Is Your Supermarket Trying To Seduce You Into Spending More?

Retailers are having to work harder than ever to lure customers into their stores and get us to spend money. It’s not enough these days to just put the shiniest red apples on top of the bins in the produce section! Grocery stores have always been at the forefront of tactics to get us to buy more – pioneering the shopping cart, for example, which debuted around 1937 at the Piggly Wiggly chain.

Carts were not an instant hit. Apparently they were too reminiscent of baby carriages and the male grocery shoppers of the time didn’t want to be seen pushing them, nor did many of the ladies. “I’ve pushed my last baby buggy,” one female customer is quoted as saying. The inventor had to hire models to stroll the aisles of his grocery stores using the carts and greeters to offer carts to customers walking in, explaining the many advantages. Over time, the shopping cart has become popular with customers and the retailers learned that if they made the carts bigger, people bought more.

Another pretty commonly known grocery store tactic is to put candy and small impulse items at the checkout stands, so that as we wait in line – or our restless little kids do – we’re more likely to give in to that urge for some M&M’s or start reading a magazine we then have to buy to finish the story we started reading.

I recently learned that my overly friendly checker at the local supermarket chain may actually be acting upon training instructions, to chat as a distraction so I won’t notice if something gets mischarged due to a discrepancy between the posted shelf price and the computer price. I’ll be so busy chatting with her, I won’t see the problem and ask for the lower price!

But apparently nowadays the grocery business has  gone high tech in its efforts to garner more of our hard earned dollars. According to Business Week, there’s at least one hush hush facility outside of Chicago designed to test customer responses to different marketing strategies.

How about the “speed bump area,” designed to subconsciously invite the shopper to spend 45 seconds longer in a given spot? Statistics showed she would increase her average spend by 73% as a result. The floor surface was different in this aisle, making the cart wheels go clickety-clack rather than silently gliding, which caused the shopper pushing the cart to slow down.

Deeply ingrained in all of us is the primitive survival technique of hoarding food, just in case of bad times. The supermarkets play into that, keying off the physiological fact that when we come across a deal, our brains release dopamine, providing a rush of pleasure. This testing facility had run an experiment with cans of soup. In the first run, they put up a sign with a dollar sign in front of the price and no limit on the number of cans you could buy. They also provided smaller shopping carts and put down a quieter floor.

Next day they ran the same experiment with the bigger cart, the noisy wooden floor, took off the dollar sign in front of the price and put up a sign stating the maximum number of cans was three.


Day One,  1 in 103 shoppers bought the soup.

Day Two,  1 in 14 people bought the soup.

Deleting the dollar sign and setting a limit really pushed the right buttons to sell more soup!

And this was just one of hundreds of experiments being run nonstop at this facility, to figure out how to entice us to buy more items and spend more money once we were in the door. (Research on how to get us in the store in the first place is a whole other subject.)

So next time you go grocery shopping, will you look more closely at the signs, the floor, the cart, the specials? Knowing that it’s all been carefully considered to manipulate you into going off your list and seduce you into overspending your budget?

What’s your biggest impulse purchase at the grocery store?

5 comments on “Is Your Supermarket Trying To Seduce You Into Spending More?

  1. I’m wondering if I can hire those people in Chicago to look at my book’s sales page on Amazon. Could use one of those techniques, lol.

    Hmm, maybe make the reader’s keyboard vibrate when they look at my page?

    Great post. 🙂

  2. Great post. I’m wondering if I can hire those guys from Chicago to take a look at my book’s Amazon sales page. Could use their advice. 🙂

    Vibrating keyboard maybe?

  3. What a terrific idea, hiring those researchers LOL indeed! Not sure they could help us though where they are used to selling soup and etc! Thanks for commenting…

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