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Psychology of Shopping

Friday, 14 May 2010

When we go to a supermarket, we often have a vague idea of what items we want. However, we often emerge with a lot more than we bargained for! So how do supermarkets trick us into buying more goods? Our consumer expert Tina investigates!

Tina Leonard, consumer expert

If you have a supermarket loyalty card have you ever wondered why you can be sent promotional information and money off vouchers for items that you like to buy?
And why are the eggs always hidden down the back and the fresh bread up front?
The answer lies in the psychology of shopping, and in the data supermarkets' store on people's purchase patterns.

Shopping habits

Firstly, information on everything you buy, and for which you use your loyalty card, is stored and analysed. There is very sophisticated software enabling supermarkets to analyse this information in detail. They can see that of all the people who bought one item for example, 30% also bought another specific product and this may prompt the stores to place the products near each other.

The store will also be able to see if there are a lot of families with children shopping in the store or if the customers are mainly singeletons, and this will affect how products are displayed; in what prominence and where in the store.

Product positioning

Suppliers put forward 'planograms' for the spaces their products should inhabit. Supermarkets may use these or not.
Product positioning and 'category management' is the most important aspect of supermarket psychology as the retailer is trying to see how you make a decision as to what you buy and then facilitate that process by allowing you to find those products easily.

The positioning of items on shelves is extremely important for several reasons:

1. Men are particularly likely to simply shop for what they want, walking down an aisle grabbing what they want and walking back the way they came in what is known as the 'Boomerang Effect'. The shops want you to see as many products in this time as possible so they place major items and brands in the middle of aisles so that the customer has to walk a significant distance to get to the product and the men's grooming aisle is often towards the back of the store, forcing them to walk through.

2. Kid's products with cartoon characters will be placed on the lower shelves as they are on a child's eye-line and they will pick them up and pester their parents to buy them.

3. Adults will see products at eye level first (mid height) so this is prime supermarket real estate. The most expensive items are often placed at an adult's eye-line to ensure they are the first thing they see and thus the most likely item they'll buy. And bulkier items will be lower.

4. Matched marketing has become common as shops try to place items that are commonly bought together beside each other, e.g. Wine and lasagna, fresh bread and fresh soup. This means that although you may only have come in for lasagna, you might decide wine is a perfect accompaniment.
For example, when you think of fresh soup, you might think of warmth and comfort, so a product like noodles might be placed alongside or freshly baked bread to go with the fresh soup. Or when you are buying wine you might think of colour above region, so in some stores wine is separated by colour rather than country to make it easier for you to buy.
This is why fresh bread is not placed beside sliced pan; fresh bread is a 'use now' product and is not related to the other kind (sliced pan) in the shopper's thoughts.

5. The ends of aisles are encountered most frequently and are therefore the most expensive areas for companies to place their products. Special promotions are often placed at the top/bottom of aisles so we'll see them clearly and be more likely to buy.

6. One of the most common tricks is placing essential items (milk, bread and eggs) as far back in the supermarket as possible. This means that the shop again maximises the time customers spend looking at other products and as a result increases the amount of purchases that the customer did not intend to make. They are also given small shelf space and restocked constantly as customers will always buy them so there is no need to promote them hugely.

Smells and colour

Fresh fruit and vegetables are often the first items you see in a store for two reasons:

. It gives the impression (like the bread) that the store stocks fresh food and healthy produce and is a shop worth trusting in.
. Fruit and veg looks better in natural light than artificial, which means that they benefit from light from the door. In contrast, meat and fish looks much worse in natural light.
Canned smells are becoming more common (in the US certainly), with certain smells (often fresh bread) being piped through the air-conditioning system to inspire hunger and also an impression that the store is baking bread through the day.
And what of colour? Colour psychology links patterns of colour with patterns of behaviour. Have you noticed Tesco's price cuts signs in red? This is because red objects appear closer that they are so we will notice them first.

We might also choose a product on colour; milk is either red, blue or green depending on your preference, and purple is associated with luxury and premium brands. Colour choice can also relate back to brand awareness i.e. Kelloggs Cornflakes have an orange box so all the own-brand cornflakes are orange too.