How Supermarkets Get You to Spend More Money Than You Planned

James Logie

Have you noticed that every grocery store you’ve ever been in has the same look and layout to it?

Well, it’s not by accident and a lot of thought and research had been done over the years to turn grocery stores into human mouse traps.

The reason that pretty much all supermarkets follow the same design is to make you feel comfortable. This causes you to spend more money without even knowing it.

In retail, the more time spent in a store, the more you will spend. Let’s look at how they do it.

It Starts With the Decompression Zone

When you walk into a supermarket, you are greeted by the floral section, fresh produce, and sometimes a bakery.

They call this the “decompression zone” and it’s enticing you with the smells, bright colors, and the calming, welcoming effect of flowers.

This is also why the fruit and veg are upfront when you walk in. The bright colors are meant to entice the eye, which can lead to purchasing more produce.

Seeing freshness can put people in a good mood — and relaxation leads to more spending.

Starting your shopping trip buying fresh food can also help make you feel less guilty about the junk you may purchase later.

The Trick of the Large Shopping Cart

Large shopping carts also lead to more spending. People will only buy as much as they can carry whether it’s in a basket or their own hands.

A large shopping cart allows for more items than you could possibly use.

In most stores, you will see hundreds of shopping carts but only a few dozen baskets.

You also may have noticed that these shopping carts have become progressively larger over the years.

An experiment found that when a cart was doubled in size, consumers spent 40% more. You can understand now why at stores like Costco, the carts are basically the size of a flatbed truck.

The Human Maze

So now you’re in the store, how should you navigate through it? Well, that’s been determined for you.

Grocery stores want you to follow the perimeter as it leads you around to the aisles where you will hopefully weave up and down through all of them.

When you follow the perimeter and head down an aisle, they always come out at the cash registers.

Since you’re probably not paying, it forces you back up the aisle and you will usually go to the next one over.

Have you ever gone to a grocery store, not bought anything, and tried to leave? It’s almost impossible. Similar to a casino, there are no clocks, natural daylight, or easily accessible exits.

You’re trapped in a labyrinth — but without David Bowie singing to you.

Following the perimeter also exposes you to the “end caps” of the aisles where manufacturers pay big money to display their products.

You will see promotions on the end caps along with a featured price. It’s crucial to get you into those aisles, as this is where most of the products are.

What are some staple items that people need when running to the grocery store? Usually milk, butter, bread, and eggs.

Where do you find these items? Buried at the very back of the store.

This forces you to work your way through the entire store, exposing yourself to thousands of products.

The Strategic Set-Up of a Grocery Store Shelf

If you haven’t already noticed, look at the layout of a grocery store shelf the next time you’re in, as it’s far from random.

Lower shelves: Store brands and cheaper generic alternatives are on the bottom shelves, forcing you to work by bending down to get them. The grocery stores bank on your laziness to not have to reach down low.

Top shelves: local, smaller, and more gourmet items are up top out of your sightline.

Middle shelves: This is where all the big-name brand items are. They’re right in your sightline, also known as the bulls-eye zone. They are the easiest to access and are the reason manufacturers pay enormous prices called “slotting fees” to be featured there.

Kids’ shelves: You may notice that kids’ products like cereals are right in the sightline of children. Grocery retailers understand that kids drive family grocery purchases through “pester power.”

Some of these cereal aisles will have kid-friendly designs on the floor or things like hopscotch. This keeps you — and your kids — in front of the product for as long as possible.

It’s All About Keeping You in the Store

When it comes to retail: the longer you’re in a store, the more money you spend.

This is also the reason behind the free sample — the free sample combines several sensations at once: sight, touch, smell, and taste, and makes you more likely to buy something.

A free sample also takes up at least 20 to 30 seconds of your time, making you even more likely to buy.

Procter & Gamble reckon that customers make up their minds about most products in just three seconds. It’s crucial for these companies to keep you exposed as long as possible.

Unlike the cereal aisle that has kids screaming their heads off for certain brands, items that take more time to decide on — such as coffee or diapers — are usually in the quietest parts of the store.

Final Thoughts

When you understand supermarket psychology, you can at least beat them at their own game. Go in with a plan; have a list of what you need and stick to it.

Also, make a list of what you already have at home so you don’t end up buying more of something you already have.

Avoid those peak times to get in and out as fast as possible.

One last tip: supermarkets often play music that’s at a slower BPM (beats per minute) than the average song. This slows you down and, again, keeps you in longer.

Slow music leads to slow shoppers and supermarket studies have found sales volume to be 38% higher on days when they played slow music.

So put on your own upbeat music and get moving!

Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.


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