Finance Your Budget Supermarket tricks: How they get you to spend
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Supermarket tricks: How they get you to spend

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When you see fresh fruit and flowers as you enter the supermarket, be warned – this strategic design is earning supermarkets up to 20 per cent more each year.

Peter Harvey, director at specialist retail architecture firm Supermarket Design Australia, says the layout, design and product placement in stores has a big impact on what you buy.

“We believe the layout and design can encourage or discourage purchasing,” Mr Harvey, who works for supermarkets including the IGA network of independent grocers, told The New Daily.

“It’s very hard to tell [how much exactly] but the style and layout does have an impact, so if the store is unattractive, if the flow is not right, if the lighting is bad, it might influence sales by up to 20 per cent.”

That’s a lot considering Australians spend $86 billion per year on groceries.

Woolworths’ supermarket sales grew to $51.4 billion last financial year, while Coles’ annual sales grew to $33.7 billion during the same period. The two big chains control more than 80 per cent of Australia’s supermarket industry.

Mr Harvey says the most profitable areas, and the ones getting the best revamps, are the “fresh” departments – obvious from the supermarket’s marketing.

“There is a lot more emphasis on fresh, which is the fresh fruit and vegetables, the deli section and cooked meats such as chickens and those sorts of things.

“There’s a much larger proportion of the profit of the supermarket in those departments as against stock standard groceries and canned vegetables.”

Trolley Trends, an industry report commissioned by Woolworths with KPMG and Quantum, found Australians were abandoning the big weekly shop in favour of small, regular visits.

“For many busy households, it’s impossible to plan meals seven days in advance as our frugal grandmothers once did,” the report said.

“Today, it’s a different story. Both partners work. Kids are coming and going. There are events and outings and things to do and last minute plans that pop up. In such a fluid world, the family requires flexible meal solutions.”

The upshot of this trend towards regular visits means that supermarkets have even more opportunities to get you to buy more.

Here’s how they do it. 

Designed for spending

Ah, the amenity: Mauricio Palmeira, senior marketing lecturer at Monash University, says the key to boosting sales is to make you stay longer, as about 50 per cent of all purchases are unplanned.

“Things like wide aisles, appropriate lightning and music can all have an impact on the pleasantness of the store and consequently on the likelihood of staying a little longer inside,” Mr Palmeira said.

“I go to supermarket just to buy meat for today’s dinner, but once in there, I see apples and I’m reminded that I don’t have apples at home, so I might as well get some.”

Look to the right: Consumers are more likely to look to the right when buying, according to consumer group Choice – and supermarkets stock shelves accordingly. So make sure you look both ways when perusing the aisles.

Empty basket: If you only want a few things – be wary. The reason trolleys and baskets are big is to encourage you to fill them up.

Product placement

Where’s the milk? To get you to stay longer, supermarkets tend to hide the things you want most – putting things like milk and bread at opposite ends of the shop.

“A well-known tactic is to put staple items, like milk, in the back, so it forces you to go deeper in the store,” Dr Palmeiro says.

Proximity: Another trick is to put similar items near each other. If you are buying tea, why not buy some biscuits too?

Pretty presentation: On your way to collect the milk, you’ll pass flowers and fresh fruit and vegetables at the front of the store.

As you enter, your basket is empty – and you’re primed to buy extras such as flowers or fresh mangoes. This placement strategy also gives supermarkets a positive, healthy image, regardless of whether you succumb to impulse and put some of the more enticing produce in your trolley.

The theatre of supermarkets: Dr Gary Mortimer, a senior lecturer in international business at the Queensland University of Technology, says consumers should be aware of the “theatre of supermarkets”.

This refers to the timely smell of freshly-baked bread, the market-style display of fruit, fish and meat and the amount of signage and placement of objects in the beauty and pharmacy aisles.

“This is about engaging the consumer in retail entertainment, taking down the walls (around the bakery and dairy), holding tastings, samples and baking the bread in store,” he said.

So watch out for that delicious smell of roast chicken wafting through the store – you might not really need to buy more meat for dinner.

Pricing mind games

chillies
Would you pay $120 a kilo for chillies? Photo: supplied

Look at the unit: Dr Mortimer says a 50gm pack of bird’s eye chillies at $2.40 seems like a good deal when the loose (unpackaged) bird’s eye chillies on the shelf above are priced at $19.90 per kilo.

“Now look closely at the unit price,” he said.

“Loose chillies $19.90 per kg, pre-packed chillies $12.00 per 100gms. Still appears a good deal, until you work out that you are paying $120 per kilo.”

He says grocery shopping is something people do according to routine – trying to limit the time and mental effort required by relying on simple choices.

“In the chillies example, we see $19.90 versus $2.40. Our mind tells us to select the cheapest – and we’d be wrong.

“Now, if we take a little more time and look carefully at the price per kilo, as we would normally do in fresh produce, meat or deli, we would see $19.90 versus $12.00.

“Again our mind tells us to select the cheapest and we’d still be wrong.

“So, my warning for Christmas, when we’re running around the supermarket, stocking up for the festive season, (is to) slow down … or you’ll be buying the most expensive chillies on the market.”

Spend and save: There’s a lot of specials and discounts plastered around supermarkets that are designed to encourage shoppers to buy more and, in theory, save money.

Dr Mortimer says these can be mutually beneficial as long as you can use the goods before they perish or expire.

“The other one we do is fuel discounts, they are often scheduled to encourage consumers to spend that extra $10 or $20.”

Of course, Dr Mortimer warns to watch out – it’s likely you’ll spend much more on extra groceries than you’ll end up saving at the fuel pump.

Specially for you: If you think you’re spending more now, watch out – big data is coming for you.

Dr Mortimer says online sites can track your purchases, meaning that when you’re due to buy a new washing detergent, a special offer will magically appear.

Tips to buy less

Don’t go hungry: Don’t do your shopping on an empty stomach. That way you’re more vulnerable to the smells of baking and so on. Besides, you might forget the milk.

Take a list: If you plan ahead, you’re less likely to buy extras or double up on what’s already at home.

Look up and down: The products that supermarkets want you to buy are at eye level. Likewise, the products that kids might want are at their eye level. So look up and look down before choosing your item – the bottom shelf might be cheaper.

Don’t be colour blind: Grocery marketing is often coloured to entice you. Red grabs your attention, green is associated with freshness, blue encourages the release of trust hormones and yellow mimics the colour of fat and can evoke hunger.

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