Top Ten manipulative selling practices of supermarkets

Saturday, January 14, 2023

How supermarkets manipulate you into buying more food in store

How supermarkets manipulate you into spending more money on food

When you walk into a supermarket, you might think that you're making decisions based on the best deals and prices. But did you know that supermarkets use psychology to influence your shopping choices? 

They study consumer behavior and use that information to create an experience that makes you want to buy more.

It's kind of like a real-life lab experiment, and you're the test subject! 

Supermarkets use simple tricks to catch your attention, like putting certain products on sale or placing them in certain areas of the store. They even know what day of the week you prefer to shop and what items you're most likely to buy.

For example, you might see an incredible deal on blue cheese that's too good to resist. But, supermarkets know that once you're in the store, you'll be more likely to pick up a few extra items too.

The psychological tricks that supermarkets employ on customers are quite simple but they come with a science pedigree - just like Walmart knows your sixteen-year-old daughter is likley to be pregnant, they know what day you like to shop and what specials you like to buy.

The classic trap is to advertise cheese so cheap that you come into the store because you cannot resist the price in the hope you''ll buy some extra items and then check out with your...

Ever heard of a loyalty card?

The data collected about your shopping behaviours can now dissect your buying habits into ones and zeros. 

Is that loyalty card connected to other businesses? The supermarket now knows that you like to fill up the car with petrol on the way home for example. So, hence they sell you receipts that come with fuel discounts.

Once they have you in-store, that's when the sneaky supermarkets launch their playbook of tricks and psychological ploys to get you to spend longer in store to spend more cash.

Which can be really tough when you are trying to save money on the food bill!

Supermarkets are living laboratories that study human buying behavior.

Have you ever noticed all those cameras in the modern shopping complex and asked yourself, why so many security cameras?

They are not just for catching cheeky shoplifters (a money-saving measure we do not recommend you try!) - the majority of them placed down the aisle are there to monitor and observe consumer traffic patterns. No doubt they will also be monitoring your physical appearance too. 

What body shapes are customers?

What sex? 

Do different sexes and body shapes behave differently?

When and why? 

Where do they look first?

You can bet they are using this data to figure out how to sell more to you.

This is because supermarkets that understand how their customers think and make purchasing decisions are able to plan the shopfloor layout more efficiently.

The classic example of this is supermarkets know that people will often tend to enter the store with a set mental list of what they want and it's usually the basics like bread and milk.

And that's exactly why eggs, dairy & milk, and bread are often positioned farthest from the store's entrance as possible so you walk all the way past other attractive food items. 

Indeed, eggs are often situated in random or seemingly 'unnatural' places to encourage first-timers to the store to walk around looking for them!

Top Ten manipulative selling practices of supermarkets

RankManipulative PracticeDescription
1Strategic Product PlacementEssential items are placed at the back of the store, forcing customers to pass by numerous other products, potentially leading to impulse buys.
2High-margin Items at Eye LevelExpensive and high-margin products are positioned at eye level, while cheaper alternatives are placed on lower or higher shelves.
3Sale and Discount MisdirectionSupermarkets often use large, eye-catching signs for sales that may not offer real value, or they place limits on quantities that can be purchased at the sale price.
4Sensory ManipulationThe use of pleasant smells (like freshly baked bread) and appealing visuals to evoke feelings of hunger or comfort, encouraging more purchases.
5Time-limited OffersPromotions that are presented as being available for a "limited time only" to create a sense of urgency and spur purchases.
6Decoy PricingOffering three products at different price points to make the middle-priced item seem like the best value, despite not being the most economical choice.
7Checkout Impulse BuysPlacing small, tempting items near the checkout area to grab the shopper's attention during the wait to pay.
8Confusing LayoutsIntentionally confusing store layouts that make it difficult for customers to find the exit without walking past many products, increasing the likelihood of unplanned purchases.
9Bulk Buying TrapsPromoting bulk purchases through deals like "buy one, get one free," which may encourage customers to buy more than they need.
10Loyalty ManipulationUtilizing loyalty programs to track purchasing behavior and target customers with specific promotions, sometimes leading them to spend more.

Lean mean green vegetables

why fruit is at the front of supermarket entrances

When you first walk into the store, you might notice that the fruits and veggies are right at the entrance. This is on purpose because studies have shown that people are more likely to pick up more produce when they start their shopping trip. 

Plus, when you're buying healthy food, it makes you feel good about yourself and you might even grab a few extra carrots!

Also, the bright colors and delicious smells of the produce are sure to catch your attention. And if you're craving something sweet, the bakery is often right next to the vegetable section so you can enjoy the smell of fresh bread while you shop.

The fruits are also placed in front of mirrors to make them look even more appealing. All of these things are meant to make the store a pleasant and enjoyable place to shop.

And if you're looking for that classic loaf of sandwich bread, it's usually located on the other side of the store. But while you're on your way to grab it, you might discover a few other great deals along the way.

The store wants you to feel good about all the healthy food you're buying so you might be more likely to treat yourself to something sweet or indulgent later on.

 So, as a smart shopper, it's good to be aware of these tactics and make sure you stick to your budget and don't get tempted to buy unnecessary items.

The eyes have it

Forget the shop layout, you're already a modest mouse caught in that well-planned wheel, look at the shelf layout (whilst staying true to your shopping list of course).

Your eyes will naturally gravitate to the product that's been placed in your eye line / at face level.

This is where the most expensive goods and groceries are positioned. Because your eagle eyes will often become psychologically attached to the first item that you find when you are looking for a particular item.

Would it also surprise you to discover that many brands hand over cash to the supermarket for the right to having their goods placed directly in the customer's line of vision.

This practice is known in the business as paying a 'slotting fee'.

Supermarkets will also put kid-friendly things at the kid's eye level.

That's some real street-level cunning right there.

The implication of this of course if you are looking for cheaper items, look on on the bottom shelf for them. 

Impulse power, Mr Sulu

Another classic trick played on shoppers is to put goods that could be bought as 'impulse purchases' by the checkout lanes.

Lollies, magazines, those small hand-sized deodorant sprays, magazines, chocolate, and the classic packet of 'chewing gum' - these impulse items are placed there so you will add a couple of extra dollars to your shopping total. 

Now if even one in ten or twenty customers does this, those sales will add up for the Supermarket Owners over time.

To be fair some product placements will benefit the customer, such as peanut butter next to the jelly. and beer next to crisps and chips, baking yeast next to flour ...

Keep a beady eye out for 'pricing specials' scams

Ever seen a supermarket market pricing sticker with the words 'best buy' or 'great deal'? 

Is it really a good deal?

How do you know it's a great deal? 

Is there actually a price saving on offer or has the item simply had some puffery on the sticker placed next to it?

Perhaps a sign that simply says 'Three for a dollar' when the single item is also a dollar?

You would of course never fall for such a simple pricing scam, would you?

Of course not.

Well, people do and that's why supermarkets will keep advertising this way in-store.

Other tricks supermarkets do:
  • A few select products are sold at a loss to the store. This is so you recognize the price as being really good and it gets you into the store. Meat is a classic 'loss leader' as is orange juice.
  • Larger shopping trolleys will tend to be filled up more by the user
  • Supermarkets and strip malls will play music with a slow tempo so your walking around speed matches the music and you spend more time in the building which increases the odds of you adding that one extra thing to your basket.
  • The most profitable products are often placed at the end of the aisle. People are more likely to notice them....

"Loss leading" pricing strategy has some really cool psychology behind it

The 'loss leader' pricing strategy is a tactic used by supermarkets in which they offer a product at a very low price, often below cost, in order to attract customers into the store. The idea is that once customers are in the store, they will be more likely to purchase additional items at full price.

The psychology behind this strategy is rooted in the concept of anchoring, which refers to the tendency for people to rely on a starting point or reference point when making decisions. When a customer sees a product being offered at a very low price, it creates an anchor that makes other prices in the store seem more reasonable in comparison. Additionally, the low price of the loss leader item can create a sense of urgency in the customer to take advantage of the deal before it ends.

Another psychological principle that loss leader pricing strategy draws on is the concept of the “foot-in-the-door” technique. This concept refers to the idea that if a customer agrees to a small request, they are more likely to agree to a larger request later on. By getting customers into the store with the loss leader pricing, they are more likely to make other purchases at full price.

Additionally, by offering a product at a very low price, it can create a sense of trust and loyalty between customer and store, making them more likely to return to the store in the future.

The psychology behind loss leader pricing strategy is to use a low-price product to attract customers, create a sense of urgency, and make them more likely to purchase additional items at full price and to create a sense of trust and loyalty with the customers.

So what do to then? 

There are several ways to counter the ways supermarkets entice buyers to spend more money:

  1. Make a list and stick to it: Before going to the store, make a list of the items you need and stick to it. This will help you avoid impulse buying and stay within your budget.
  2. Shop at off-peak hours: Supermarkets tend to be less crowded at off-peak hours, which can make it easier to stick to your list and avoid distractions.
  3. Avoid eye-catching displays: Supermarkets often use eye-catching displays to entice customers to buy certain products. Try to avoid these displays and stick to the items on your list.
  4. Compare prices: Supermarkets often use loss leader pricing to entice customers to buy certain products. Compare prices of the items you need and look for the best deals.
  5. Shop at different stores: Supermarkets often have different prices and specials, so shopping at different stores can help you find the best deals on the items you need.
  6. Use cash instead of credit or debit card: When you use cash, you are more aware of the money you are spending and less likely to overspend.
  7. Be mindful of the layout: Supermarkets are designed to make you spend more, be mindful of the layout and plan your route before you go to the store.

Don't shop when you're hungry: Shopping when you're hungry can make it harder to resist impulse buys and make you more susceptible to the psychological tricks supermarkets use.

By following these tips, you can help counter the ways supermarkets entice buyers to spend more money, and save more on your shopping.
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