Perhaps you’ve noticed that it’s not easy to get out of the typical American supermarket with exactly what you went in to purchase. Believe it or not, a lot of behavioral science goes into the way that store is designed and laid out with a single purpose in mind — to get you to buy more than you came for. The store’s layout may be costing you money!
Most of what I know about all of this I’ve learned from reading and interviewing Paco Underhill, environmental psychologist, CEO of Envirosell Inc. and author of “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.” Underhill has shared insights and marketing secrets that grocery stores use to manipulate buying habits. The more I learn, the smarter I get, and the more I enjoy finding all the booby traps in the grocery store so I can beat them at their own game. In the words of that famous philosopher, G.I. Joe, “Knowing is half the battle!”
Consider these four ways that you can avoid impulse buying and beat your supermarket at its own game:
Designed to be located just inside the entrance, flowers greet shoppers with a sense of beauty, fragrance and whimsy. And don’t think those little droplets of water on leaves and petals are there by accident. Frequent misting makes posies appear to have been cut only hours ago, so everything else in the store must be equally fresh.
Counterpunch: If you came to buy flowers, look for a deal. Just know that supermarket flowers are seldom, if ever, as fresh as you’ll find at your local florist.
Without fail, the next area of the store layout as you walk past the floral department will be produce. Am I right? You’ve already been subliminally prompted by the flowers that this store majors in “fresh,” so you are ripe to load up on produce, whether you came to buy it or not.
Counterpunch: Study the layout. Reach into the back to find the freshest offerings. After all, they need to get rid of the oldest, ripest fruits and vegetables, so they’ll place them on top or nearest the front of the display. Underhill said that produce arrives in supermarkets Monday-Friday, so you’re better off buying during the week.
OK, let me guess: The bakery is in a corner opposite the entrance. Am I right? Sure it is, and there’s a reason for that. Most people arrive at the supermarket hungry, which prompted them to be there in the first place. The bakery is like a magnet with its smells of deliciousness wafting through the store to lure you in. Behavioral science bears out this truth: When a human with money is hungry, said human will indulge in unplanned purchases. Lots of them. And there’s nothing like bakery goods to guarantee the cure for hunger. Once you load up, you’ll need to wheel through many aisles and endcaps to get out of there — so many more impulsive purchase opportunities.
Counterpunch: Shop after you’ve eaten, or grab a snack before you get there.
These “endcaps” are prime real estate in the store because manufacturers pay money to have their products displayed there. It’s a way to advertise a new item, to get your attention or — this is a big one — to make you think it’s on sale, when in fact it may only be screaming “Special!” which, of course, can mean just about anything.
Counterpunch: Learn that display doesn’t always mean a discount. Know your products. Know your prices. An informed shopper is a shopper who cannot be fooled.
Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, ”Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”