It's no surprise that every business uses tricks of the trade to increase their profits, but do you know just how many are fooling you? Understanding the ways supermarkets are messing with your psyche can help you resist their tricks and save money.
Think of your supermarket - usually, the first thing you see when you walk through the doors are the fruit and produce section. Want to know why? Because it'll make you spend more money. Yeah, the bright and vibrant colors of the fruits and veggies have a psychological effect on our brains. The colors will put you in a happier mood, which will make you more likely to spend more money. Instead, stay in that bad mood and walk in the store with your eyes closed (just kidding, don't try that).
Another reason fruits and veggies are up front is because after you stock up on your healthier items, you'll feel less guilty about treating yourself with all the junk down the rest of the aisles.
Do you often find yourself zigzagging through a store, confused because you can't find anything on your list? Yeah, they do that on purpose. The staples like bread, milk, and eggs are placed all over the store far from each other and far from the entrance to make you browse around on your way to get what you need.
The way the store is set up with aisles encourages consumers to walk up and down the whole store rather than across it for only the things on your list. The more you're wandering around in aisles you don't need to go down, the higher the chance is that you'll put something in your cart you don't even need as getting lost in a store will make you lose focus - so get in, get out, and you'll save money.
Just like casinos, supermarkets take away your sense of time, that's why you won't find clocks or windows in them. Without a clock or sunlight shining through a window reminding you of the time, you don't feel as rushed. When you don't feel like you're in a hurry, you'll stay longer and browse around and no doubt put extra stuff in your cart. Don't let them make you think time magically stands still while you're shopping - be sure to you check the time before heading in and keep track on your watch or phone so you don't get sucked in and accidentally stay in there for hours.
Anchoring is a common psychological trick used to boost profits. Supermarkets put overpriced items right next to a more overpriced version so you'll think the first one is a good deal when, in fact, it's not. The item is still expensive but that is more hidden when it's on the shelf next to a waaay overpriced model.
You were able to resist the chocolate bar the first 3 times you saw it throughout the store, but once you see it at the checkout line, you buy it. Don't feel too crappy about it, there's a psychological reason you give in. A concept called 'ego depletion' is the idea that people's self-control resources are limited and deplete over a short time. This means that the unhealthy, trivial items put near the register catch your attention right when your self-control resources are low and you can't make a truly informed decision about it anymore. A candy bar at the register gets bought more than the same candy in different areas in the store, so knowing about this might help give you an extra push to resist picking up that chocolate while the checker is ringing you up.
While we're on the topic of the checkout area, here's another way supermarkets are being sneaky: by making the checkout small, narrow, and packed with products. This is so it gives you no space to ditch items at the last minute. Without someplace to stash that item you were just doubting your judgment on, you're more likely to just continue with your unnecessary purchase and that's how it ends up in your plastic bag with money wasted.
There's actually a word for how they arrange items and where they place them - a planogram is a model used to maximize sales. With this model, they usually put the most expensive option at eye level, or just below it. You'll typically find the cheaper store brands either higher up or at the very bottom shelves. So before heading to the grocery store, do your stretches so you can just reach up and bend down, you'll get the best deals and a decent workout. Win-win.
Supermarkets love kids. Why? Because those rugrats can get you to buy more crap you don't need. Ways supermarkets appeal to kids are by having fun car carts that they can "drive around" and free food and goodies for them. A common supermarket trick is using that planogram, but instead of putting items at our eye-level, they'll put stuff that appeals to kids (like the expensive sugary cereal) on lower shelves. Kids will more likely see those since the lower shelves are their eye-level. Children end up whining and crying for the food that grabs their attention and parents are too defeated so they give in. Hey, it happens to the best of us.
At first, you are making wise product choices out of the almost endless selection based on rational reasons, like comparing the difference in prices versus the size. But eventually, all that decision-making about which items to buy will break you down. Now, with an overstimulated brain, all of that rationality is thrown out the (nonexistent) window and you're going with whatever's easiest by picking emotionally. That means you just buy whatever draws you in first - like the package's colors or the coolest brand name.
Probably the best thing about going to the grocery store is when they give away free samples. The positive is that you get to eat, the negative is that now you're buying four boxes - one in each flavor of course. The reason behind this is actually psychological. Do you think supermarkets are giving away free samples just to be nice? Of course not, samples benefit them more than they benefit you.
Free samples aren't just opportunities to taste a product, they're actually invitations to engage in the rule of reciprocity. It can be difficult for many people to accept a free sample and then just walk away. Instead, they feel obligated to buy the item, even if they didn't like the sample all that much. It's a total scam on the brain.
You walk near the store's bakery and get a giant whiff of the freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies and you're sooo tempted. That's not a coincidence. Supermarkets know that when there are yummy smells in the air, you'll subconsciously react. Smelling something delicious can make you hungry. Uh oh - the worst thing you can be in a supermarket is hungry. All of a sudden, you're grabbing eight different kinds of snacks off the shelves and random food you've never tried before but the picture on the box looks good, so why not?
Some simple ways to avoid being fooled by the enticing smells of baked bread and desserts are walking through the store holding your nose, being a mouth breather, or taking a bag of cookies in your car and stuffing your face right before walking in the store. It's hard to get hungry when you have a stomach ache. Good luck!
Okay, maybe you're not moving at full on slow-mo speed, but you are moving slower than you normally would because of this supermarket trick. They play low rhythm music that calms you and doesn't make you feel like you need to rush. The longer you take to get through the store, the more you'll pick up and that means more money spent. Combat their smooth jazz by making an energized playlist and wear earbuds at the store so you can jam out while you speed up.
Today's familiar shopping cart design hasn't changed much since they were made to stack horizontally - except they have grown larger. The reason our shopping carts have gotten bigger in recent years is pretty obvious: so we spend more money. Having a bigger cart makes it easier for you to fill without feeling like you're spending too much Yeah, the items weren't originally on your grocery list, but hey, they fit in the cart so why not? If half empty carts make you feel like you're missing something, maybe opt for the basket (if the store hasn't gotten rid of them completely yet). Or you can go rogue and only buy what you can carry with both hands, that'll teach 'em.
Stores often offer additional discounts for people using their loyalty cards. Other than encouraging you to keep coming back, the card lets the grocer track everything you buy. They'll use that data and tweak their strategies to maximize profits and offer special deals or discounts accordingly. The cards show information on shopping habits that stores will sell to other companies that want to know who buys what with other products.
You notice that the dip is right next to the chips in the aisle and the jelly is right by that peanut butter. Convenient, huh? Nope, they're just trying to increase sales. Say you just have one of those items on your list, well, by putting those items that are commonly bought together next to each other, they can trick you into grabbing both of them when you only really need just one of them.
Obviously, colorful displays are meant to be attention grabbing, but supermarkets are specific about which colors to use. They know that psychologically, colors affect emotions. For example, red triggers stimulation, appetite, and hunger so they'll use red a lot on signs and displays to influence you subconsciously to buy more. Yellow triggers feelings of happiness and friendliness - when you're comfortable and in a better-than-normal mood, you're likely to spend more money on their products.
Looking at price tags, you constantly see '.95' or another random cent number at the end. Supermarkets will use psychological pricing, which is marking items at odd numbers so customers will perceive them as lower than they actually are. Making the price just under a rounded dollar gives the illusion that you aren't spending a whole dollar more. $4.95 isn't $4, it's basically $5, but seeing the 4 tricks your brain.
Another thing on the price tag that is manipulating you is what's actually missing from it. Stores will leave the '$' off of prices because they don't want to remind you that you're spending money. They want you to think of food, not the amount it costs. Without the dollar sign, you don't think of the numbers as prices.
Ever feel claustrophobic pushing your cart down the aisles? You feel like you can barely fit down the narrow path. Well, that's on purpose. Supermarkets do this trick so you can't make a u-turn. By forcing you to walk all the way down the long aisle, they're giving you the "opportunity" to browse all the other items on the shelves that you don't really need, in the hopes that you'll pick up more stuff to buy.
Next time you have to make a trip to the supermarket, just remember the tricks they use to try to mess with consumers' minds and get more out of their wallets. Now that you can recognize what they're doing, you'll be able to avoid falling for them!
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