/ Shopping

Do supermarkets mess with our minds?

Why do supermarkets always place milk at the back of the store? This is one of the presumed psychological tactics employed by supermarkets to make you spend more – but what ‘tricks’ have you spotted?

Conversation editor Hannah Jolliffe previously wrote about supposed professional shoppers – people who slice and dice their way around supermarkets, comparing deals and accruing vouchers.

It’s something many of us feel obliged to do considering the not-so-special offers that are being advertised. As our latest investigation shows, it’s a good idea to treat special offers with caution.

But there’s more to this than just comparing prices. Every element of the in-store environment is carefully deliberated over; from the general layout to the position of products on the shelf (high profit items at eye level), and even the smell and sound.

It was a point that commenter Jools pointed out on Hannah’s Conversation:

‘I hate supermarket shopping. I dislike the lighting at the checkout, and the fact that you often find items have been moved round to different aisles on different visits. It feels to me as if I am in some sort of maze-like psychology experiment.’

Psychological tactics to make you spend more

Well, we’re writing an article later this year on how supermarkets try to influence what we buy through apparent psychological tactics. We want to know what tactics you’ve spotted supermarkets employing (or at least what you think supermarkets are doing) to get you to spend more money on your daily or weekly shop.

We probably all know that essentials like bread and milk are at the back or far end of the supermarket – so that we have to walk past the temptation of all the other produce. Then there’s product grouping, where complementary items are put next to one another, such as sugar being in the tea and coffee aisle.

And Eddie Izzard shared his view on why supermarkets greet us with fresh fruit ‘n’ veg, rather than toilet paper, in his Definite Article routine.

However, I didn’t realise that the lighting’s apparently different across each of the aisles, in order to make meat look redder and fish whiter.

So, are you suspicious that shops are using psychological tactics to make you buy more than you had intended when you went in? Commenter Just Me shared his 11-point plan to avoid getting ‘ripped-off’ by supermarkets – but perhaps not all of us are willing to play that game?


My local Sainsburys has the milk stashed at the front of the shop.

Natalie says:
7 July 2014

I went into the supermarket at New World one time and I went to the bulk bins and was looking at different things. They turned the lights off in the isle for what I was looking at.

In my ideal world the cereals and canned vegetables and fruit – and loads of other things – would be arranged in alphabetical order. Obviously they are not because I would not then have to hunt for them and possibly alight on some other product not on my list.
At our local Morrisons they extended and reorganised the shop a couple of years ago and now, to get to the groceries and provisions you have to go through the housewares, seasonal products, special offers, small appliances, kids’ stuff, DVD’s, mags and booze, and then thread your way back through that lot just to reach the checkouts. Hence we use the Cooperative which is smaller, stocks no unnecessary lines, and is better laid out [and often better value and quality as well].
You can judge the profitability of the different categories in a store by how much prime space they occupy.

Ian says:
4 June 2012

The BIG 4 supermarkets all play the same games.

I have been shopping mainly at ALDI for 4 years and I always leave the store with two full bags and a smile on my face, having bought good quality food at 30% less than the BIG 4, without hassle, or having to constantly work out if I am being conned with ‘so called’ offers or rollbacks!

john mccolgan says:
6 June 2012

ian sssssssooooossssssh, secret

gillian says:
5 June 2012

My local Waitrose has the ‘sandwiches and snacks’ section right at the far end of the store. What??? I’ve never been in a super market that puts ‘lunchtime’ food deep within the aisles of the store. Surely the point is that people are rushing in quickly at lunchtime to grab a sandwich and a drink, they have neither the time nor the carrying capacity to be sidetracked by offers and aren’t going to suddenly decide to do their weekly shop, knowing that they have 30 minutes to buy and eat their lunch before the next meeting. Its VERY annoying.

What I really hate at my local Sainsburys are that there is more booze on display than anything else literally – that they regularly “rearrange” the displays so I have to hunt for common items wasting time – and finally they decide to stop selling items I have bought for years – It is getting to the stage that I am seriously thinking of changing Brands.

Phil Price says:
6 June 2012

My Sainsbury’s store will often not have an item that I’m looking for. Usually fresh or short shelf life items. If I ask an assistent if thay have some, they’ll just go into the back of the shop and get me one or more as required. Surely, the only purpose of this is to push the sale of the items they do have on the shelf rather than you have your choice. Most people would think they haven’t got what they were looking for. It always pays t oask. Especially in Sainsbury’s as they, like all supermarkets, try to sell you what they want you to have rather than what you would like to buy.

Flowers says:
12 June 2012

Not first class service from most of the supermarkets in my area
The service delivery is very third world in most shops
The local Asda in Crawley when they run out one has to keep on checking and most of the staff are not helpful

My biggest Gripe with my Local Asda is the Constant yo-yo Price changes and the Failure by their Quality Control of e.g. the likes the size of Apples.When i asked the Dept Manager she said i like small apples im talking really small she said our apples are bought by weight not size.I will not buy an Apple unripe and the size of a Crab apple or a plum.Unforunatly most of our out door markets have gone.If they only have small ones on display i ask if theres any in the back of store most of the time its no sir after the staff member has had a look.Sometimes one does get lucky it you ask.

Following my 2 e-mails sent about the Tiny Apples a Lady from Asda phoned me asked my a few questions and said she would be e-mailing the buyers for Asda she apologized to which i said you really should have someone spot checking your produce she said we will get back to you via phone or an e-mail.

letitia stewart says:
14 September 2016

thank you winner winner turkey dinner

letita stewart says:
14 September 2016

I absolutely love shopping cause I get to spoil my self uths