It’s 6 PM when I step out of my door to walk to the closest grocery store. Upon entering, I have yet to decide what I’m going to eat tonight. The maze that is laid out in front of me is a strategically ideated walkthrough of today’s offers. In our field of study, I have heard and read a lot about psychological influence, and I have become more aware of it. Time to put it to the test. So, tonight I’m letting the supermarket decide what I’m going to have for dinner.
They greet you with bright flowers and colored vegetables and fruits to stimulate your senses and capture your attention with nice smells and vibrant colors. Because we all know that the way to someone’s heart is through the stomach.
The first thing that hits me when I walk into the store is the smell of flowers, fresh produce, and baked goods. The more supermarkets you enter, the clearer it becomes that they are all laid out the same. They greet you with bright flowers and colored vegetables and fruits to stimulate your senses and capture your attention with nice smells and vibrant colors. Because we all know that the way to someone’s heart is through the stomach. This is where the store starts my positive consumer journey. The forming of my experience and attitude towards the supermarket during my time there.
The second thing I notice is the music. It’s ‘I would stay’ by Krezip, and I think I will. Music is an important atmospheric factor in any commercial space and supermarkets use it to influence their consumers. According to Steve Keller, audio branding consultant, music and sound interact with our senses and impact our visual input. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that every supermarket has a carefully curated playlist unique to their store and customers. They tend to play songs with a slower tempo to prolong your stay, hoping to increase your spending. Further, they know what kinds of customers come in at what time of the day. Mornings are for the oldie but goldies, but in the afternoon, when families come in, popular songs set the vibe. According to program manager Sarah Fletcher, they even sometimes give subtle hints about products on sale. This way they play with our subconscious and try to activate our emotional attachment.
Once I’m past the first section of the store I take a deep breath. In my basket are some tomatoes, a courgette, a melon, and some delicious-smelling flowers. What’s next?
In supermarkets, for instance, we constantly compare prices, and our evaluation of them is largely influenced by their order of display. This is why most products are priced just below a round figure.
The anchoring effect is a cognitive bias where we use the first contextual numerical information we see as the ‘anchor’ when we assess the probability of buying something. Simply said: we use the first number we see as an anchor value to further judge a product’s value. In supermarkets, for instance, we constantly compare prices, and our evaluation of them is largely influenced by their order of display. This is why most products are priced just below a round figure. For example, let’s say that cucumber is €0.95 and a loaf of bread is €1,99. Because we read these prices from left to right, the loaf of bread will be judged as significantly cheaper when priced at €1,99 than if it were to cost €2,00. We refer to this strategy as odd pricing. It’s no wonder that the next few items I place in my basket are a bag of pasta (€1,95) and some cheese (€6,99).
Look Me in the Eyes
By this time it’s 6:25 PM I’m tired from working all day and my body needs sleep. I’m looking for something easy. ‘Luckily’ for me, the store is aware of my mood. Top brands manufacturers pay a lot of money to have their products displayed at eye level. Supermarkets even have them pay slotting fees for these top spots. In other words, if you want a cheaper product, or a knock-off generic store brand you’ll have to get a gym membership. Because the cheaper the product, the lower it’s placed on the shelves.
Next, one of the most obvious tricks stores use to influence our buying habits catches my eyes: items on sale. Each week they lay out a bunch of products and slap a huge bright orange or red sticker on them. No wonder customers gravitate towards them because they signal to us that the products are cheaper than usual. According to research by MIT, brands would obtain the same effect even if they advertised a product as on sale while leaving the price unchanged. These stickers are known as ‘information cues’. At the end of my shopping trip, I reached the till with two sale items in my basket. When I scan the products and see my total decrease by only 0.19 cents, I still feel proud.
When I leave the store the Fleetwood Mac song ‘Little lies’ starts playing: “Tell me sweet little lies. Oh no, no you can’t disguise.” How appropriate. Time to go home and start cooking my pasta á la supermarket. Bon appetit!
I pay for my items. They are the ingredients for tonight’s dinner and a lot of other things that I did not need. When I leave the store the Fleetwood Mac song ‘Little lies’ starts playing: “Tell me sweet little lies. Oh no, no you can’t disguise.” How appropriate. Time to go home and start cooking my pasta á la supermarket. Bon appetit!
Cover by: unsplash – NRD
Edited by: Cecilia Begal