Many people have already realized how extensively psychology is used in advertising. When you see an actor drinking a can of Coca-Cola in a movie, there’s a good chance that you will realize that Coca-Cola has paid money for this opportunity in the hopes that you might subconsciously get thirsty and buy some Coke. What many people might not realize is how much psychology goes into the organization of grocery stores. From how they word their sale advertisements to where they keep the milk, every element of a grocery store’s operation has been carefully planned to work with the psychology of the everyday shopper.
Every item in a grocery store is where it is because of a psychological reason. Fresh fruit, bread or flowers are often placed by the entrances to the store to give the shopper an immediate positive reaction to shopping. Can you imagine walking into a grocery store and the first thing you see is a wall of canned goods and paper towels? Keeping the produce section in the front gives a fresh and healthy illusion, even if the shopper is not there to purchase and produce or flowers.
When you run to the grocery store for a gallon of milk, is it ever conveniently located near the front for a quick purchase? Grocery stores place many of their popular or commonly purchased items near the back of the store in an attempt to lure shoppers with conveniently placed displays for other food items along the way. And let’s not forget the rows of shopping carts that you pass by on the way in to the store that have the magical effect of making you want to take one just in case you might remember more things you have to buy.
Many sales in grocery stores are not clearly worded. Grocery stores count on the fact that hurried shoppers might be more likely to take the sale sign’s word for it that they are getting a great deal by buying 6 frozen pizzas than to figure out the actual savings for themselves. Studies at Cornell University have shown that sales encouraging shoppers to buy a certain number of items actually doubled the amount of that item purchased by the shopper. This is true even if it is only a promotion and not a sale; for example, a sign advertising “10 for $10” when the items are only $.99 each is just as likely to sell more products as a sale would.
Companies that produce name brand items pay extra to grocery stores to get their products placed on shelves at eye level. Manufacturers of items marketed to children try to get their goods place on shelves at a kid’s eye level. Items are also mixed on the shelves to encourage shoppers to look longer, therefore increasing the chance that they will buy more food. No grocery store arranges similar products in order from cheap to expensive, or separates store brand items from name brand items, or organizes items alphabetically. All product placement is designed to get shoppers to see the maximum number of items, preferably name brand items.
Next time you go to the grocery store, think twice before buying the 12 cans of peas that aren’t really on sale or the case of soda you see on your way to get milk. Grocery stores want to make a profit, so don’t let the psychology used in store design blow your food budget.
“Grocery Shopping Psychology: An Anchoring and Adjustment Model of Purchase Quantity Decisions.” Cornell University Food and Brand Lab
“The Psychology Behind Grocery Store Design.” Frugal for Life
Trent Hamm, “15 ways stores trick you into spending.” MSN Money
“Big Brother? What Your Grocery Store Knows About You.” The Psych Files