Supermarket Psychology

What does psychology have to do with a supermarket?

You'd be surprised.

Did you ever notice that smell of baking bread when you enter? The pricier items installed at eye level on the shelves? The fact that common food items are placed in separate corners so you have to go through the entire store to pick up a few items? You may have just gone in for 2 items. Instead, you leave with 20. What happened?

Nothing is accidental.

Supermarkets do a tremendous amount of research to analyze their customers' shopping habits and encourage them to buy more.

The Techniques

Food items are positioned for specific reasons:

  • Most commonly-used items are placed in the middle of an aisle so people have to go down aisles for specific items. Exposure to all the other foods may lead you to buy more.
  • Foods that go together in recipes and meals are often placed together so you'll buy all of them.
  • High-profit foods are placed at eye level; the bigger food corporations pay for the best exposure for their food. Visual cues may encourage you to buy.
  • The check-out counter has candy and magazines, tempting you to buy them as you wait.
  • Narrow aisles and displays will slow down your shopping time; the goal is to keep you in the store longer, in hopes that you'll buy more.
  • Shopping while hungry can lead you to buy more items than planned.
  • Children are targeted as well. Kids' food items are placed at their eye level, especially ready-to-eat and snack foods.

What to Do

There are some ways to combat these problems. Here are a few:

  • Planning is key. Make a list ahead of time and stick with it. Impulse shopping will add up in dollars, and pounds, if you eat more.
  • Shop AFTER a meal. It's much easier to stick to a list when you're not starving.
  • Don't buy something only because it's on sale. While everyone likes a bargain, purchase foods you normally eat and like. Stay with your list and find sales for those food items.
  • Try not to shop with children, the ultimate impulse shoppers, if possible.
  • Check for store brands which tend to be cheaper than name brands and sales on produce.
  • Remember that larger-sized containers of foods aren't always better bargains, and the visual cues of more food may lead you to eat more.
  • Shop online. You won't be tempted by smell or sight.

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