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Whether you’re doing a weekly shop, grabbing a few things on the way to a party or topping up between online shopping orders, there’s no escaping trips to the supermarket. So routine are these visits that you might not realise the subtle tactics that supermarkets use to encourage you to buy more.
Everything from why milk is at the back of the store and flowers are near the checkouts, to why we walk past the smell of bread to get to the eggs is all part of a clever marketing strategy, explains Deakin University marketing lecturer Dr Virginia Weber.
‘The floor layout of a supermarket is designed to get customers to go deep into it or through most of it so you see the greatest number of products in the retail space,’ she says.
Ever noticed there’s very rarely windows inside a supermarket? Clocks are also suspiciously absent. This is because supermarkets want you to lose track of time and spend more money, Dr Weber says.
‘Supermarkets want customers to spend time in the store, browsing the options in each aisle and ideally adding items to their basket that they didn’t come in for,’ she says.
To get you in the mood for browsing, supermarkets often play music with a relaxed beat.
‘The music or radio stations that play in supermarkets are often at a slower or more laid back tempo, rather than a quick-paced or intense beat,’ Dr Weber says.
Strategically placed items can also help us to feel relaxed and ready to spend.
‘Having pleasant scents like flowers right at the front of the store can help put customers in a better mood without people even noticing this is happening,’ Dr Weber says. ‘This can lead to customers spending more in the store.’
Supermarkets also have a strategy for where items are placed throughout the store. Called a ‘planogram’, this schematic plan for displaying foods and other products is designed to maximise sales.
Put more simply, the supermarket wants you to walk past as many things as you can before finding what you’re after. Eggs are a classic example – they’re often placed somewhere random that forces you search for them and inadvertently walk past other popular items that encourage a sneaky impulse purchase.
‘The key things we might be stopping at supermarkets for like meats and milk are often placed at the back of the store, meaning we will walk past items we didn’t come in for to get to those essentials,’ Dr Weber says.
Almost every supermarket has chocolate bars at the checkout, and there is a reason for this as well.
‘Chocolate bars are a temptation that fruit isn’t, and many studies on consumer psychology evaluate self-control by comparing how many people choose a less healthy treat like chocolate versus a more healthy option like fruit,’ Dr Weber says.
‘While we’re stuck in line, using up some of our limited self-control resources not to tap our foot or get impatient, we’re more likely to make impulse purchases and fall for that chocolate temptation’.
With all of these marketing strategies enticing you to buy more, not to mention grocery prices continuing to rise, what’s the best way to combat supermarket marketing tactics and buy only what you need?
Dr Weber says a shopping list is a key strategy to avoid impulse purchases.
‘Take a proper stock of the items you need at home before going to the store and try to be comprehensive. You don’t want to be adding necessities halfway through your shop.’
If you’re someone who often buys snacks or treats for yourself, it’s important to add these goodies to the list.
‘If you know you’re going to want to buy yourself a treat or a snack for later, acknowledging that and adding exactly what you plan to get to the list should also stop you from impulsively picking up extra treats and snacks when the temptation is in front of you,’ Dr Weber says.
She says it’s also important to know what aisles you need to go down and to avoid the aisles you don’t require anything from.
‘Avoid going down aisles you don’t need to, or only go so far in to get the specific item off the shelf that you need. This can save you from perusing other items and adding them to your basket.’
Indeed, she says, swapping your trolley for a basket can help you buy less.
‘Depending on how much you need to buy and your physical state, you might use a carry basket instead of a roller basket or trolley. When each item you pick up adds more weight that you have to carry around the shop, adding extra items you didn’t plan to buy becomes a little less tempting,’ Dr Weber says.
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