We all know that there are certain rules we should follow if we want to shop smart and healthily. Plan your meals. Write a list – and stick to it. Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach. But sometimes you can go in with the best intentions and come out with a family-size block of chocolate and a packet of chips. But you shouldn’t be too mad at yourself for that transgression; turns out supermarkets are specifically designed to trip you up.
A recent study by Live Lighter revealed that 60 per cent of Aussies buy unhealthy foods if they are on sale and in prime positions – such as end-of-aisle displays and at the checkout.
It’s all part of the psychology of supermarkets, which are specifically designed to keep you shopping longer, feeling happier and buying more. According to environmental psychologist Paco Underhill, “Upward of 50 per cent of what we buy in a supermarket we had no intention of buying as we walked in the door.” But how do we get duped time and time again? Here are four sneaky ways the experience of shopping gets you to overbuy.
Think it’s simply a matter of convenience that those roast chickens are made onsite? Think again – the mouth-watering smell that hits you right as you walk into the store is there to remind you just how hungry you are before you start your shop.
If you’re just popping in for a bottle of milk, the layout will have you walking right to the very back of the store. The most common items most people purchase – milk, bread and eggs – are often placed at opposite ends of the shop. By making you walk farther, you’re more likely to see something else you ‘need’ on the way. Not to mention the fact that the path to your staples involves walking down aisles full of tempting junk food first.
The supermarket playlist is at its most grating in November, when the Christmas music starts up way too early to get you in that festive (buying) spirit. But those catchy tunes have a purpose the rest of the year, too: a landmark 1982 study of supermarket shoppers found people spent 34 per cent more time shopping when background music was playing.
Entrances and exits
Have you ever noticed that the entrances of most supermarkets are on the right, with the exits on the left? The aim of this is to get you moving counter-clockwise, right to left along the aisles, priming you to pick up things from the right-hand shelves. Exactly where supermarkets place the more expensive items. And it works. According to a discussion on ABC Radio Canberra, counter-clockwise shoppers spend an average of two dollars more per trip than punters moving in a clockwise direction.
So, how can you outsmart the supermarket giants and stop making those impulse purchases? LiveLighter Victoria Campaign Manager Alison McAleese suggests making fewer trips to the supermarket and sticking to the outer aisles to lessen the temptation.
“Steer clear of cheap promotions on junk food and drinks by sticking to the outer aisles of the supermarket where there is a plenty of fresh healthy food like fruit and vegetables,” she says. “Also consider shopping at local markets, greengrocers or butchers where you are less likely to find sales and promotions on processed, high kilojoule food and drinks.” To the farmers’ markets we go!