There’s a science that goes into how products are sold in grocery stores. It’s almost guaranteed that in addition to a general understanding of local customers, a little psychology is also needed to determine how to steer these customers through stores in an effort to maximize their visit. Customers are there because they need something, but how often do you end up leaving with a shopping cart full of snacks and drinks that you didn’t even set out to pick up? Whether it’s product placement or a display, every aspect of a grocery store is managed to ensure maximum sales. You went in for a carton of milk but since we all know that that’s kept at the back of the store you had to walk through a few isles to get there. On the way there you pick up a bag of chips, a jar of your favorite peanut butter because it’s on sale and a few other snacks because they caught your eye. This is psychology at work.
Products that we need the most, such as canned goods, are in center isles on purpose because this draws you in and forces you to pass several products you don’t need (but will probably buy) on the way there. Parents dread walking down the cereal isle because their kids will inevitably ask for a box of Cap’n Crunch. Why is this? These cereals are at kid height so that they can easily see and pick up these boxes.
When you’ve finally made it through the store and ready to pay you’re bombarded with even more temptation. Impulse buys such as candy and magazines are right there so you’re likely to pick something up if you’re waiting in line for some time. These are all tame examples of what grocery stores don’t want you to know about but there are even more that may make you look at your local grocery store a little differently the next time you’re there. Here’s some food for thought…pun intended!
10. Best Before Dates Are Changed
When it comes to freshness and how long foods can remain edible, there’s nothing that says certain foods can’t be eaten afterward they expire. It’s really up to you. On the flip side, there’s no guarantee that they’ll last until the best before date either. Supermarkets are aware of this and know that if a product is about to expire and hasn’t been sold, rather than slash the price and sell it at a deep discount, they can stick a new best before date sticker on it instead. These products are then sold as fresh with new expiration dates that extend up to a week past their original best before date. Meats are a prime example of this practice but it also applies to any fresh, frozen or baked good. In the case of meats, grocery stores create their own pricing labels so they have flexibility to adjust information.
9. The Amount of Food Wasted is Mind Blowing
Interesting note, food wastage is a sign of customer experience. If there’s very little waste, store managers take this as a sign that their shelves aren’t adequately stocked and therefore customers aren’t getting what they want and need. Huh? With this in mind, stores prefer to overstock because it’s thought that we as customers like to buy things that appear to be in abundance. This ultimately leads to overstocking on product that will never be sold. For fresh produce at the bottom of a large fruit display, they’re damaged and we all know we’re not going to buy these so stores throw them out.
There are even folks out there who manage to keep their fridges stocked with food grocery stores throw out. Sometimes they’re products a few days past expiration or they’re dented cans that won’t sell. Of course this doesn’t include anything that’s clearly gone bad and will make them sick.
8. Food Undergoes Reconditioning
Excess food that’s close to expiring can be disposed of, or worse yet, recycled and used in prepared foods (think stir-fry or salads). They can even be returned to manufacturers who will use them as ingredients in brand new products. As an example, ice cream flavors that fail to hit the mark can be remixed as chocolate ice cream instead. Apparently, the dark color and strong taste masks the bad original flavor. In case you’re wondering, the FDA has approved this approach to reconditioning food as long as the resulting food is safe for human consumption. Now…who wants some ice cream?
7. Salad Bars Are Dirtier Than You Think
Consider this, someone sneezes into their hands and then picks up salad tongs or a spoon. Someone else comes along and innocently picks up the same utensil and inadvertently picks up a few new germs. What if someone chooses to stick their hand on a bowl of olives to sample the goods before filling up a container of their own? Ever noticed that there’s no salad bar police to monitor any of this? Plus, who knows how long some of these foods have been sitting out in the open. If not stored at the right temperature these foods are just begging to turn bad and you, as a result, spend the evening in your bathroom. As mentioned above, these foods can also be reconditioned at the end of the day.
6. Shopping Cart Handles Can Carry E. coli
Grocery stores rarely clean the handles of their shopping carts once they’re corralled back into the store. Some stores are considerate and offer wipes at the entrance and leave it up to you to clean. But there are of course other stores that offer nothing at all. You might as well play it safe and always have a travel pack of travel wipes of your own on hand and wipe the handles to eliminate most of the grime. Whatever you do, don’t look at the wipe afterwards. You might not feel like buying food after you see how much dirt you’ve just lifted.
5. Mist Sprayed on Fruits & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables begin to lose their moisture from the moment they’re picked up until when they arrive in grocery stores. The mist you see in the produce section allows peppers, broccoli, carrots, etc to look moist, fresh and generally more appealing. However, there’s a fine balance between visual appeal and accelerated spoilage. Too much water can encourage bacterial growth, especially on vegetables such as mushrooms which don’t need added moisture but may be close to a spray mist. It might also be possible that the added water adds a little extra weight to some of these products.
4. Fruits And Vegetables Are Kept At The Front For A Reason
Speaking of fruits and vegetables, ever notice that they’re always at the front of the store? Even if you’re not shopping at a health food store, walking into a grocery store where the fruits and vegetables are front and center radiates appeal, makes the store look pleasing and you feel welcomed. This sets the tone for the shopping experience. Piles of fresh fruit make us think that the store has a lot to offer. Customers feel as though the store offers the best for their lifestyle and assume that the rest of the store also offers the same high quality standards.
3. Slow Music Encourages Longer Shopping Trips
Have you ever noticed the music playing in your local grocery store? Take a listen the next time you’re in there. Some stores choose to play music that’s slower than the average heartbeat in an attempt to make shoppers spend more time…shopping. Just think, if the latest JLo track was playing you’d probably move a little quicker and spend a little less time browsing right? Slower music relaxes us and we stroll through the isles at a pace that encourages us to look at items a little longer and fill up our grimy shopping carts.
2. Price Anchoring Is Practiced By Many
Through this practice, products that may not have been more expensive at one point are presented as though they were. Looking at a price tag at face value may do little to encourage you to purchase the product but seeing a note on the tag that says the product is “regularly” priced higher, you might feel the urge to take advantage of this “deal”.
Also, consider this, there are instances when products listed in weekly grocery flyers aren’t actually on sale. They’re in there to draw customers into the store. Once inside, these shoppers are likely to spend more money on additional products.
1. Buying In Bulk Doesn’t Always Save You Money
Who doesn’t love buying in bulk to save a few extra dollars? However, check unit prices when deciding whether or not to buy in bulk. You may be surprised to see that the bulk packaged items cost more per unit than buying the items separately. If you really only need one jar of pasta sauce just buy one and avoid the temptation of getting a perceived deal by buying a pack of 3 instead. Don’t get me wrong, some value packs are worth it but just do the math before offering up your cash.