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The Many Ways that Grocery Stores Trick Consumers

Updated on November 26, 2012

A "Shopping Experience"

This Ralphs is situated in Westwood, CA, with a  Peet's Gourmet Coffee Shop "for their customers' enjoyment"!  Basically, it's designed for you to Stay Longer and Shop More...
This Ralphs is situated in Westwood, CA, with a Peet's Gourmet Coffee Shop "for their customers' enjoyment"! Basically, it's designed for you to Stay Longer and Shop More... | Source

Eyes Wide Open

Don't beat yourself up for being weak willed at the grocery store. How many times have you walked into a store, planning on buying two or three items, only to be shocked to find yourself filling up the shopping cart with non-essential items? You are neither the first nor the last. Next time you go in the lion's den, however, tune in to how grocery stores operate.

Psychology 101 / Abnormal Psyche

Marketing tricks are great examples of the usage of modern psychology. These expert promoters are truly clever and effective at getting the average shopper to spend double the amount intended. With well placed promotional items, last minute teasers at the checkout stand, color combining, emotional appeals and other methods, they are quite adept at this. Those heartless so-and-so's!!! Well, they've been at it for a long time, so you've got to give them credit for knowing how it's done....

Shopping Carts - One to a Customer

Take me!  Use me!  Fill me up!  OK, well, something like that...
Take me! Use me! Fill me up! OK, well, something like that... | Source

Grocery Carts - Marketing Flyers

When you enter the store, you are offered a shopping cart to make your shopping easier. You can take the cart, but be aware - this is a trick. Psychologically, a half empty cart looks incomplete, right?

Take a cart if you need to fill up your refrigerator. If you only need milk and a loaf of bread, avoid the cart, grabbing a hand-held basket or simply grab whatever you can carry in your own little arms.

The store specials are usually neatly folded and colorfully advertised also freely available at the store's cheerful entrance. The plan? Encourage to buy things that you don't really need. Shoppers regret - why did I buy that? This is what we are talking about. Just because an item is marked down doesn't mean that it's a) reasonably priced or b) necessary.



The Supermarket's Many Tricks

Time Wasting, Slow Music, Narrow Aisles, Long Lines...

The grocery store aisles are usually too narrow – also intended to slow the customer down in a traffic jam strategy. Running into people you know, not being able to look closely at the prices of the items which are more reasonably priced (usually higher or lower than eye level, which are the priciest). The more time spent in the store, the more likely of a larger amount at the checkout.

Store music a la Strangers in the Night is very slow and easy going, even piningly nostalgic depending on the customer base they are gearing towards. If the store is located in a retirement area, the music may jog back 40 or more years to encourage lingering, reminiscing, and - you guessed it - more shopping. A false sense of euphoria urges the shopper to slow down and enjoy the shopping experience and spend more... more... more!

In multi-plexes, there may be a coffee shop area, play zone and other stalling techniques to keep you in the store for as long a time as possible. The longer you stay, the more chance that you will buy!

Ride Em, Cowboy!

Mechanical toys, coffee shops, sandwich bars and even dry cleaners are often combined to expend the shopping experience for as long as possible.
Mechanical toys, coffee shops, sandwich bars and even dry cleaners are often combined to expend the shopping experience for as long as possible. | Source


Shop alone whenever possible. Boisterous children or a chatty friend can de-concentrate you, so don't be surprised if you spent $100 or more that you didn't need.

When you walk into the store, you are going into battle! Sales people are trained to sell you what you don't need. So be wise and take on the challenge with respect and courage. Only the wise can escape alive!

Location and Positioning

Shopping Tips

Those "end of the aisle" items are NOT on sale. Did you notice that they often don't have dollar signs on them? Marketing managers know that a dollar sign means "cost" to your brain (negative). If just a number is shown, that means "savings".

Even though end of aisle items look like a featured special, flashy and appealing, they are nothing of the sort: they are actually higher priced items. Stores know that these items invariable get more attention than items that are buried in the center of the aisle.

The Back Rows - the Bottom Aisles

The items you need the most – like fresh milk, butter and eggs - all dairy items actually - can be found in the far back of the store. How clever! You have to travel the distance to get to the gold, with a hundred or more temptations between you and your ultimate goal - the MILK!

The best bargains, time and time again, are usually near the floor. Reach down and pick those good deals. Eye level is the prime time location. The items you have to stoop down to pick up are generally priced to move and are a lot less expensive.

Fresh and Colorfully Appealing

Fresh fruit and veggies look great - the store makes sure you can't ignore them!
Fresh fruit and veggies look great - the store makes sure you can't ignore them! | Source


If you didn't come into the store intending to buy flowers (or danishes or some toy on discount) then DON'T!

Floral and Bakery Aisles

The Floral section (flowers are nice, but come on...) the Produce section and the in-house Bakery are the sections most likely placed near the front where you can't avoid them.

Freshly baked danishes are right under your nose as you enter - the last thing most of us want to indulge in - and mouth watering bakery smells are pumped throughout the store, making them awfully hard to resist. Certainly those sweet treats weren't what you came into the store intending to buy. A loaf of bread, anyone?

Misty Water Colored Memories...

The produce is usually covered with fine mist and given a look that is was just picked in the early morning farm dew. All tricks designed to get the consumer to purchase much more than he or she had originally planned to.

Give a bit of Hmm to me, and I give a bit of Hmm to you

Sample This

Finger Lickin' - so don't be shocked when they say "limit 10 packages per customer".  HUH?????
Finger Lickin' - so don't be shocked when they say "limit 10 packages per customer". HUH????? | Source

Psychology of Reciprocation

Reverse psychology plays a part in shopping, too. When someone offers you something you feel like returning the favor, right? That's why so many stores offer free samples. A nibble or two of their grilled sausages or cheese puffs doesn't mean you need to feel obligated to pick up a twelve-pack of them. This is an old marketing trick that you can spot a mile away.

The only thing is, it's not a level relationship. The big bad sausage company gives you a taste of a sausage at wholesale cost, and you go buy twelve of them at retail. That is not share and share alike!!

Shopping from A to Z

Do you like shopping?

See results

Limit - Ten Per Customer

...but Only While Supplies Last!

Alright, time to be honest....Did you ever have a wild desire to buy ten cherry cheesecakes?

Bet the idea never crossed your mind (nor mine!) until they told you that ten was all you could buy. That means - EEK! - you must put your neighbor up to buying ten more so you can really stock up for a cheesecake frenzy. This is just another example of the reverse psychology presented to the poor little old customer, who had not yet decided to buy even one of those ghastly things?

By implying that all your friends are stocking up on a product the consumer gets the smart idea that he will absolutely get his allotment of ten while he still can, if it's the last thing he does! Very interesting – and very clever.

A little bit like playing hard to get. Some tricks seem to always work, no matter how old they happen to be.

Oh well, it is definitely worth a try!

Checkout Stand Frustration

The Long and Winding Road....

Destination - Checkout Point

Is it my imagination, or is it a mile long line to the checkout stand?

In most cases, the store manager or other employees are in no big rush to open a new register. This is not by accident. Many high priced, last minute shopping hooks (with bait) are located near the check out. They include magazines, candy bars, funky cigarette lighters, batteries, gadgets, annoying little things that your kids become fascinated with, and more. All at the end of this Long and Winding Road known as the LINE or the QUEUE if you happen to be in England, Australia, etc. Try not to bite your nails while you face the doldrums. Try not to physically assault the chatty Cathy gossiping up a storm with the cashier.

Visions of a meter maid giving you an expensive ticket, wondering if your kids have left their school practice to wander off home or if the dinner will get cooked before midnight tonight is all part of the waiting in the grocery store line phenomenon.

Experienced Shoppers - Unite :)

Do you have any special Supermarket strategies?

See results


1. Stick to the grocery list - in other words, be as rigid as an army corporal! OK, maybe not, but that is the basic idea. Blinder and forward - SHOP!

2. Shop Online - Calm cool and collected, click on the supermarket offerings online, sit back and wait for your delivery to arrive. Not a bad idea but you do lose a little control since someone else does the picking. Good news is - spontaneous shopping is eliminated. Bad news - no spontaneous shopping - you miss out on sale items. Oh well, plus / minus.

3. Give someone else money and let them shop for you. Again, you may lose on quality and control, but you eliminate the temptation and save time. So this is another consideration...

4. Go out to eat, as a friend of mine does. It's easier and cheaper in the long run, she explains. OK, I am adding it to the list.

5. Anything else? If so, please add in the comments section.

6. GOOD LUCK SHOPPING! It really is a jungle out there! PS, beware of false and misleading advertising. For example, Going Out For Business is not the same as Going Out Of Business. When we were kids we would tell the hosts "that was the best spaghetti I ever saw" (not ate) if you get my point....


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