The psychology of a supermarket

How often do you think about the decisions behind supermarkets? For example, the music, the layout, the selection of food? Well, as the average UK shopper takes 221 trips to the supermarket every year; there is a lot more behind the scenes than one might think. Certain aspects of a supermarket aids in the temptation to buy more products.

Supermarkets often rely on certain techniques to nudge shoppers in spending more money. Here are a few examples of how a layout can affect your shopping experience from a recent BBC article:

  • The Layout: “Some supermarkets place sweet treats and magazines at the till to encourage impulse buys. This tactic works particularly well on children who use ‘pester power’. A nationwide survey shows that 83% of parents have been pestered by their children to purchase junk food at supermarket tills and 75% have given in and bought junk food.”
  • Location of essential items: “Some supermarkets put essentials, such as milk and bread, far away from the entrance. This means you pass countless special offers and tempting displays. The essentials are also placed far away from each other. Sometimes eggs are hidden in store. This egg hunt makes you travel through the supermarket. More time spent in the supermarket equals more time to spend money.”
  • Bargains: “Promotions and special offers generally take place at the end of aisles as these areas have high visibility. In fact we have become so conditioned to expect bargains at the end of aisles that people are 30% more likely to buy items at the end of the aisle than in the middle. “
  • Fruit and Vegetables: “Fresh fruit and vegetables are often at the front of the supermarket. This doesn’t make sense for consumers as these items are likely to get bruised. However, buying healthy foods puts shoppers in a good mood and may make them feel better about buying less healthy foods later on. “

Another example are pricing strategies:

  • Multi-buys: “Paying £4 for two cakes priced at £2 individually is not a bargain, it’s just arithmetic. But if the individual price of the cake was increased to £3 before a multi-buy promotion, the £4 price would seem like a sweet deal. “
  • Inconsistent pricing: “Supermarkets sometimes show some products in kilograms and others in grams, making it difficult to compare prices. “
  • Loss leaders: “Most consumers only know the price of about 20 essential items, which are referred to as ‘known value items’. These items are often sold at a loss. Often other items have high mark-ups. “

Here is a how they manipulate your senses:

  • Smell: “Smell is strongly linked to memory, making it a potent marketing tool. In supermarkets, smells evoke pleasurable memories, which encourage impulse buys. Smelling freshly baked bread in a supermarket may trigger a memory of a bakery in France – and next thing you know you’ve bought six croissants.” 
  • Sight: “Supermarkets are a feast for the eyes, with colourful foods and promotions as far as the eye can see. Supermarkets place premium products at eye level. Children’s cereal may be placed on low shelves, at their eye level, leading to them using ‘pester power’ to get their parents to spend more. Studies have shown that if you make eye contact with a character on a cereal box you are more likely to feel connected to the brand and prefer it over other brands. Additionally, Some supermarkets use smaller floor tiles in areas with expensive items to give the illusion of fast movement. As you notice the clicking of the trolley wheels becoming faster, you instinctively slow down.”
  • Sound: “Music may also affect what you buy. Studies have shown that when classical music is playing in a wine shop people buy more expensive wine. They also find that French music leads to French wine outselling German wine and vice versa.”
  • Taste: “Research has shown that 75% of people take free samples when offered. Free samples can also pique our appetite, a free bite of chocolate reminds you how good it tastes and encourages you to buy it.”

I recommend reading the article, it puts supermarkets into an interesting perspective. The next time you walk into your location Tesco or Sainsbury’s, see if they are trying these tricks to get you to spend more.

Food and Beverage is a space that Polestar is always watching. If you are interested in learning more about food trends in general, feel free to check out our other blog posts: my colleagues and I have previously written about the agri-tech market, alternative meat market, and sustainable food. Polestar also has previous experience and research within the Food & Leisure space, so give us a shout if you are looking to expand your business.

By Anusheh Khan on 10/10/2022