“Sixty percent of buying in supermarkets is not premeditated,” said Paco Underhill, principal of the New York behavioral research and consulting firm, Envirosell Inc.
Whilst the figure is contested, there is little doubt that with in-store marketing, supermarkets influence what and how much you buy. Craptastic items are strongly promoted; supermarkets push for bulk sales to the detriment of your health.
“Individual responsibility” is something supermarkets chime when mounting a defense about unhealthy products. I say they share the responsibility with us and the food and drink industry. Don’t you think a corporation that took its social responsibility extremely seriously would lay off the hard sell?
They should stop manipulating shoppers and Stop pushing Craptastic.
In the meantime—or until pigs fly—here’s what to look out for and what you can do.
Five techniques that supermarkets use to manipulate your product purchases.
With this technique, supermarkets set low prices—sometimes below cost—to lure shoppers into their stores. Once they’re inside they buy other high-profit goods. Items most likely to be loss leaders include frequently purchased items (as the shopper remembers the cost) and brands favoured by price sensitive shoppers. They say shoppers are lapping it up; in this store, they have little choice.
Volume pricing plays on shopper ignorance of the costs involved to manufacture food; they have no knowledge of an item’s absolute value, so they make decisions on relative value. For example, when 30 cans are priced as a group less than 30 times the price of an individual can, they perceive better value. The shopper overbuys and thus, overconsumes.
Shoppers are lured deep into the supermarket to prolong shopping time and sales. This is why staple products are scattered throughout; fruit and vegetables are placed at the entrance, meat is at the back and dairy at the side. To complete a shopping trip, the customer has to make a circuit of the store and be tempted by the other goods on offer.
Different shelf positioning strongly influences visual attention and directly influences evaluation. Waist to eye level is the prime position and brands pay premium fees for this. Attention is also strongly influenced by the number of product facings, which has an impact on product evaluation. The effect of this varies depending upon product, category, brand, location and by store.
Retail promotions take advantage of the anchoring heuristic. In one study, scientists discovered that multiple unit pricing (e.g. “Any 4 for $7”) leads to a 32% increase in sales in comparison to single unit prices. Quantity limit promotions (e.g. “Limit of 12 per customer”) encouraged the purchase of greater amounts. Suggestive selling (e.g. “Buy 16 Mars Bars for your fridge”) also increases intended purchase quantities despite a sale price not being included.
Other ways supermarkets increase your purchases are with endcap and point-of-purchase displays, smell, music, discount cues, sampling, cross-merchandising and by mimicking leading brands.
Underhill suggests a few ways you can avoid buying unhealthy food and spending too much in the supermarket.
- Design a menu plan for the week.
- Make a shopping list and stick to it; buy only what you actually need.
- Recognise you are not saving money by buying something you don’t need; the more you stock, the more you consume.
- Do not shop when you’re tired or hungry.
- If possible, do not drive; avoid overspending by carrying your purchases home.
“Buy for what you’re going to consume,” Underhill says. “Stick. To. The. List.”
Alternatively, you can minimise or totally avoid shopping at supermarkets. Shop at the markets, with independent stores and CSAs; you may find better and fresher food, you’ll eat healthier and save money too.