The Psychology of Supermarket Shopping

5 min read
The Psychology of Supermarket Shopping

From the second you step into the supermarket, everything is geared to get you to spend as much money as possible.

From the placement of products to the way things are priced, here’s a guide to the psychology of supermarket shopping.

1. The path you take

Ever wondered why the fruit and veg section is usually right at the front door but the milk and bread and other things you need are right at the back? Supermarkets have spent millions of dollars researching and using product merchandising companies to learn the behaviours of customers so they can determine how to get them to spend more money in store.

The research shows that when you start at the right side of the supermarket and work your way anti-clockwise around the store you are likely to spend more money than if you go in a clockwise direction.

When you enter into the fresh fruit and vegetable section, the idea is that you’ll feel healthy and good about shopping.  The bright colours and the visual appeal of the fruit and veg created by lighting all serve to give a marketplace look and feel to this section of the store. If you feel good about guessed it.. you’ll spend more!

Research carried out on customers using GPS trackers found that many people travel to some aisles only, and rarely travel up and down every aisle. Most commonly, people travel around the outside perimeter popping in and out of the aisles that they need. The result is that the ends of the aisles are the most profitable part of the supermarket!

And the milk and bread are all the way at the back, of course, because you’ll have to walk past lots of other tempting items you weren’t planning on buying just to get to them!

They even lock the gate behind you at the entry so you have to walk past lots of special offers just to exit the store!

2. Placement on shelves

Supermarkets place items at eye-level on the shelves that are usually the pricier, name-brand items.  You’ll often find you’ll need to look at the lower shelves to find the cheaper, generic items, and you’ll have to crouch down to get them.

One study by researchers at Cornell University found that cereals targeted towards children with cartoon characters on the box are placed on the lower shelves where kids will make eye contact with them so they can pester their parents for them!

Even those displays at the ends of the aisles are deliberately placed there, often paid for by companies for a premium to display their products because this is a hot-spot for impulse buying.  Research shows items placed at the aisle ends can sell up to eight times faster than the same product elsewhere in the store.

When you’re at the checkout you’ll find magazines and lollies and other last-minute items the supermarkets WANT you to impulse-buy or get your kids to pester you for!

3. Pricing

We all know the old trick of ending items with 99 cents the idea is that the customer will automatically round the number down. So if something is 99 cents you’re more likely to buy it than if it was tagged $1.  The reason we fall for it is because our brains read left to right, so you’re going to want something with a price that starts with 19, for example, than if it starts with 20.

Sometimes when something is labelled “special” it isn’t actually on sale at all. Have a close look  and see what the regular price is. It might be reduced by only a few cents, or, worse still, not at all!  The trick here is to make us think that if it is labeled as a special it must be good and worth having, so we buy it.

4. Loyalty programs

If you have a Flybuys or Everyday Rewards card, these can earn you rewards, discounts and so on that can be beneficial. But they are also there as a psychological incentive to stop you from buying groceries anywhere else. You might be paying more to one supermarket than you would to the other, just because you want the loyalty points.

5. Making you dawdle

Have you ever found yourself bopping along (or, in my case, singing) to a bit of Spandau Ballet’s “Gold” or some other daggy, guilty pleasure while you’re pushing the trolley through the aisles? Have you ever stayed longer JUST to hear the entire song? This is no accident!

Music encourages dawdling and the playlists that the supermarkets use are selected very carefully. You pretty much never hear them tuned in to the radio, do you?   A study found that people spend 34% more time shopping in stores that play music, with an increase in sales.

Have a look at your local supermarket and you’ll probably notice there are no skylights, windows or clocks. The reason for this is to reduce your concept of time from the outside world if you realise it’s getting late, you might get out quicker and spend less!

About Author

Caroline Duncan

Caroline Duncan is a freelance journalist and photographer with almost 20 years' media experience in radio, magazines and online. She is also a mother...Read More of three daughters, and when she's not writing or taking pictures, she's extremely busy operating a taxi service running them around to various activities. She can't sew and hates housework. Read Less

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