Why do we buy more things than we planned to when we go food shopping? In short, because the supermarkets are manipulating us with clever design.
Using eye-tracking technology to follow shoppers’ actions as they complete a routine shop, consumer rights campaign group Which? has found that tiny, subtle design elements can have profound effects on what we choose to put in our baskets.
Supermarket shelves are stacked to make you buy the most expensive things - by putting them at eye level.
Cheaper, own-brand products tend to be below or to the right of major brand name goods. This is because shoppers browse shelves left-to-right and top-to-bottom, like reading a book.
1. Prices get more expensive to the right of an aisle than on the left.
Another trick is make sure the premium goods are stocked towards the right of a shelf, with prices rising “in small manageable steps” as Which? puts it. Because the price has gone up gradually as you push your trolley down the aisle, you’re less likely to realise the thing you’re looking at is expensive.
2. BEWARE SPECIAL OFFERS! They are there to influence your buying brain without you knowing.
In the study carried out by Which?, shoppers were drawn to products advertised as being available on a special offer, sometimes without thinking, and even where they weren’t that different in price to other items.
One shopper picked up some coffee because it was labelled as reduced in price - but didn’t stop to check what kind of coffee it was until she’d put it in her basket.
3. Supermarkets are designed to make you walk slowly: the slower you walk the more you buy.
Retail layout experts say it takes around 10 steps for a shopper to get used to the supermarket environment and slow their pace to shopping speed - that’s why there’s always loads of stuff shoved towards the front of the store.
And it’s no surprise that the kind of thing people ALWAYS buy, including milk and bread, are at the back of the store: you’re supposed to have to do some walking to find them.
The modern trend of wider supermarket aisles is a calculated feature too. Wider aisles mean shoppers have greater peripheral vision and are more likely to spot eye-catching offers and deals.
4. Related items are put next to each other for a reason, even if you don’t notice it.
It is no accident that in some supermarkets a small bacon fridge is placed next to the bread: “you’re half-way to a bacon sandwich,” as Which? puts it.
And why are nappies often put next to beer? Because when men are doing the shopping they are likely to buy one, having been sent to buy the other (or so the theory goes).
5. Shopping lists are hard to stick to - for a reason.
The experts who spoke to Which?, from Bournemouth University, say that the more busy a shop is - with all its special offers, colourful products and goodies vyign for your attention - the less likely you are to concentrate on your shopping list and just buy the things you came for.
There is real business sense to the big supermarkets interrupting your train of thought as you trundle around the vegetable section.
6. The big supermarket chains have thought long and hard about which colours are the most enticing.
7. Ever wondered why shopping trollies are that big? To make you put more stuff in them, of course.
The size of the standard UK shopping trolley is far bigger than what you’d need to provide the average family with food for a week - yet still, we feel pleased and fulfilled when we’ve managed to fill them.