Forewarned is Forearmed – The psychology of supermarkets and how they automate our choices – Part 1

clockwork man

The world turns and many of us are trying to buy local again at least for certain items. It has been years now since my own Sunday joint was bought at the supermarket and we here at MHD pick up our bread order less than 100 yards from our front door. We are even beaten to the offices each morning by the milkman as he drops off a pint or two. But still we remain denizens of supermarkets. I have fallen foul of their dazzling displays, the ranges and the choice they provide and the opportunity to browse as though a tourist on holiday checking out the local craft stores and boutiques.

So am I grabbed by a brilliant shopping experience or has my mind been twisted by the psychological tricks. You decide.

Unless a supermarket is going to get us in with unbelievable bargains and ever lower prices (and some do) the competition is so fierce for our grocery pound that all manner of subtle and not so subtle tricks are employed to get our attention, get us in, keep us in and get our cash pouring from our wallets and purses. And maybe, just maybe, get us buying the foods that we don’t need, the foods that our more objective selves would see as excessive and anathema to our weight loss and fitness goals. So a touch more awareness might just save us from ourselves and save some of our hard earned pennies too. Let’s take a look.

The psychology often starts quite literally as the door shuts behind you. The doors of many supermarkets are a one-way affair. Of course, you can turn around and go against the flow if you wish ignoring the non-enforceable NO EXIT sign but the civilized thing to do is to now walk around the shop, through the tills as this is the only way out and exit via the ‘correct door’. This might make traffic flow better and easier on us all but you have now spent those extra few moments under their spell and the psychological ploys have been manipulating you the whole time. Well played Supermarkets.

supermarket flowers

And as we enter we are often seduced by the brightest and most colorful products usually the fresh cut flowers and the fruit and vegetables. Just say those few words again: ‘fresh cut flowers and fruit and vegetables.’ Just saying that sentence make you feel wholesome and lovely. They have many positive connotations. We feel good. And certain artificial lighting can make these natural wonders appear even more beautiful than they really are. It’s not unknown for the ‘supes’ to spray a little water on them to make them appear even fresher but here they begin to gamble as this water can make the produce spoil more quickly. They have to be sure that you are going to put these in the basket. And we do. Now have a little think about where these foods are located and therefore where they go in the trolley. Wouldn’t it be wiser to have all of these soft and squishy items placed last in the store? You know, so they can go on top. Of course it would be but selling psychology is more important than packing common sense.


Now where is that milk? I’ve walked in through the one way door, stopped to smell the roses, have been enticed to pick up a punnet of strawberries so some cream will now be needed (added calories with every delicious bite I didn’t intend to consume) but I can’t see the milk. Or the bread. Or the eggs. I need to explore. So I begin to wander about a bit. This is because the daily staples are hidden at the far ends of the store. You literally cannot pop in for milk or bread. For these daily items that quickly perish we need to get into our hiking gear and traipse to the far ends of the supermarket universe taking us past all of the highly marked up items we don’t need. And aren’t they wonderfully packaged?

Even our bananas are packaged to make us buy them more often and I don’t mean the plastic wrappings they sometimes find themselves suffocated behind. Studies took place to find out which shades of yellow made bananas more enticing and then growers bred bananas based on this. These are the bananas you buy – selected for the colour of their peel. Their taste didn’t come into it because you cannot taste test a banana in a shop. So something you eat, with your mouth, is bought on the yellowiness of its ‘wrapping’. Psychology is mad! Imagine what they can do to our minds with artificial wrappings if they can do this with bananas.

When I were a lad, the ends of supermarket aisles were where the bargains were placed. This became cemented in the public psyche. And our retail friends know this. These new ‘End zones’ are now where big scores can be made because we are programmed with this belief. The signage often plays up to the idea of a promotional buy but the items are actually normal value. Very clever. Very clever indeed.

Next week we will take a look at yet more psychological ploys that get us to buy more, eat more and even waste more and in this series we will also provide a supermarket survival guide to get the odds of the grocery shop gamble back in our favour.

Have you noticed any interesting psychological hacks used when you’re out shopping? Please share them below or on our Facebook pages – we love hearing from you all.

One thought on “Forewarned is Forearmed – The psychology of supermarkets and how they automate our choices – Part 1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s