Supermarket Psychology

Outsmart your grocery store's sneaky attempts to get you to buy more.
Have you ever gone shopping hungry and come out of the supermarket in shock, having spent far more than you thought you were going to? Or found yourself staring at products in your home, thinking, why on earth did I put that in my cart? If so, then you've succumbed to supermarket psychology, the marketing tactics that are employed by stores to get people like you to buy more products than you really need.

Marketing expertise
Supermarkets have been employing marketing experts and psychologists to design their stores for many years. The simple plan is to entice you to buy lots of goodies; whether or not you actually need them is beside the point.

Recognize the following devices?
An in-store bakery: The smell of freshly baked bread is designed to make us hungry and get us spending.
Produce near the front door: Fresh food looks best in natural light, hence you find these areas near the opening to the supermarket.
Hidden staples: Milk and bread are set far apart from the entrance and each other, to encourage consumers to walk through all parts of the store.
The "end cap" trick: Special displays at the end of the aisles, known as end-caps, are laden with offers; shoppers notice them more than regular displays.
Eye-catching at eye level: More expensive items with higher profit margins are placed at eye level, while the shop's basics range will be on the floor — companies actually pay more to have their products at eye level, as shoppers are considered "lazy" and will see them first.

David Lewis, a consumer psychologist and author of The Soul of the New Consumer: Authenticity, What We Buy and Why in the New Economy has spent 15 years analyzing how we buy. He says, "Nothing is left to chance. From the width of the aisles (planned so that you are prevented from bumping into other people, but aren't so wide that you can't get your hands on products) to the music (composers even spend their lives writing music designed to entice shoppers to buy more goods), a supermarket is a place where a consumer and his money are meant to part company. Remember that a supermarket is a bit like a machine; its mission is to get you to spend, so to counter this, you need to keep your wits about you."

Supermarkets have vast amounts of data about our shopping habits from loyalty card databases and market research data. That data are given to psychologists and the retail geographers to create an optimum store layout.

So can you avoid the pitfalls of supermarket psychology? Yes, if you're aware of your surroundings and employ the following tactics:
  • Go in with a list and stick to it.
  • Eat before you go shopping.
  • Stick to buy one, get one free offers and fresh produce markdowns; don't get sucked into complicated special offers — they are often misleading.
  • Check if generic brand products are as cheap and as good as branded — sometimes they aren't.
  • Consider shopping online — you won't be tempted by in-store marketing.
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