It’s no secret that marketers study human behavior when trying to figure out how to squeeze more money out of consumers. Market research is based on observing the habits of average people in an attempt to place attractive goods and/or services in front of them. This is fairly easy to see in TV and magazine advertising. What might not be so obvious, however, is the ways in which grocery stores – the ones we shop at week after week – are arranged to achieve the same effect.
Store owners and managers know that the best way to make extra sales is to get us to make impulse buys – purchases of things that we hadn’t meant to pick up when first coming to the store. The second best way is to entice us to buy more expensive varieties of the items we normally shop for. There’s a few ways in which they try to accomplish these things, and the secret lies in the presentation and the store layout.
Many of us, after we become accustomed to shopping in a certain store, will develop a certain “route” that we always take to find what we need (since, oftentimes, those items will be similar from trip to trip). Of course, many staple items that we typically come in for – like milk, butter, eggs, meat, and bread – will be along the side aisles or against the farther wall. That means we have to walk to the back of the store, passed shelves full of tempting items that aren’t on our shopping list but, man, do they look good. Every time we succumb to the lure we make a store manager happy.
Sure, we can discipline ourselves to just stick to our tried and true route and not be tempted. But they have a way of foiling our safe and predictable routine: by periodically reorganizing the shelves and moving things from the places where we’ve grown accustomed to seeing them. Again, we’re obliged to do more leg work in order to find our favorite items – and we see a lot of things along the way that we don’t really need but maybe want to try, just this once. When we know the layout by heart, we no longer notice much of what’s around us: we’re focused on what we need. Store owners and managers know this, so by shaking things up a bit they try to increase the chances that something new will catch our eye.
Sticking to the perimeter of a store can help us to avoid this pitfall, because the food items there can’t be shifted so easily. Meat can’t be taken out of the cooler and placed in the cereal aisle, after all. Skirting around the edges goes a long way towards leading us passed temptation. Besides, this is where we find the fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats – foods that are not only cheaper but also healthier than their boxed, frozen and processed relatives.
Marketing experts are also aware of our tendency to notice things that are at eye level. Store displays are planned with this in mind. That’s why it’s typically the higher-priced, brand name products that are visible right there in front of us, while we have to look on the top and bottom shelves to find the lower-priced, store brand or generic items. But it can be worth standing on our tip-toes or crouching down to find the bargains and save a few dollars. We serve our own wallets best when we’re wary of the gimmicks that’ve been put in place to part the fool from his money.