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When it comes to supermarkets, it may not surprise you to know they cleverly use behavioural economics research to design the optimal shopping experience. But is this done for you, or for them? When you walk into a supermarket, the game is between you and the sales and marketing teams that designed that supermarket.

Your goal is usually to get in and out with the groceries that you need in the shortest amount of time possible.

Their goal is to influence your buying and get you to spend as much money as possible.

By being savvy about supermarket sales strategies, you could save yourself both time and money.

The entrance

As busy people with competing priorities, setting the time aside to do the shopping can be quite challenging (especially if you're shopping with children). From the moment you step into the supermarket, you'll probably want to get the experience over and done with as quickly as possible.

Most trolleys that you find today in supermarkets are much larger in size than they used to be. The psychology behind this is that the bigger the trolley, the more likely you are to fill it.

Once you’ve picked up the trolley, the first thing that confronts you in a supermarket is often the bakery and fresh produce sections, as well as some ambient music playing over the internal speakers. The smell of freshly baked goods, the brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, and the tempo music are all attempts to elicit two main responses, relaxation and hunger. Studies have shown that these things can influence your spending behaviour.

The layout

Have you ever had to pick up some mid-week supplies, such as bread and milk, and found yourself with a few extra items when you reach the checkout? By placing essential items at different ends of a store, you have to walk through other departments to get to what you want - and often casually pick up other items that you see along the way.

Not to mention, supermarkets employ every tactic in the book when it comes to displays and general product placement to distract you on your path between them. Here are a few to be mindful of:

  • Displays - research has shown that when people shop, they tend to go around the edges of the supermarket, dipping in and out of the aisles. Placing items on display at the end of aisles aims to get you to load up on the items that are ‘on special’ - usually the highly priced items with high-profit margins.
  • Aisle width - aisles are usually quite wide in supermarkets. This is not just for your convenience when manoeuvring your oversized trolley around other people. Wide aisles also make you feel more relaxed to encourage you to spend more time in the supermarket.
  • Eye level - it’s often human nature to focus on things that are at eye level. The sales and marketing teams frequently take advantage of this by putting expensive items at eye level (even if they have a ‘special’ sign). As such, by looking above and below eye level, you may find cheaper, but still good quality alternatives. However, certain aisles are set to influence two different eye levels, namely, adults and children. You can probably guess which aisles these are.
  • Proximity placement - the placement of items, such as coffee and biscuits in the same aisle might seem convenient (and often is!), but it also serves an underlying purpose - an attempt to get you to purchase another item that you might not actually need.
  • Charm pricing - by marking an item with a nine at the end ($5.99), many of us are still falling victim to the belief that it’s a good deal. This can be in terms of a comparison between a rounded alternative such as $6.00, but the lower number at the beginning can make us feel like it’s cheaper.
  • Spend and save - think ‘5 for $5’ or ‘buy two, get one free’. Often people who are enticed by this offer tend to buy multiple items when in fact they probably only needed one.

Checkouts and those last minute purchases

You made it to the end, albeit probably with a little more in your trolley than expected. But wait, what about those chocolates, magazines, and chewing gum that are just within arm’s reach? This is one of the last attempts to get you to purchase more items. Having children in tow usually makes these even harder to avoid.

Moving forward

Thought goes into every little detail of a supermarket, all to make you hand over more of your hard earned cash. So when you do your next grocery shop take some time to be mindful of all these different tactics – you might just find that you spend less and save more.

Lastly, we leave you with a few handy tips for your next shop:

  • Plan your meals in advance.
  • Consult your fridge/freezer/pantry for items you already have.
  • Write a shopping list before heading to the supermarket.
  • Consider leaving children at home with the spouse (not always possible!).
  • Opt for a basket over the shopping trolley if you’re doing a small shop to limit impulse purchases.
  • Look at the unit prices between packaged and unpackaged items.
  • Don’t be afraid to shop around for a better price.

This article was originally published by P&N Bank: How supermarkets influence your buying


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