Beat the supermarket! The psychology of retailing revealed

Beat the supermarket! The psychology of retailing revealed

When many consumers enter a supermarket, they assume that they are walking into a neutral arena. Goods are on display and one simply walks about and picks the goods that one desires. Unfortunately this is simply not true.
Shopping trolley view

Photo by Simon Shek

The truth is that there are people out there who dedicate entire careers to understanding how a person shops and how to manipulate their behaviour. The result is a highly sophisticated battle ground. If one is in the usual semi-conscious state that most shoppers are in (after a hard day at work, or trying to keep the kids under control), one risks spending far more and buying stuff that is not necessary.

A supermarket is a machine for controlling your shopping. Everything is positioned to maximise the possibility of a consumer buying more.
  • When you walk into the shop, you enter the 'transition zone'. Baskets are provided and also trolleys. The trolleys are often too big and make your shopping seem too small, suggesting you need more. Baskets are also encouraged as many shoppers are embarrassed to go up to the checkout with only one or two hand held items.
  • Impulse items, expensive electronics and sweets are kept in the 'transition zone' as a shopper may not be fully alert to their environment and may be more likely to buy. The sweets are also kept at child's height at the point of sale to encourage the 'nag factor'.
  • Essential items such as milk and bread are kept right at the back of the store so that the consumer has to pass all the non-essential items to reach them, increasing the likelihood of selling non-essential items. Expensive goods are placed nearer the transition zone. We are more likely to buy an expensive item if we see it first.
  • The tiles on the floor of aisles where more expensive goods are displayed are often made smaller. The trolley clicks faster moving over these tiles and causes a consumer to think they are going too fast. The result? Spending more time going down the aisle looking at the expensive goods.
  • The own-store brands have often brightly colored, garish and not very appealing packaging. Even though they are cheaper, they look ugly. There are some who theorise that this may be to scare away some customers and make them buy more expensive items. 
  • Smells to make you hungry are wafted through the supermarkets air conditioning, usually warm bread or perhaps some other baking products. If you are hungry, you will often buy more food.
  • Expensive stuff is at eye level, where one is more likely to look.
  • The end of aisle displays are often curved so that your eyes never leave the products when going around the corners.
  • The music that is played in supermarkets is also shown to have an effect on consumers. For instance, classical music makes people buy more expensive wines!   

However, the single most important thing that a supermarket does is to make you spend longer in the shop that you probably wanted to. Windows are at a minimum and artificial light is used to allow a consumer to lose their sense of time and spend longer in the shop. In fact, in another post, I pointed out that the guru of retail psychology says this is the most fundamental behaviour a supermarket tries to inculcate in it's customers. The basic message is, don't dawdle!

If you want to test your knowledge of retail psychology, there is an online test in the psychology of shopping


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