The subtle tricks supermarkets use to make you spend more

·5-min read

It's no secret all shops, including supermarkets, will use tricks to encourage spending.

Jana Bowden, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Psychology at Macquarie University, says shops know how to "hit the right psychological triggers and push consumers' buttons", all in an effort to get us to open our wallets.

She told Yahoo News Australia the tactics work because humans are hard-wired to hunt, especially when it comes to deals.

The vast majority of shoppers – 92 per cent – are always on the hunt for a deal when they're at the shops she said.

"The tricks that supermarkets employ to get your ‘share of wallet’ is seemingly endless, but these tricks are also very effective," she said.

"After all, marketing is manipulation."

There are several
There are several "tricks" supermarkets use to make customers spend more time in the store and more money. Source: Getty Images, file

How a store's set-up impacts how you shop

You may have walked into a supermarket once or twice with the intention of buying one or two staple items and somehow walked out with a basketful.

The merchandising layout is meticulous and intentional. Prof Bowden says the layout is designed in such a way so consumers pick up more items.

"We see supermarkets place products that they know consumers buy frequently at the back of the store – think staples like milk, juice, eggs, meat," Prof Bowden says.

"That way consumers are drawn through the aisles to browse on the way to grabbing the staple item. This encourages purchases of other categories as consumers walk past them."

A jar of Vegemite spread is arranged for a photograph in a shopping basket at a grocery store in Melbourne
You may just pop into the supermarket for some milk, but you may end up with some extra items. Stores are designed that way. Source:Bloomberg via Getty

This trick isn't just seen when looking at the layout of the store, but also on the shelves. Prof Bowden says consumers might notice premium brands are usually at eye level, so it's harder to avoid them.

"When I take my nine-year-old shopping for chocolate spread all she sees is the giant multiple-level layers of Nutella jars in front of her," she said.

"She doesn’t notice the other more affordable brands above or below."

One of the most 'effective' tricks at the supermarket

One of the most effective tricks at the supermarket is the use of colour, Prof Bowden says. When you're perusing the aisles, you may notice two colours in particular.

Red and yellow can be seen on sales tags, point-of-sale promotional displays and promotional stickers on the floor and there's a reason for this.

"From a consumer psychology perspective, red and yellow triggers a psychological and physiological response," she says.

"It creates excitement, it grabs our attention as shoppers, it spikes the heart rate and it works effectively in-store and online."

A customer pushes a shopping cart through a cereals and biscuits aisle at a Woolworths
Colour is the most effective trick used by stores and supermarkets. Source: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Colour is actually one of the main reasons why a consumer might end up buying a product. Prof Bowden says 85 per cent of consumers cite it as the main reason they make a purchase.

"It also triggers impulse purchases. What is the last thing you see at the checkout? Discounted confectionary bars," she adds.

Naturally, sale signs also encourage us to buy more.

Consumers might frame prices in their heads, sorting prices from highest to lowest. They often won't read the discount in-depth, but they will buy an item simply because it's on sale.

"It’s counterintuitive but sales signs often discourage consumers from doing their price homework," Prof Bowden says.

The nudge effect and dopamine

There are other things supermarkets use to encourage impulse buying and Prof Bowden explains the "nudge effect" is often in "full swing" at supermarkets.

Think of buy one, get one free offers, cashback offers, free samples and promotional offers like collectibles offered at Woolworths and Coles. These are all "nudge" tricks.

These nudges encourage consumers to buy more to redeem or qualify for a deal and it has an emotional effect on shoppers.

Specials and sales are one of many ways consumers are enticed inside a supermarket. Source: AAP
Specials and sales are one of many ways consumers are enticed inside a supermarket. Source: AAP

"They work because deals trigger emotional responses in consumers, we feel satisfied, excited, or savvy and we get a temporary shopper’s dopamine high from knowing we got a deal," Prof Bowden says.

Loyalty programs also entice consumers to shop, and customers feel rewarded when they get bonus points on items they usually pick up at the supermarket.

The most subtle trick used at supermarkets

If you're in a rush, wrangling your children or listening to a podcast, you may not even notice this last trick.

Prof Bowden suggests paying attention to the music next time you're in a supermarket, she says the music is designed for shopping.

The music played in a supermarket is intentional. Source: AP Photo
The music played in a supermarket is intentional. Source: AP Photo

Just like everything else in the shop, the music is intentional, Prof Bowden describes the general vibe of the song choices as "unobtrusive", adding it's never "overtly fast-paced".

"It's designed to slow your pace, make the store feel familiar and make you feel comfortable so you linger longer and shop more as a result," she says.

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