The Psychology of Shopping

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The following is a guest post by Louise Tillotson. Enjoy! 

The Psychology of Shopping

After reading this article on the pricing strategies used for consumer goods, I started thinking about other ways in which retailers and service providers use basic human psychology in order to get us spending more money, or feel better about doing so.
Got Gas?

Perhaps the biggest trick, and certainly one which irritates me, is the fuel pricing ploy. In the UK at least, fuel is priced as a .9 in the penny, so a litre of petrol would be priced as 139.9p. The problem is, human nature dictates that most people reading that price would read it as 139p, which doesn’t sound nearly as much as 140p, or even £1.40 which it essentially is.

Note from Jacob: For those of you reading from the USA, this = $2.30 USD per liter, or $9 per gallon. This is currently much more than the $3.60 per gallon we are paying! It sort of makes sense why Europeans use public transportation much more than we do! I sure don’t think I would be able to afford driving 40 miles to and from work every day if this was the price of gas! 

The point-ninth of a penny is largely ignored, yet if you’re filling up a 40 litre tank, that extra 40p here and there can really add up.
Eye It Up

Go to any supermarket, grocery store, or other such store which has shelves rather than racks. Look at the goods which are at eye level. Are they the more expensive branded items?

It’s been found that stores generally place the higher-priced goods on eye-level shelves as this seems to be where shoppers look first, and therefore buy more from. It sort of makes you wonder how this was first discovered. I wonder if this was the result of paid market research that has been done?

The Landing Zone

This is the tag given to the first 15 or so feet within a store. While in this area, shoppers are not yet in browse or buy mode, and will generally ignore special offers and product displays that greet them.
So retailers are best keeping this area as clear as possible, to give their customers the space to gather their thoughts and begin their journey around the store.
Speaking of which…
Fresh Fruit and Veg!

Virtually every store you enter which sells food will have fresh vegetables,  salads and fruits to greet you as you walk in. Call it accident, call it coincidence, but the fact remains that it’s actually clever mind games at work that dictate this. Studies have found that seeing fresh produce upon entry creates a more positive impression of the shop as a whole.
As you walk around the store, you’ll be taken past a vast array of seasonal goodies, special promotions and higher-priced merchandise before reaching the ‘staples’; milk, bread, cheese and butter. Again, this is no accident.
Power Steering

Stores can also use the layout to steer you in a particular direction. When shopping, humans display herd instinct, and have a natural direction of movement. This directional instinct can dictate on which side the store has the entrance and exit doors, the checkout desks, the promotional gondolas and anything else which the store manager wants to see.
Interestingly, the shopping direction differs between countries. Britons, Australians and Japanese shoppers tend to head to the left and move in a clockwise direction, whereas Americans prefer counter-clockwise browsing.
When a store in Philadelphia tried to reverse the natural flow and get shoppers moving clockwise, the staff found that people would actually force their trolleys between shop displays in an effort to move counter-clockwise.
So the next time you pop to the shop for just one item and end up with a basketful, don’t feel bad. It was meant to be!

How about you all? What tricks have you seen or noticed that stores employ to get you to buy more? 

Share your experiences by commenting below!

Jacob’s Thoughts – Listed below are my random thoughts as I was reading this article.

  • @ Placement of good on shelves in a supermarket – In my hometown in Arkansas, Wal-Mart is very popular because the home-office is fairly close by. And, I know for a fact that shelf placement is a very competitive issue between the vendors at Wal-Mart. One of my friends growing up told me that Pringles has a full time analyst whose one job is to negotiate placement of Pringles chips in optimal locations throughout Wal-Marts worldwide! Amazing!  
  • @ Placing the fruits and veggies in the front of the store – This is definitely true in all of the grocery stores in my town! It’s very genius! I think it works because no matter what you are wanting to buy in the store, seeing all of the fresh fruit and vegetables makes you think that the store is VERY health conscious! 
    • Another interesting little ploy that stores use is to place the milk in the back corner of the store. This way, you have to walk through ALL of the other products in order to get to the milk that everyone needs when they go shopping! 
  • @ Direction of browsing – I am definitely guilty of being an American-counterclockwise shopper! That is crazy how instinctual that is! What direction do you shop in?
  • Several other grocery store tactics – Listed below are several other tactics I have seen in stores.
    • Placing expensive items on the left side of shelves. 
      • As you go down a row of shelves next time you’re at the supermarket, notice how the name-brand, expensive items are located on the left side of the row, and the cheaper, generic products are further down on the right side of the row. I think that this is catering to the way humans read from left to right. The higher priced items are placed to grab your attention first.
    • The floor texture
      • One of my marketing teachers once told me that the texture of floor is an important factor in influencing people to buy more. The floor at stores is almost always hard (no carpet). One of the reasons for this is that when women hear the tapping of their shoes/heels on the ground, it makes them feel more empowered, more confident, and thus more opt to buy stuff! Pretty wild, uh?!
      • Another tactic used by stores is to make the floor tiled. Apparently, having the floor tiled causes the grocery cart to be pushed slower by shoppers, giving them more time to see items to buy! Genius, right?!

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About the Author Jacob A Irwin

Hi folks! My name is Jacob. I am the owner and operator of My Personal Finance Journey. I started this blog in January of 2010 and have enjoyed the journey ever since. Since finishing up graduate school in Virginia in 2014, I have been working in biopharmaceutical development in Colorado. You can read more about me and this site here​. Please contact me if you have any questions!

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Leave a Comment:

krantcents says April 21, 2011

Marketing uses so much psychology such as placement, pricing, color, packaging to name just a few. Many food products reduce the size versus increasing the price. Some may say it is just trickery, but we accept it anyway.
My recent post The Problem with Health Care is You!

    Jacob A Irwin says April 21, 2011

    Thanks for reading krantcents! I think it's just something that we can't worry about too much. Every one faces the same challenges.

Squirrelers says April 22, 2011

It's always interesting to see the tactics that are put forth to get consumers to spend more money. It would be interesting to see how different sales performance would be with certain tactics vs. without them, holding all other variables constant. I'm guessing much of this analysis has been done on some level. Interesting stuff.

My recent post Financial Goals and Life Choices

    MyPerFinJourney says April 22, 2011

    That would be a very cool post idea Squirrelers! Show some data by changing the different variables! It’d be a nice mix of experimental methods and personal finance! I’ll have to look in to this!

@Yakezie says April 22, 2011

Just try to stay away from it all! 🙂

JT McGee says May 1, 2011

There's a documentary out there called “Beer Wars” which does an excellent job showing all the tricks various beer producers use to get more/better shelf space to boost sales. Really interesting, to say the least.
My recent post Awesome Loss Leaders- Sunday Newspapers

    MyPerFinJourney says May 1, 2011

    I actually think I've seen that one! That's the documentary with the head of Dogfish beer right? I was pretty impressed with how much Miller-Coors and Budweiser have the market dominated. I think they mentioned that it is so much so that in order to get your beer distributed, you have to team up with one of their distribution services.
    My recent post How You Can Actually Save Money By Using Online Coupons The Non-Annoying Variety

Hunter says May 1, 2011

Consumer merchandising is fascinating, and big business. I recently became aware of how grocery stores sell the prime placement spots, like the isle ends. Often you will see prominent breakfast cereals, or soda brands displayed there. Those brands have paid a premium for that display, and that's howthey maintain their market share.

I still find it frustrating when the candy is displayed near the checkout. It's an obvious tactic to get kids asking for it while you are waiting to pay. Not easy with three little ones.
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    MyPerFinJourney says May 2, 2011

    Thanks for sharing Hunter! Any idea how much of a premium over normal shelf space vendors have to pay for those “prime” areas? That'd be cool to know!
    My recent post How You Can Actually Save Money By Using Online Coupons The Non-Annoying Variety

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