Episode 13: Big Brother? What Your Grocery Store Knows About You

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Psychological Research in your life: does your local grocery store know more about you than you do? We take a look at the research that’s been done to learn more about your behavior in the supermarket and how that information is used to get you to buy more than you planned for.


From the MSN article “15 Ways Stores trick you into spending”

  • Shopping Carts: they are large and tend to be right near the entrance to entice you to use them
  • Toys: far from the entrance
  • The most expensive versions of items are at eye level while bulk options are at the bottom
  • Items that are not on sale are arranged to look like they are on sale (placed at the end of the isle with a large sign)
  • Commodity items, like socks, are surrounded by non-commodity items, like shirts and jeans (for example, peanut butter and jelly are placed near each other)
  • There usually isn’t a section where inexpensive items are placed all together – inexpensive items are placed among expensive ones
  • “Stores are designed to maximize the number of stops you have to make” because you buy when you stop
  • Restrooms are placed far from the entrance to force you to go past things you might buy

From the article “The Theory of Supermarkets”

The New York Times Magazine, March 10, 1996

  • The stock of your typical store (10 years ago) held about 30,000 items – tough competition among all these products
  • have you noticed that the first thing you see when you walk in the door is produce? This is done to give you the idea of freshness and “bounty”. Notice also the colors, the water that rains down on the celery, etc. Gets you “in the mood” Other supermarkets begin with flowers
  • Butchers have no blood on them because research has shown that this turns customers off (bloodier activities take place in the back)
  • Cart behavior: when you turn the cart in one direction, you tend to look in the other direction. So, if we can steer you just right through the isles, we can put “specials” on the “strong side”
  • you will buy more soup if it is not in alphabetical order
  • store labels are always to the left of popular brands. Why? like reading, after your eye is caught be a familiar label, you tend to look left next. so, put the store brand on the left of the popular brand.
  • The best viewing angle: the average eye height of a woman is 59 inches and a man: 64 inches, so 15 degrees below horizontal (51 to 53 inches off the floor)
  • by the way, when you examine a shelf you’re likely to stand 4 feet away.
  • background music: slow it down to about 60 beats/min and your cart will slow down as well and you’re more likely to see things you might purchase. classical music gives your products a higher degree of perceived value:
  • play classical in the background – barnes and noble/ new agey
  • play upbeat – clothes stores
  • play rock – music stores, etc.
  • Cereal arranged by type (flakes, brans) rather than by brand will decrease sales
  • Also on cereal: make it difficult to compare them: create different size boxes, and call them by different names (Apple Cinnamon or Honey Nut) and it makes it diffiuclt to compare.


Other research:

  • The smell of cucumber makes a room feel larger, while the smell of barbeque makes it feel smaller
  • Lavender smell is relaxing
  • Red colors tend to draw you physically closer

How to fight back?

  • Use a list
  • Don’t come hungry
  • Don’t use a shopping cart unless you need to
  • At the checkout re-think everything you put into your cart
  • Start at the back and work forward
  • Look at the bottom shelf first
  • Carry a calculator
  • If you don’t know for sure that something is a good deal don’t buy it (it’s probably not a good deal and you’re being tricked into thinking it might be)

How to Buy Food: The Psychology of the Supermarket

Musical Resources

David Temple
The classical guitar music you hear throughout the podcast is performed by David Temple and used by permission. You can go to David’s website by clicking here.

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