Here are 4 psychological tricks supermarkets use to make you spend more

Ever wondered why almost all supermarkets have nearly identical layouts? This isn’t a coincidence. It’s the result of cunning psychological experimentation and meticulous planning. If you want to know the science of supermarket persuasion, read on…

1) You get paralyzed with too many choices

Too many choices are bad for you. This is the premise of Barry Schwartz’s seminal book The Paradox of Choice. He explains that over millions of years, our brains have evolved to make simple choices.  When we’re faced with too many options, we just can’t handle it. So we end up grabbing anything, or overcompensating and buying more.

The average supermarket has 64,000 items to choose from. So you’d have to buy 175 of these every day to try everything. As business efficiency expert Gwynnae Byrd says:

“The biggest enemy to efficiency is the paralysis we experience from the overwhelming amount of choices, so you go in there to get two items and come out with 20. Marketers are really good at getting us to buy stuff we don’t need.”

2) Your senses are overloaded

Supermarkets want to appeal to everyone of your senses. They want to make your shopping experience like Disneyland…. but with washing detergent…. Here’s how they try and overwhelm your senses:

  • sight: Bright lighting, bold primary colours, fresh produce openly on display open layouts that allow you to see people at work – bakers, butchers. It’s a visual feast
  • sound: Some supermarkets employ scientifically tested background music to lull you into a shopping stupor
  • touch: All goods are on display to fondle and feel. Warm bread. Soft tomatoes. It’s a sensual experience.
  • smell: Fresh flowers waft into your nostrils as you walk through the entrance. Fresh pastries baking, rotisserie chicken roasting. They is known as the science of olfactory marketing.
  • taste: Free samples are always on offer, and encouraged by staff. It’s the principle of reciprocity in action.

3) They play tricks with prices

It’s all part of the strategy. As consumers get increasingly sophisticated, so do the supermarkets. Here are three of the many sneaky pricing tricks they employ:

  • confusing multi-buys: was that 6 for the price of 4, or a reduced price double -pack. And why do the items look smaller? I’m confused!
  • was/now pricing: now this is really low. Some shops raise their prices temporarily for a week, and then claim for it’s reduced price, for the remaining 51 weeks of the year.
  • larger packs cost more: sometimes the price of the bulk items work out more expensive than buying them individually. The bigger pack doesn’t always mean cheaper.

4) They lead you around the store

It’s no coincidence that all supermarkets look alike from the inside. The layout is part of a fiendishly sophisticated psychological strategies to coax you into spending more money. Here are some of the most common layout tricks:

  • place common items at the back: you’ll always find everyday items like milk buried towards the back of the store. Supermarkets don’t want you to rush quickly in and out, so they make sure that you have to pass through several other aisles to get  what you wany
  • eye-level is buy level: If you’re looking for discount products, healthy foods, or bulk items, chances are you’ll have to scan the shelves for a while. The items you’ll find with easy reach, on eye level, are the high-price, high profit-margin expensive brands that make a lot of money for the stores
  • rats in a maze: the race-track design of supermarket aisles is no coincidence. Studies have shown that we’re programmed to blindly walk up and down like rats in a maze without thinking where we’re heading

How to take back your shopping experience

You don’t have to fall for your grocer’s deceptive practices. You can get what you want from the store and avoid psychological tricks that are designed to drain your cash. Here are some tips to help you do it.

  1. Avoid their trickery; bring your own list, and stick to it
  2. Shop in season, and at a farmer’s market if you can
  3. Always shop at a familiar store where you know exactly where everything is

Above all, remember. Shopping is psychological warfare. Never let down your guard!