How supermarkets ‘trick’ us

Supermarkets are places that we as the general public visit regularly, for obvious reasons. Generally, as we are shopping, we go on autopilot and search for the items we need or desire – not putting much thought into anything else. However, supermarkets employ psychological methods in the design of their shop and almost every part is carefully considered to try to maximise their returns. Mainly what they are trying to do is influence us to buy certain items such as confectionery that are luxury products (chocolate etc.). The design of the stores to maximise revenue is an example of ‘supermarket tricks’ and you may have glanced over some if not all of how supermarkets trick us. And this is what this blog is about, the different methods and tricks a supermarket uses.

I mentioned the design of the store being an aspect that supermarkets consider and plan to try to influence our spending, and the layout is a big factor in this, as you can see in the image below. This is the typical layout of a small supermarket

Layout of a supermarket to trick us into spending on luxury items

(image from – standard.co.uk)

As you can see from this image, the unhealthy products aren’t just grouped in one location in the store, they are dotted around the store to increase the exposure of these products, “about 43% of foods in prominent areas are sugary” (bbc.co.uk). As these products aren’t essential products but are luxury products, increasing the exposure and teasing consumers into purchasing these is effectively a bonus income. The other tactic they use surrounding this is having small, impulse products on display by the checkouts. They are placed here based on psychology, as people are likely to justify purchasing these items as a personal reward for shopping.

We have said about how there are different methods that the supermarkets use to influence our purchases and spending and an article from the BBC has highlighted that the average person visits a supermarket 221 times in a year. Therefore, this shows that there are a lot of occasions where these supermarket techniques can occur. Here at NetPay we thought this was a very interesting statistic and decided to investigate how this figure matched up to our own NetPay employees. So, we gathered the number of times they visit a supermarket a week and thus how many times they visit in a year.

Our stats are as follows:

  • 25% of NetPay employees are above the BBC’s 221 figure
  • 75% of Netpay employees are under the BBC’s 221 figure

These stats show that on average we visit supermarkets a very large amount in a year and therefore supermarkets have literally hundreds of chances to attempt to influence our spending. This highlights that it is a worthwhile avenue for supermarkets to try influence us to spend more, even if it works 1 out of 10 times it still means extra revenue on average 22 times a year. I think (although don’t know for sure) that as supermarkets are open longer and there are more of them around e.g. Tesco local/metro etc we go more often for fewer items.

Another method that gets overlooked is the shopping baskets and trolleys. Most shoppers just see these as a convenient way of storing their shopping but research suggests ‘75% of those who hold a basket for shopping, always buy something’ (lifegate.com) so there is a deeper reasoning and this is why they are placed at the entrance to supermarkets as well as the clear convenience for shoppers.

Price

The pricing strategies of supermarkets is another method they use subtly to influence customers psychologically. They also highlight their offers with a multitude of signs and banners, to really make the customers aware of the offer they are providing. The two main pricing methods I will cover are the 99p offers and price anchoring, both are clever techniques to tempt a customer into a purchase.

  • The first one is the alluring 99p offers. They hold things under one pound and use £4.99 instead of the whole £5. This is to try to make the customer think that it isn’t as expensive by still being £4 and not £5.
  • Price Anchoring is another method that supermarkets use to influence our purchases, and this is a very clever and discreet technique. Price anchoring is “the practice of establishing a price point which customers can refer to when making decisions” (priceintelligently.com) this technique is used in a few ways, for example putting high, middle and low priced products near each other so the lowest is the price anchor or alternatively to have a ‘discount’ where the customer sees it as “£100, £75” so the £100 is the price anchor. This pricing strategy works as it gives the customer a frame of reference and therefore they think they’re getting a better deal.

How supermarkets 'trick us'

Conclusion

There are many ways that supermarkets to ‘trick us’ by luring their customers into spending more money than they intended to. I have only highlighted a few of what I believe are the key methods that supermarkets use. They are very well planned and thought out by supermarkets, and these tricks are very effective. I’m sure everyone (or almost everyone) reading this will have fallen into these pitfalls at one time or another. These tactics take advantage of our habits and play a lot on our desire for a bargain, using psychological techniques to influence us.

However, shoppers can negate some of these tactics if they plan and write a list of items so they can try to rigidly stick to this list of items and check prices on the supermarket’s offers to make sure they aren’t being ‘tricked’. The BBC stated in the same article as I have highlighted previously in this blog that writing a list including healthy food (fruit and vegetables) increased the sales of fruit and vegetables in stores by 8% thereby a method to negate the supermarket tricks. We also found out statistics on how often our NetPay employees use a list and therefore correlate to the likelihood of being ‘tricked’ by supermarkets:

  • 60% of NetPay employees never or only sometimes use a shopping list which can mean you buy more items you don’t want or need

Sources Used

  1. https://www.standard.co.uk/futurelondon/health/public-health-experts-supermarket-holborn-nudge-a4199071.html
  2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/articles/supermarkets_unhealthy_foods
  3. https://www.lifegate.com/people/lifestyle/how-supermarkets-work-tricks
  4. https://www.priceintelligently.com/blog/bid/181199/price-anchoring-to-optimize-your-pricing-strategy
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