7 Ways Supermarkets Get You to Spend More Money

We have all been there. We go to the supermarket to buy our groceries, we have a list, we have a plan, yet somehow we leave with more than we intended. How does this happen?

Supermarkets have strategies in place to tempt customers into spending more money. Everything about the store is designed to keep shoppers in the store, and seduce them into spending money. Everything from the shelf layout and floor plans to the free samples to the music and lighting are meant to entice you and make you spend more. Next time you are at the store look out for the following sly psychology tactics:

1. Produce First
You may notice that just about every grocery store has the produce set up near the front door and the bakery and florals nearby. There is a reason for this as well. The scents, colors and textures in the produce department awaken our senses and make us feel both hungry and happy. The smell of the fresh baked bread wafting out from the bakery has a similar effect. The flowers make you feel comfortable and at home. This ambiance gives us the feeling right from the get go that the store is a welcoming place.

2. Lighting
In the produce department the lighting is set to make vegetables and fruits appear their best. According to Rebecca Rupp, writer for National Geographic’s The Plate, even the periodic sprays of water are only for show. The spray is used to give produce a fresh-picked and dewy appearance. In reality the water serves no practical purpose and can, in fact, make some produce spoil more quickly.

3. Dairy in the Back
Dairy products and eggs are items many people find themselves making a “quick run” to the store for. How many times have you been cooking and realized you don’t have enough milk? You go to the grocery for a gallon of milk and $50 later you are on your way home. Supermarkets don’t want you to make a “quick run.” They are designed to keep you in the store for as long as possible, so dairy is in the back, ensuring the customer will have to walk the length of the store –passing numerous tempting products- to get the item they need.

4. Popular Items in the Middle
The middle aisles are often filled with the more popular items. This is so even the most disciplined shopper has a chance to be distracted. The mid-aisle position is set up to sidetrack “boomerang” shoppers- people (usually men) who head for the item they came for, then return the way they came.

5. Music and Time
According to Rupp, a study conducted in 1982 that focused on the background music at stores and its effects on shoppers, found that customers spent 34% more time shopping in stores that played music. In turn, they spent more money. Another way stores keep you in them longer is that they are lacking time cues. You’ll notice that most have no windows or skylights, and you can never find a clock.

Why do this? It is simple. The longer you are in the store, the more you will see. The more stuff that you see, the more you will be tempted to buy.

6. Shelf Order and End Caps
The most expensive items in the store are placed at eye level and the generic brands are placed on lower shelves. Foods that are meant to draw children are set at the child’s eye level. A study by Cornell even found that kid-targeted cereal packaging is designed in a way that the cartoon character on the box makes eye contact with the little ones as they pass by. This prompts them to ask you for the cereal.

The displays that are set up at the end of the aisles are called end caps. The end cap is a supermarkets clever shopper trap. Companies will spend big bucks to have their products displayed on an end cap, as the end cap is a hot spot for impulse buys. The National Retail Hardware Association states that products on an end cap sells eight times faster than the same product shelved in the aisle.

7. Shopping Cart Size
Shopping carts have tripled in size since their invention in 1937, and they are still growing. Having a shopping cart increases the chance of the customer buying more. Doubling the size of the cart will lead the shopper to buy nearly 40% more groceries.


So what can we do? Making a list and sticking to it is the best advice. Also, try and make fewer shopping trips. The less you go and more efficient you are in your shopping will be easier on the purse strings. Or maybe don’t bring the kids and husband shopping, but if you must, make sure you encourage him to stick to the list! Oh, and always avoid shopping when you are hungry!
And remember, while grocery stores want you to spend your dollars with them, the amazing variety of food and other products we have access to is a celebration of the diversity, abundance and options we have in America.

Now that you are aware of the supermarket traps, maybe you can avoid them the next time you shop.

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