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Supermarket Psychology (and a few insider tricks)

The Economist is known for its deep analysis and heavy topics, but I found this article about supermarkets and the science of shopping [3]. The first time I heard about supermarket psychology was when someone explained to me that the most appealing products were always shown at eye level. When the product is placed at eye level, you are more prone to picking it up and subsequently buying it. That’s only the beginning.

If there’s one lesson to be learned after reading this article, it’s that supermarkets are one big maze and we’re the rats running through them.

Psychology Works!

The article is based out of Basingstoke, England but you’ll find that the description of the Sainsbury’s store layout is probably not unlike your local grocery store’s layout. My local Giant grocery store is laid out in the same manner. Our “decompression zone” holds the store circular and hand scanners. Our “chill zone” also has books and magazines and is set up right next to the pharmacy, presumably to keep you occupied if you’re waiting for your prescription.

Then we have fruits and vegetables, just like Sainsbury. Many of the staples, like meats and dairy, are located in the back after you walk through the aisles.

Traditionally retailers measure “footfall”, as the number of people entering a store is known, but those numbers say nothing about where people go and how long they spend there. But nowadays, a ubiquitous piece of technology can fill the gap: the mobile phone. Path Intelligence, a British company working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tracked people’s phones at Gunwharf Quays, a large retail and leisure centre in Portsmouth—not by monitoring calls, but by plotting the positions of handsets as they transmit automatically to cellular networks. It found that when dwell time rose 1% sales rose 1.3%.

Sneaky (creepy?) stuff huh? Check out the article, it’s well worth the read.

Back yet? Now that you’ve become aware of the psychology behind supermarkets, let’s get down tot eh nitty gritty with some tips that will help you win the war against those sneaky behavioral scientists and their mind games!

Supermarket Tricks

Here are a few tips I’ve learned when scouring the interwebs and my own mind. These are tips designed to save you money and time when you’re at the supermarket.

Seven Items to Skip

This is a list of seven items from Yahoo Finance [6], as well as reasons why (with my own commentary), you should skip on your trip to the grocery store. You’ll notice a theme here too, a lot of it has to do with products that have added labor in them. Bagged salads, spice mixes, tomato sauce. You can make many of these things yourself with a little extra work, work that can be a lot of fun!

Every once and a while I write a post that just gets lost in woodwork of Bargaineering and today you’ll get to see one of those posts. This was originally drafted near the end of 2008 but for whatever reason, never actually got published. 🙂

Do you have any tips for the supermarket?

(Photo: kozumel [9])