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Technology & Innovation

Supermarkets Use Psychological Tricks So You’ll Spend More

Have you ever emerged from the supermarket and wondered why you bought so many things not on your list? Congratulations, you’ve likely been manipulated!

I’m currently reading David McCraney’s excellent book You Are Not So Smart, which is based on his blog of the same name and serves as a useful introduction to logical biases, fallacies, means of manipulation, and other psychological factors that contribute to humans doing or thinking dumb things.

Thanks in part to frequency illusion, a little bit of recency bias, and whole lot of the availability heuristic, I’ve begun to see examples from McCraney’s work in other writings and in real-life situations. For instance, Mental Floss has a neat new post up this week about several behind-the-scenes secrets of supermarkets. One main focus is the psychological and marketing strategies reflected in things such as store layout, product placement, and atmospheric conditions. These seemingly arbitrary elements are actually quite contrived and they’re that way to get you to spend money.

The reason the dairy section tends to be farthest away from the store entrance is because the folks who designed the store want you to have to make a lap around the store — most often in a counter-clockwise pattern — to goad you into spotting more products on your way to pick up milk. Another example of supermarket manipulation is the impulse buy, typically gum, soda, candy, or chips. Impulse buys are placed near the register where you’re most likely to be paused, waiting for the queue to move and susceptible to flashy labels and deceptive sales. Ever see a price marked “2 for $2” implying a bundle sale even though each item is only $1? Manipulation. Another example: Colorful packaging and sugary treats get positioned at kids’ eye level throughout the store while more refined (read: expensive) tastes are stocked at adult eye level.

Finally, you’re likely familiar with design elements utilized by casinos to keep gamblers from being able to gauge time. Without windows and clocks, what’s to stop someone from losing track of the hours spent at a slot machine, right? Well, the same idea applies inside a supermarket. When was the last time you spotted a window near the bakery? The aisles of a supermarket are fluorescently bright no matter what time of day it is.

Take a look at the article linked below for some more interesting examples of supermarket industry secrets, as well as other ways design can be used to manipulate shoppers.

Read more at Mental Floss.

Below, author Kabir Sehgal explores several common mental traps that cause Wall Street traders to take on more risk than necessary. Among these are logical biases similar to what we discuss above.

Photo credit: Lisa S. / Shutterstock


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