dissatisfaction with the transaction terms through other means, such as videos on social media. We have already witnessed this in the 2024 economy, with McDonald’s sales dropping due to their failure to understand that they have priced themselves out of the lower-income consumer market.

While it often feels like corporations have all the power to set prices, these organizations ultimately depend on customers for their survival. To stay in business, these companies must provide sufficient value for those purchasing their products.

In situations where consumers feel ripped off, it is their right to signal dissatisfaction in order to change the terms of the transaction, whether those terms are explicit or implicit. With this recent trend, consumers have signaled to Chipotle that they are unhappy with the service and want to get more value for their money.

Every time a customer starts to record their order or even pretends to record it, it is a stark reminder that the customer is king in market economies.

The message to Chipotle and others is clear: When customers come to your store, they expect a certain amount of value for their money, and if you fail to meet expectations, you will lose out on future sales as information spreads.

Individuals, especially in the Internet Age, can achieve real change in free markets. When individuals work together to signal their desires and disappointments, businesses often have no alternative but to listen, learn, and respond accordingly.

Kristian Fors is a research assistant at the Independent Institute. He holds a master's degree from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and is currently completing his second master's at the London School of Economics. He is passionate about free market economics, foreign policy, and American politics.
Catalyst articles by Kristian Fors