Supermarket Psychology: How Costco and Other Store Chains Get Customers to Buy and Pay More

Joel Eisenberg

From moving familiar merchandise to other aisles to a deliberate lack of floor attendants, strategies that cause customers to search for their wares are inconvenient and most often deliberate.

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Author’s Note

This article is based on corporate postings and accredited media reports. Linked information within this article is attributed to the following outlets: Hustlescape.com, MoneyWise.com, NationalGeographic.com, VeryWellMind.com, and Finance.Yahoo.com.

Introduction

Hustlescape.com, in its piece titled “Supermarket Psychology: How They Use Science to Make Us Spend More,” elaborates on the titular term that in recent years has been popularized in retail business: Scientific research has demonstrated that our decision making becomes more impulsive and emotional after a certain period of time in a supermarket. So not only does this longer amount of time in the supermarket mean we're likely to buy other things, it also means the quality of purchasing decisions diminishes.

Indeed, specific strategies that lead consumers to spend more time in the stores and peruse other aisles in search of their desired product is entirely deliberate, and most often successful.

An archived June, 2015 piece from National Geographic, “Surviving the Sneaky Psychology of Supermarkets,” goes further: Grocery shopping, start to finish, is a cunningly orchestrated process. Every feature of the store—from floor plan and shelf layout to lighting, music, and ladies in aprons offering free sausages on sticks—is designed to lure us in, keep us there, and seduce us into spending money. For starters, once you enter a grocery store, it’s often not easy to get out again. A common feature of supermarkets is the one-way entry door; to get back out, you’re compelled to walk through a good portion of the store—with its tempting displays of buyables—to find an exit.

Such in-store manipulation is common in any retail and/or market business, and is particularly resonant within superchains such as Costco and Walmart.

Let us explore.

Supermarket Psychology in Superchains

A recent piece from MoneyWise.com (via Finance.Yahoo.com), “From Moving Merchandise to Never-Ending Aisles, Here Are 15 Tricks Costco Uses to Make You Spend More,” focuses on the one of our nation’s largest outlets: Even if you’re not a regular shopper at Costco, you know a little something about the deals and discounts you’ll find at the warehouse giant. But have you ever stopped to consider how they can turn a profit when they slash the price of everything? While some of the merchandising techniques that Costco is infamous for using — like not labeling their aisles or moving their stock around the store — irritate a chunk of their customer base, these oddities are absolutely intentional.

It appears the psychology utilized in such a large chain is, in fact, consistent across the board and no different than its smaller counterparts.

A further excerpt from the MoneyWise.com article focuses on a primary reason behind Costco charging for membership, which is in part based on the lure of exclusivity shopping: Psychology site ‘Very Well Mind’ says that cognitive dissonance is that uncomfortable feeling you get when you hold conflicting beliefs or attitudes. A sign of cognitive dissonance is trying to justify or rationalize a decision you’ve made — like, perhaps, buying a store membership. Daniel Burstein, content and marketing expert, says that “[People] want to believe they made good decisions … if they bought a Costco membership because they believed it would save them money, now when they have a new purchase decision, they are more likely to buy from Costco.”

Conclusion

“Supermarket Psychology” is a term coined within the grocery industry and shared by most retailers — grocery and not — with the end goal of having customers purchase more goods.

One may not believe such practices are fair, but they are standard, entirely legal, and will not cease anytime soon.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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