Forewarned is Forearmed – The psychology of supermarkets and how they automate our choices – Part 2

Man in Jar

In part 1 of our series – Forewarned is Forearmed – The psychology of supermarkets – we discovered why the milk is so hard to discover, why the fresh fruit and vegetables are placed so enticingly near the entrance and how programmed patterns of thought, hard wired over decades are now being used to get us to pick up bargains that are anything but. Supermarket planners are expert psychologists. And all of this coerces us into spending more and inadvertently, eating more.

So what more is there to know? Here in part 2 we delve a little deeper.

 Time is of the essence

Clock of Money

Supermarkets can be irritating places to be. Children get fed up quickly and begin to moan, air conditioning noise and artificial lighting can quickly begin to fray the nerves and we just want out of there. This doesn’t serve the needs of the store. They want to get us in and keep us in. The longer we spend in the shop the more we shop. So they need to slow us down. It is not unusual for supermarkets to carefully select music that ‘encourages’ us to slow our pace and almost any music will filter through into the conscious mind over a little air con, so tunes are used to distract us from anything that makes us want to speed up. Yet once outside of the store you would be hard pressed to remember if any music was playing at all.

We saw in part 1 of this series how the ‘staples’, bread, milk and eggs are hidden deep in the store to get us to wander around a bit but the popular brands are used in a similar way. These will frequently be moved so we have to search around, again slowing us down and allowing us more time and opportunity to spot other delicious goodies we didn’t even know that we needed.

Having an interest in nutrition, and obviously we do, can actually compound the time trap. Over 60% of us now take the time to read nutrition labels and guidelines on some of the products we buy. Knowledge is no bad thing of course and we encourage the studying of labels but do be aware that you are now handling more products and investing more of yourself in the shopping experience. They haven’t just taken you by the arm they have grabbed you by the brain. But this isn’t all a bad thing. Psychology is wonderful and knowledge even more so. Reading the labels might be good for both parties involved. Just make sure you know what you are reading and can understand the info they are putting at your fingertips.

With time being of the essence it seems 40 minutes is a magic number. As much as 50% of our more emotional purchases occur in supermarkets following this amount of time.

Brain scanning

Brain Parts

Who would have believed that those expensive scanning machines used for diagnostic purposes in hospitals are being used to help us to spend more during our ‘weekly’ grocery shop? Sophisticated use of MRI scanning shows what lights up the brain giving the retailers more and more information about luring us to the expensive goodies. Hidden cameras have given them a wealth of information about where our eyes wonder and where we are more likely to look enabling wiser product placement and crowd modeling has become a dark art for steering us toward that which they want us to buy. But let’s face it: they aren’t actually brain washing us. They are simply using a number of ploys to encourage a larger spend. They haven’t turned us into zombie shoppers just yet. In fact, zombie shoppers aren’t what they want. Zombies just mindlessly walk around picking up that which they went in for, pay for it quickly and leave. The supermarket psychologists want us to engage with the shop at as many levels as possible. Maybe more zombie is what we need!


More Supermarket Psychology

Ever used a basket in a supermarket? Designed to dig into the palms of your hands and feel very uncomfortable, you can’t manage with one for long so you put it back and get a trolley far too big for your needs. But it is comfortable albeit it difficult to steer. You slow down with a trolley and become far more inclined to overload – after all, you can now manage a few extra purchases without your grip strength giving way. And while you are here, you might as well make the shop count. Pile it in!

Premium brands are also at convenient heights on the shelves. In some countries it is accepted practice to charge suppliers even more for easy reach places on the shelves. The bargains or cheaper, less promoted brands are low down or high up, making you work harder for them. Who wants to bend down for a pack of lentils they will have to soak over night when a more expensive tin of pre soaked pulses is right there at elbow level?



In our 2 part series we have seen how we can be coaxed into spending more, buying differently and consuming far more than we intended to by the subtle use of supermarket psychology. We are all being manipulated to a degree by the marketing practices of the world each and everyday. There’s no law against it and that is probably a good thing. After all we use psychology ourselves to present better to the world.

In the comments section this week we would love for you to offer some suggestions for how to get around and overcome the tricks of the supermarket psychologists so we can all shop in a more savvy manner.

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