How shops get you to spend

2014-07-07 08:00

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Ever wondered why supermarkets put fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables at the entrance of the store?

By the time you get to the teller, the flowers are wilting and the fruit is squashed below the tins of tomatoes and boxes of cereal. So what is the logic behind the layout of supermarkets?

The reason is that stores want customers to relax and slow down as they enter the shop, and to get a feeling of freshness from the shop environment.

The area is called the “decompression zone”. This appeal to human psychology was revealed in research by UK consumer body Which. It investigated the many ways retailers encourage us to spend more.

As this research was conducted in the UK, I took some time to wander around my local Pick n Pay and Woolworths Food stores to see how the layout of South African retailers compared.

Decompression zone: According to Which, it takes the average shopper 10 steps to adapt to the store’s environment and slow their pace to “shopping speed”. I watched my own behaviour and noticed I was indeed walking slower by the time I reached the main aisles.

Meal deal: Products that could be bought together to make a complete meal are often placed on the same shelf to encourage you to buy them all.

In Pick n Pay, the cook-in sauces were displayed above the freezers carrying chicken and custard powder shared the same shelf space with the long-life milk.

In Woolworths, I noticed the display of charcoal, chips, nuts and serviettes – seemingly unrelated products but, incidentally, the extras you may by enticed to buy for a braai.

Product positioning: People generally read shelves left to right and top to bottom. As such, supermarkets tend to place more profitable brands to the right and centre where your eye will come to rest. I noticed this phenomenon in Pick n Pay, where the store-brand goods tended to be in the centre of the shelf, and other brands to the left and right. Woolworths tends to carry mostly its own brand so it is a difficult comparison to make.

Essentials at the back: Stores never put your essentials like bread, milk and eggs near the front of the store. Instead, customers walk all the way to the back, meaning there is more of a chance for you to make an impulse buy along the way. Both Pick n Pay and Woolworths place their essentials right at the back of the store.

Catching the eye: When we walk down an aisle, our eyes naturally tend to be focused forward. As such, the store puts up signage to attract attention and slow customers down as they read the boards. By doing so, they hope to encourage an impulsive purchase or to highlight more profitable brands.

The Which survey found that Asda stores in the UK used wobbly signs to promote advertising specials. Both Pick n Pay and Woolworths also use vertical signs protruding from the shelves for promotions.

Imagined savings: The original UK survey found that some supermarkets would put large red stickers on items to make them appear as if they were on sale, even though strictly this was not the case.

I noticed that in some cases Pick?n?Pay would have shelves stating “save”, but it was not always clear exactly what the saving was. Nevertheless, customers, enticed by a bargain, continue to purchase these products.

These techniques aren’t necessarily undercover strategies meant to trick you.

As Pick n Pay’s corporate group executive, David North, says: “Our stores are organised around our customers’ needs. Consistency is important because customers like to find items where they expect them to be.

Customers also want to see exciting promotions, so we highlight these for them in our stores.” But having a better understanding of the strategies retailers use may save you money.

Alternatively, just shop online.

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