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The Great Supermarket Exposé: 16 Ways Supermarkets Are Making Us Spend So Much More

Since everyone in Singapore is doing investigative work, I figured I’ll do a little research on my own, one that would, you know, actually benefit people.

With inflation rising rapidly over the past decade, you might have find yourself spending more and more on groceries. But while a supermarket might seem like a nice, big place to get all your essentials while allowing you a breather from your hectic life, it’s actually waging a psychological war on you every time you step into one, a battle that almost everyone will never triumph.

Over the weekend, I went to three supermarkets, namely Giant Hypermarket (Tampines Retail Park), NTUC Xtra (Ang Mo Kio Hub) and Cold Storage (Causeway Point) to confirm my initial findings. The former two were non-photo establishments, resulting in me getting reprimanded twice at Giant. One of the staff told me it was fine to take photos of the items, but not the price tags, and on hindsight, I realized I shouldn’t have gone it with a DSLR. The photos (taken with my phone) in this post were all from Cold Storage, where I tried to spot a no photography sign for a good five minutes before snapping away.

It has to be noted that none of the following tricks supermarkets use to make you spend more money are unethical. With the advent of the farmer’s market coupled with the rise of provision shops (or mama shops) in recent years, one can hardly blame them for trying to remain dominant in a time where affluence is rife and choices aplenty.

We are not as rational as we like to think we are, and our subconscious affects us more than we think it does. The supermarket is a psychological war zone, a very nasty one in fact, and in the next 20 minutes, I’m going to prove that to you.

Before I start this list, here’s a very little known fact to startle you guys and get ya’ll in the mood. Did you know that cereal like Koko Krunch and Honey Stars are actually considered to be… junk food? So parents, please make sure to check the sugar levels of your cereal before purchasing them for your children. We’ve been constantly exposed to advertisements from brands claiming that their cereal are filled with fiber and vitamins, and it’s time for people to realise that they’re absolutely not a healthy option in anyone’s diet, especially the diets of young ones where their food choices have a huge impact on their health.

1. Shopping Trolleys That Are Way Too Big

Observe what's beside the trolleys. I'll explain more as we move along.

Observe what’s beside the trolleys. I’ll explain more later on.

Before proceeding into a supermarket, shopping baskets and impressive rows of trolleys usually occupy the majority of the entrance. It should be pretty obvious even without reading this post that it takes quite a bit to actually fill up the entire trolley. They’re intentionally designed to be way larger than the average family’s weekly food list, in order to encourage you to buy way more food than you actually need.

We feel kinda obliged to buy more because the shopping cart is so big that we can’t just buy one or two products, we have to fill it up. Martin Lindstrom

Don’t believe me? Draft up a list of groceries your family needs for the week, take your usual routes around the supermarket (more on that later), and see for yourself how many items you’d purchased were not originally on your shopping list.

Still don’t believe me? Ask yourselves, how many of you actually bothered coming up with a shopping list and referring to it during your trips in the first place?

Some might argue the exploitation of shoppers without a shopping list to be a bit of a stretch, considering there are shopping baskets that are definitely not oversized. Sure, there are shopping baskets, but the collective purchases by an average family would not fit a mere basket, nor would someone want to tolerate lugging around a heavy load during the entire shopping trip.

These factors force most customers to use a trolley instead, which are usually readily available. Before reading this expose, you probably thought that shopping baskets are useful tools for those who only need to purchase a few things, but truth be told, it’s just an illusion of choice.

2. Overly-Attached Swing Gates

We have all gone through one of those annoying swing gates, but do you question why are they there in the first place? And why are they one-directional, preventing you from walking out of the same door? They add to the cost of the supermarket, certainly do not value add to the establishment, people are smart enough to not exit via the entrance (who would enter a supermarket accidentally anyway?), and don’t really serve much of a purpose than to deliver smacks to the crotches of unassuming customers.

As unbelievable as it sounds, they’re there to create a relationship with customers, which in turn would encourage even more spending. As per Dr. Paul Harrison, professor at Deakin University, who said on Australian TV show Food Investigators:

What happened is, you’ve entered (the supermarket), you’re welcomed, but you’re also not allowed to leave… the metaphorical doors are closing. (You could grab the exit), but you’re not going to, because you’re already invested in the relationship with the supermarket.

3. The Front Of The Supermarket Is Designed To Make You Spend More

I couldn’t believe it took me about 13 years before I asked myself this question that was staring at me every time I entered a supermarket. Why are fruits and vegetables displayed right at the very start of a customer’s journey, even though they’re likely to be squashed by heavier items later on?

The answer is pretty straightforward. How would you feel if the first few things you saw upon entering a grocery stall were stacks of toilet paper, cleaning essentials and laundry supplies?

Supermarkets need you to think that everything in their store is fresh; hence their decision to place fruits and vegetables near the entrance. The pleasant imagery, fresh scents, and bright colors also create a positive and relaxing atmosphere for customers to shop in, which lowers their ‘guards’, puts them in a good mood, and results in more sales and higher profits.

Sometimes, flowers are placed at the same strategic location in order to make shoppers feel less overwhelmed by the size of the shop, which, likewise, encourages them to spend longer times there. Baked goods can sometimes be situated there too as the smell activates our salivary glands and increase the likelihood of impulse purchases.

Also, foods like roast chicken, sushi, and sashimi are more often than not placed right after the food and veggies section, which again, makes us hungrier and increases our temptation to splurge on food items not originally on our minds.

Notice how the sushi section is just conveniently located next to the trolley point?

Notice how the sushi section is just conveniently located next to the trolley point?

Tempting isn't it?

Tempting isn’t it?

Supermarkets place ready-to-eat foods like sushi or roast chicken so you’ll encounter them while your cart is empty, and your spirits are high.

Most supermarkets attempt to make their produce more tempting by spraying them with mists of water throughout the day, and while the end product looks fresher and more alluring, it is in fact, making them rot faster. So, on your next trip, remember that the most inviting fruits and vegetables might not be as healthy as their seductive exteriors suggest.

Case Study: I notice that hypermarkets do not follow this format, but normal supermarkets do. NTUC Xtra and Giant Hypermarket are the only two stores I visited in my entire life which doesn’t have a fruit-vege front section. Not even flowers. Or food.

4. There’s More To The Floor Than Meets The Eye

Retailers know that the longer you spend in their stores, the more money you’re likely to spend. They can’t just hire people to go around telling you to slow down (or can they? More on that later), so how else can they do it in such a way that will almost make you wanna bang your head on the wall when you find out about it?

Look at the floors of a supermarket the next time you visit one. Notice how most of them feature relatively small tiles? They are used not because of sheer coincidence, but to make your trolley click faster as it rolls on the surface. It’ll trick your subconscious into thinking that you’re traveling faster than you are, and you’ll end up slowing down and spending more time in the aisles, especially the expensive ones.

You’ll also find that kids love to slide around on the floors of supermarkets, mainly because of how smooth the floor is. Genius isn’t it? They make it easy for you to move around, but they too make it easy for you to stop and buy more.

Case Study:

These pictures are taken from different supermarkets, or rather, hypermarkets, yet they use the same small tiles. Coincidence?

5. They Know We Suck At Math

I always found it redundant for supermarkets to allow customers to choose between bagging loose fruits and grabbing packaged fruit straight from the shelves. You guys think that they’re being nice and giving ya’ll options, but again, it’s all just an illusion of choice.

The former are priced by the kilogram, or hundred-grams, while the latter is priced by the item. Which is cheaper?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Case Study: NTUC Xtra at Ang Mo Kio Hub sells five Sunkist Navel Oranges at $3.95, but $1.95 for a pack of 3, with the only notable difference being that the former is from the United States while the latter are from Egypt. The ones from the US are labeled as “L” while the ones from Egypt are labeled as “XL”, even tho they both look and weigh the same in my hands.

6. Are You Sure There’s A Discount?

Many of us buy things on impulse simply because they’re supposedly cheaper. It doesn’t matter if we don’t need them; most people will just succumb to the temptation of discounts because that’s how the culture of almost every society is like. As a result, we’ve become accustomed and seemingly programmed to spot these sales labels. We want to save our hard earned cash and get the best deals, which is precisely what the supermarkets want you to think they’re offering.

Do you remember the time when you went into a supermarket and saw signs and large price labels saying that two bottles of shampoo are going at $12, or that three cans of cookies are going at $18 etc. How many of ya’ll thought that that was a discount? Because if you think really hard about it, how can you be sure that that was a discount?

I know, slowly recall your experiences and let that feeling of being outsmarted sink in.

By simply using larger price labels on the racks, retailers are able to exploit our tendency to associate prominently displayed prices with sales and discounts and make us buy more, or even worse, buy things we don’t need, even though the prices advertised are very much everyday prices. The reason supermarkets use a multiple-item pricing model is because they get to clear their stock at a faster rate. They appeal to the misguided side of your brain and make you think that buying two or more of the same item translates into a better deal, when in fact, you can just, more often than not, buy only one to get the advertised pricing (i.e. one bottle of shampoo for $6, instead of two for $12, and one can of cookies for $6, instead of three for $18).

And you guys are complaining about Jover Chew.

Case Study: This is a li’ll tricky, because while you can’t be sure whether it’s a discount, you also can’t be sure if it is indeed a discount. Throughout all three supermarkets, there were signs saying “Special Discount” or “This Store’s Special” or “Great Savings” etc. The prices advertised could very well be everyday prices, but we’ll never know.

It is interesting to note that I stumbled upon a large “Big Savings, Great Value” sign at the canned soup section of Giant. It advertised the Cream of Mushroom for $1.65 on the fancy label, but right beside it is an ordinary label claiming the same price, which again proves that it doesn’t matter if there’s a deal or not. We’ll end up being inclined to purchase goods with prices are displayed in a more unique way.

7. Again, You Think You’re So Damn Smart

Do you think apple pies/cakes/frozen pastries and ice cream are placed together only because they all need to be stored in a fridge?

Yea right.

We like to think that we’re in control of our actions and that nothing is influencing our decision-making, which is why supermarkets love to pair foods for us. And it’s proven to be damn effective. Tail a family on their grocery run, and you’ll be surprised at how many items they end up buying are just side by side to each other.

8. There’s A Reason We’re Moving In An Anti-Clockwise Fashion

If you haven’t realized yet, the entrances of most supermarkets are on the right side, the checkout counter on the left. What’s the significance of that?

Since you’re moving from right to left, you’re naturally more likely to snap up things from the right hand aisles, where the more expensive items are placed. According to a supermarket psychology discussion with ABC Radio Canberra, counter-clockwise shoppers spend, on average, two dollars more per trip then clockwise shoppers, and while two solitary dollars might not seem much on its own, tens and thousands of shoppers throng into these stores everyday.

Some might argue, wouldn’t the orientation change if we face the other direction? If I’m facing the checkout counter, my right will be different from someone who is facing the back wall for instance. Well, GPS trackers attached to trolleys show that people tend to travel in select aisles, and rarely in a systematic up and down pattern. Most of us don’t fully penetrate the entire length of the lane but instead pull out before heading to the next lane.

Some of you are laughing at the last sentence right now aren’t you you dirty minded creatures.

Case Study: So far, I’ve only been to one supermarket in the duration of my existence (Giant, Woodlands Mart) where the entrance is at the left.

9. Product Positioning

It goes without saying that the most expensive items or products from renowned brands are positioned at eye level. Groceries are something that, for many, evolves into a chore over time, and most people are looking to get out of the supermarket as soon as possible. Most will end up purchasing one of the first few options they’re presented with, without looking at the bottom or the top.

The cereal aisle is a good example of smart product positioning, The expensive ones, the branded ones, are usually located at around eye level, while those sold in bulk are at the bottom, and the healthy ones on top. It’s easier to tip toe than to potentially embarrass yourself squatting (and it’s quite tiring if you keep squatting throughout your trip), which is something supermarkets are banking on to ‘persuade’ customers to forgo the cheaper options and go for the mainstream brands that everyone are talking about.

In addition, the priciest goods are usually placed at the end of the aisles, taking advantage of people who are in a rush, while items meant to appeal to children are positioned at their eye level.

Case Study #1: Aisle 17 of Ang Mo Kio’s NTUC Xtra is home to the cereal section. A quick look would show that the healthier options, like Kellog’s Special K, are placed in higher positions, while the ‘econo’ bulk packs are laid in the lowest racks.

‘Hipster’ snacks like granola snacks packed in milk cartons are placed at the top, appealing to the more affluent teenage population who are obsessed with Instagram.

Cartoon selections (i.e. cereal with cartoon characters) are indeed placed at the eye level of children, which generally means the second or third rack from the bottom.

The outermost sections of the cereal racks feature prices up to $9.30 per box, while the center only contain cereals within the price range of $3-$6.50. The eye level cereal falls within the $4.50-$6.40 range while the bottom cereal costs, on average, only $3.95. The lower levels tend to feature bulk packs as well, so while it may appear that the whole section is priced evenly from the bottom to the top, the truth is that there’s generally more cereal for the same price when we’re talking about the bottom areas.

Case Study #2: The pack-of-three-cans Campbell soups are at the bottom-most rack, while newer and more contemporary options like New England Clam Chowder with more fancy typography and graphic design along with a bigger can, are placed at eye level. The price difference should be pretty obvious.

Case Study #3: Instant Noodles from lesser known brands are placed below, while more renowned ones like Nissin and Nong Shim, which usually cost at least fifty cents more, are placed at eye level.

Case Study #4: Cold Storage placed almost all their pack-of-six soft drinks at the bottom most shelf, choosing to place the more profitable bottled versions at eye level.

Case Study #5: While both jams are of equal pricing, the one with a less recognizable name, unsurprisingly placed below, has more content.

Case Study #6: Household names like Marigold have their yogurts placed at eye level while the more atas-sounding ones are housed below.

You skip to the confectionery section where you’re greeted by the sounds of children laughing, which means you can’t help but buy a treat for the kids. Martine Alpins

And, believe it or not, there’s also another reason items appealing to children are placed at their eye level. Not only will their parents be more tempted to purchase them when their kid asks for them, the joy and laughter of the children when they get what they want entices unsuspecting passing adults to stop and purchase the goodies as well, especially in the candy section.

Also, The niche items and category of products remain visible but are usually situated in a remote corner as its users are willing to make an effort to find them.

Finally, it’s common practice for these stores to ‘zoom’ the buyers’ attention into the center. For important items like coffee, shampoo, common hair products, and even toothbrushes where there’s emotional investment involved (people care deeply about what kind of coffee they drink, what kind of shampoo they use, the type of hair products they apply etc.), they’re placed at the center of the lane so they can slowly think and not block the entrances of the aisle.

Where the coffee and tea are usually placed.

10. Product Placement

You may notice that there are always products from renowned brands being placed on endcap displays at the end of an aisle. It’s a way for the supermarket to tell you that they’re important, and while you might think that these ‘real estate’ are randomly assigned by the staff, big companies pay huge amount of money to have them situated at these prime positions through payments more specifically known as ‘slotting fees’.

The exact amount will never be disclosed, but these fees can chalk up to over million dollars, providing an alternative source of income for supermarket chains.

So next time when you’re shopping and you happen to chance upon one of those displays, remember that it’s not because they are necessarily relevant to you and other buyers, but it’s rather a case of paying-to-be-there.

11. Promoters Serve An Important Purpose For The Supermarket

Many a times on your shopping trips, you’re offered free food samples by various promoters, frequently meeting several before the checkout counter. While they’re there to promote the brand they’re selling, they actually play a crucial part in ensuring the customers stay as long as possible in the shop.

While exposing you to new products, they also slow you down, which, as mentioned multiple times previously, results in more sales. And it does not only apply solely for food, but for product demonstrations as well, which will always attract crowds all day every day.

There’s also the concept of reciprocity in play.

Reciprocity in social psychology refers to responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions. As a social construct, reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative than predicted by the self-interest model; conversely, in response to hostile actions they are frequently much more nasty and even brutal.

It’s hard to say no to someone who had just offered you something free ain’t it? More so if they keep bombarding you with the benefits of something you have absolutely no intention of buying when you step foot into the place. You can stand there like an awkward turtle trying to find a polite way to get out of the mess you suddenly find yourself in while everyone around you is staring at you, or you can pick up the product and move on with your trip, without worrying about negative judgement from total strangers.

Many will choose the latter, unfortunately.

12. The Essentials Are Spread So Far Away From Each Other

Bread, eggs, and milk are three of the most common items on everyone’s shopping list, and they all happen to be located very far apart each other to maximise the ‘surface area’ shoppers cover during their trip. Supermarkets usually position dairy products against the back wall, sometimes pretty well hidden among the massive array of goods, in order to force shoppers to walk through the entire store to get them. And surprise surprise, you’re probably going to pick up other unnecessary things along the way.

At least that’s what many observers think. Another perspective given by Jeff Weidauer, a former supermarket executive, is that:

Milk needs to be refrigerated right away; the trucks unload in the back, so the fridges are there so that we can fill the cases as quickly and easily as possible.

It doesn’t only work for people who have multiple items on their shopping list, but also for people with just one. You see, no matter what you want to buy, you have to at least cover the perimeter of the entire store before you end up with the item you came for and the checkout counter. And chances are you’ll eventually end up with slightly more than what you came in for.

Even if you’re disciplined enough to not give in to temptation, you’ll still be exposed to a plethora of brands and products, which means that the next time you decide to come back on an empty stomach…

Case Study: Through some quick observation, I noted that two of out of the three items are located within a few metres from each other, but the remaining item is always housed quite some distance away. Either that or all three items are placed in proximity of one another but placed all the way at the other end of the supermarket collectively.

I decided to see how long it’ll take me to grab these three items (bread, milk, and eggs) in each of the three supermarkets I visited. It took me two minutes and five seconds in Cold Storage, five minutes and 18 seconds at NTUC Xtra, and nearly eight whole minutes to locate just the eggs and milk at Giant.

I gave up looking for the bread after 12 mins of uneventful searching.

13. Placed Against White / Lighting

Getty Images / Dag Sundberg

How do you know you’ve reached the fish/poultry section?

When everything suddenly becomes brighter and whiter.

Meat and fish are usually sold against a white backdrop as it makes them look fresher. The combination of the whites and the reds makes for a tantalizing contrast that would attract more purchases than if the section were painted orange, blue, or even pink.

There’s also clever usage of lighting throughout the supermarkets, where you can often find the fruits section serenaded by warm, mellow light while the meat section are crushed by piercing whites.

There are also situations where both are used, with the white illuminating the object to make it look more tantalizing, and the orange making it feel fresh and happy.

14. Crushed Ice / Finer Ice

I am pretty sure you don’t need fancy crushed ice to keep your seafood from spoiling.

But again, crushed ice has been stereotyped as the more luxurious version of regular ice, with television shows often showing them with expensive delicacies like king crabs and lobsters. This portrayal will, in turn, give the illusion that the seafood is really fresh and sexy, making customers more inclined to purchase them seeing them in a minimalistic setting with a neat placement compared to a wet market mess of clunky ice cubes and shady lighting.

Case Study: All three supermarkets are using finer ice for their seafood.

15. The Music

Do you remember ever hearing pop songs in a supermarket? Yea, me neither.

The music playlist of supermarkets usually consists of music with a ‘rhythm that’s much slower that the average heartbeat’, according to branding expert Martin Lindstrom. This results in customers spending more time and money, in the store. Loud and fast-paced music in the meantime only serves to make shoppers move through the store quicker.

Case Study: I was surprised, because NTUC was playing the radio and Giant were playing Chinese New Year songs. Only Cold Storage was playing slow music from the 80s and 90s.

That isn’t a bad thing, however, because the festive mood create would create an atmosphere that encourages shoppers to be more loose in their spending since, well, it’s the holidays!

16. They Want To Reward Us For Our Hard Work

The checkout line is widely regarded as one of the most profitable areas of the supermarket, despite how small its area is compared to other sections of the place.

Do you ever wonder why candy and chocolates are placed near the checkout area? Because we’re greedy, and the supermarkets want us to reward ourselves when in fact, we’re spending even more and doing more harm to our bodies. Most of us would think that they deserve something for their hard work, and that’s where the supermarkets take advantage of.

Next, do you ever wonder why magazines are placed near the checkout area as well? Because headlines on the tabloids, pictures of power couples splattered on the covers of gossip magazines, and the hot chick in a bikini you’re doing a terrible job of trying to seem like you’re not looking at her, all contribute to your curiosity, and by the time it’s your turn to pay for your items, you’re likely going to buy the magazine you’ve been browsing while waiting in line.

Finally, do you ever wonder why condoms are placed near the checkout area? The reason has been vastly debated, but I believe the answer is something uncomplicated. You see, how often do you spot people buying condoms after purchasing their groceries, whether they’re using a shopping basket or a trolley? People who are there for these items would head directly to the checkout section, avoiding the entire store altogether (or they would go to 7-11). But you see, it’s pretty awkward for most to just buy a sole pack of condoms, especially when there seem to be more female cashiers than males in Singapore. So, they’ll have to buy something else to decrease the levels of uncomfortableness (I believe that’s a word). And what do they usually get?

Some candy and a magazine.

So, how exactly do you save?

You have probably read some supermarket guides or budgeting websites that tell you to compare coupons, compare prices etc., but while they’re certainly effective to an extent, all your hard work and concentration is going to be usurped by your subconscious making bad decisions on behalf of you.

Now that you are familiar with how supermarkets control your mind, don’t bother trying to avoid these ‘traps’ during your next trip there. You can’t, and you’ll end up spending even longer in the store. In order to alter and influence the choices your subconscious makes, you got to fight it with your subconscious.

The first thing you need to do will be to come up with a shopping list. Not a single soul had a shopping list on their hands when I visited all three supermarkets. It doesn’t work if you merely memorize it in your head; you have to write it down physically on a piece of paper and follow it closely during your run.

When you’ve finished your list, go in with a full stomach. A really full stomach. How do you know if you have a really full stomach? You’ll feel pukish and disgusted when you see your favorite snacks and junk food.

That’s it! Two simple steps.

People often get confused about the concept of saving in a supermarket. The best way to save is not to get the biggest discounts, but to get only what you need. By making a list, you have a clear idea of what you need and will remain focused during your trip instead of wandering about aimlessly, and by going in with a full stomach, you’ll be able to resist the temptation of purchasing items not originally on your list. Sure, your price-matching and brand-comparing might save you a few cents, but it’s redundant if you’re going to spend an additional five dollars on food that are not necessary.

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If you guys enjoyed this post, follow me on a escape room marathon and learn about a few new places you can visit during your class gatherings or retreats. Let me know what you think and do share them with your friends!

Goulding, Adam. “How Do Supermarkets Play Tricks On You?” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 11 Jan. 2012. Web. 2 Jan. 2015.
Harrison, Paul. “Supermarket Psychology” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 18 August 2008. Web. 2 January 2015.
Harrison, Paul. “Supermarket Psychology – Entrances, layout and shelving” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 25 July 2009. Web. 2 January 2015.
Harrison, Paul. “Supermarket Psychology: Supermarket Layout” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 14 July 2009. Web. 2 January 2015.
Harrison, Paul. “Supermarket Psychology: Specials, pricing, labelling and packaging” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 14 July 2009. Web. 2 January 2015.
Lubin, Gus. “15 Ways Supermarkets Trick You Into Spending More Money.” Business Insider. N.p., 26 July 2011. Web. 2 Jan. 2015.
Common Sense
Many years of observing people

Do you have any other supermarket-saving tips, or know of other ways supermarkets mess with your brains? Share it with me in the comments section below.

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  1. Hi, I am very glad and satisfy to read this article. It is very helpful and informative. In today’s busy schedule people don’t have enough time to go local markets for grocery shopping therefore i personally use and recommending you online grocery shopping site gmart.com.sg It is pocket friendly and easy to use site for customers.

  2. Hi your article is mind blowing, Thanks a lot. online shopping makes shopping very easy. For buying groceries online visit at least once on gmart.com.sg here you will get huge discounts on groceries everyday bases.

  3. Online grocery shopping is really good.I always shop grocery online because it save my time and money.I always shop from eZeelo.com and it is good.

  4. Interesting article. I do agree with many of the points. If I were to recommend a book, it’d be ‘the power of habit’ by Charles Duhiggs. He explores and explains how corporations, especially supermarkets, try to form habits in us consumers so as to invest in their goods and services, or they find certain undiscovered habits in us to make us of in order to profit. What you have mentioned are part of what habitualises us in a place we are all so familiar with – mostly the fact that we grab more than we actually need to.

    Hope you can do more psychological pieces like this, it’s a real treat (especially by a local)! :’)

    • Hi! Thanks for reading. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I heard of that book before and it’s definitely part of my wishlist :) I’ll try my best to churn out more of such pieces!

  5. noah says

    All these psychological tricks don’t work on me. Hehe

  6. Belinda says

    Really interesting article! I’m studying Economics in HK and I really want to check out the supermarket in HK to find the similarities :)

    • I’m glad you found it interesting Belinda! Save for a few exceptions I’m guessing most of the rules apply in supermarkets around the world!

  7. Lo Tov says

    Stumbled upon this article and I think it’s very well-written and justified! Good job and thank you for doing the research and case studies :)

  8. sigorilla says

    I’m from Indonesia and study psychology, and my interest is psychology industry and consumer. This blog is awesome! empirical studies from some supermarket (and hypermarket tho) , This is very helpful and easy to digest for brain (exclude some smartasswhoknowhowtocomplain).
    Without picture and photo, your description should be enough to describe about consumer decision making. Most of the hypermarket and supermarket near my place (Giant, Carrefour, etc) have similar design, even when i went to another country like Cambodia, their hypermarket have quite similar layout. Only some items are quite different example in Cambodia, they put wine, cigar, expensive liquor mostly near entrance door (oh, they use one way swing door also). In Thailand, usually their famous mango and durian (i wonder how they can kill their smell inside supermarket) is near entrance door.
    #8 about moving anti clockwise, from what i see is only hypermarket use this way, supermarket seldom, there’s quite deep research about this but i can’t remember where i used to read about this.

    #11 about promoters. I notice in Malaysia and Singapore usually use older auntie or uncle to promote their stuff. In Indonesia they use young and fresh SPG or SPB for promotion. Just tips: if you don’t know how to reject them, just take their product, put in your trolley, and then go away,on cashier just cancel to buy the product.

    I like your observation and investigation about this, should make the part 2, like pharmacy, hardware store, maybe wet market too?
    i used to learn about fast food restaurant and cafe, the point is the same. The more u stay there, the more u spend your money.

    Great Job!

    • Hi! Thanks for your comment and kind words! I realised that durians are not as frequently marketed in supermarkets anymore in recent years. I’m a huge fan of them but the stench, I heard, can get pretty awful for those who aren’t exactly appreciative of them. Wine and liquor doesn’t make sense in Singapore tho. I can imagine an outrage if that were to happen as well, since it’ll be sending out the wrong message.

      Btw, the tip on rejecting them is awesome! I shall update my blog accordingly :)

      I’ll certainly make a 2nd expose. I was actually thinking of doing departmental stores, but fast foods and pharmancies are interesting angles to go on about as well. Can’t wait to see where my research will lead me :)

      Hope you have a great day ahead!

  9. are you really 16?! you make me feel like i wasted my teen years reading seventeen magazine, instead of books by the likes of martin lindstrom.

    anyway you could consider including another tasty little fact by Martin Lindstrom: People with baskets tend to shop more – that’s why we’ve got people handing us baskets (in SG, we get it at SaSa, but in Canada, people do walk around supermarkets giving them out)… just so that people who think they’re safe with a basket, think twice.

    also, product positioning isn’t decided on by the supermarket – these aisles are open for bidding. FMCGs, who generally have a little more budget, get to bid for prime space (eye level), whereas indie food brands can generally only afford,.. other places.

    keep going!

    p.s. i thought the swing gates were for crime prevention. you’ve no idea how many times i’ve accidentally walked out of marketplace (at raffles city) with unpaid goods in hand, because the transition between the supermarket and the corridor is so smooth.

    p.s.s. thinking of starting a cereal exposé? here you go: http://www.amazon.com/The-Omnivores-Dilemma-Natural-History/dp/0143038583

    • Hi Kyoko! I actually turned 17 a very short while ago and I havent been able to think of a smart bio yet. Hmm, some interesting tidbits you have shared with me right there. Thanks for reading thru this piece and for your kind words! Glad you enjoyed it pal. Might take up your offer on the cereal expose!

  10. Ms A says

    Interesting read. I see there are some smartass commenters complaining about the lack of evidence/information when it seems as if they haven’t even read the entire post properly, yet want more elaboration on each point… Personally, I wouldn’t really want to read a research paper or a blog post that is too lengthy but that’s just my opinion. Besides, the details given are already very much sufficient to get me reflecting on my supermarket ‘adventures’, haha. Kudos to you for helping the unaware with this piece of work. Keep it up. :)

    • Hi Bernice! Thank you for reading through this piece. and for your kind words! The whole point of this piece is to let the general public know how they’re being influenced, and subsequently let them reflect on their adventures like what you said, but it’s a pity some refuse to read through the whole piece yet demand an even longer piece.

  11. Annup says

    17. Make sure the lines at the Cashier are always long and move slowly … so people tend to buy more items than stand in long queues again and again. Also very common for people to come in pairs, one person stands in the line while the other continues to shop and keeps adding items to the trolley. (frustrating to see)

    • Haha I’m pretty sure supermarkets won’t risk losing customers due to long queue lines. I can share your frustrations for your last part tho.

  12. asdfasdf says

    In regards to point 6, actually in some parts of NTUC they have those electronic looking price tags. When there’s a discount, it states the discounted price, the original price and the duration of the discount (from when it starts to when it ends). Take a closer look when you go next time. :)

    • Hi! Thanks for reading thru my piece. Yes I’m aware of that, but again, how do you know that that is a discount? Do you remember what the original price was? Think about it the next time you visit the supermarket again :)

  13. Xtracoldgiant says

    I have some trouble considering this an original piece of investigative journalism, but you are certainly onto a great start. The way this piece was structured seems to be that you picked out the theory from the articles and videos in the references and then added the “case study” component to see if these were true. You would need to add lots more info, specific to Singapore’s supermarkets, to make this article more useful for all of us. Let me point out where I would have liked more information:

    1. Shopping Trolleys: Are the trolleys actually too big? Did you do a trial run to see how many items you bought due to the presence of the trolley and the absence of a list? If the store wanted you to have trolleys, why even provide baskets at all? Why add the barrier of the 1 dollar rental fee, when the added sales from easy trolley usage can compensate for the cost of returning trolleys from the carpark.

    2. Gates: Did our supermarkets have swing gates? If so, which ones? All three you looked at? You don’t need to show photographic evidence to at least tell us how many of these markets had the gates.

    3. Food near the front: If the hypermarkets don’t follow this format, why not? This undercuts your hypothesis so a follow-up would be nice.

    4. Trolleys and tiles: Did you test it? Compare how it was when you shopped with a trolley vs a basket? At least show which markets used the tile trick instead of pictures which could be from the same market or even a single branch. Need more data to back up hypothesis.

    5. Maths: Can you follow through with a few other examples to come a more definitive answer? “your guess is as good as mine” did not help me in anyway.

    6. Discount: You can cross check by finding the same item in different markets or even calling the wholesaler to ask for the bulk price. Again, inconclusive and frustrating.

    7. Clustered items: No case study or proof at all.

    8. Anti-clockwise: 1 supermarket vs how many? An actual number would be nice here. I can think of at least 3 other supermarkets which open on the left. Again, I am sure the theory is sound. I just wanted more info for Singapore.

    9. Positioning: This was an excellent section! good evidence, both written and photographic to support the theory. If the other sections are like this one, it will be a superb article.

    10. placement: How many of these supermarkets used end-caps? And more importantly, linking back to the title of the piece, did these make us spend more?

    11. promoters: How often do they pop up in sg markets? Any case studies?

    12. location: Note that Bread, eggs and milk are more common for Western buyers and are less critical for Singaporean mores. So a different test, using sg based critical items, might have been more useful. Also, how come Cold Storage is making it so easy for you to get the three items, then?

    13. Lighting: Again, you could have provided a case study, even without photos. And for the meat section photo – you used a stock photo??? this does not help make the point for singapore’s markets.

    14. Crushed ice : For this to be true, we need to know if the wet markets use ice cubes. No info on that here.

    15. Music: So again, case study disproves the theory. WHY?

    16: Rewards: How true was it that the condoms, candy and mags are all there? I probably know that to be true, but since you did the leg work, can you please provide the info?

    So in general – Theory implanted without adjustment for Singaporean markets and context. Selective in the case study and a little sloppy.

    I am not using this to show why this is bad and why you should not do this again. I think it is great that you are doing investigations and wanted to show why it was so promising and yet wanting. You can do a much much better job! Why don’t I do it myself then? Because I don’t care that much about supermarkets! But if you want to make an impact, you will need a lot more work. Why is my tone gruff and surly? Because Internet anonymity! haha. Keep up the good work buddy, but let’s make it great!

    • Hi! Thanks for your comment. I believed you made a few errors in regards to my piece.

      1. Shopping trolleys being big is common knowledge, and I’m telling those oblivious to this fact as such. It’s funny you’re wondering why they’re big and how it affects our psychological thinking, yet I already mentioned it in the paragraph. The dollar coin is supposedly used for security purposes, although admittedly in a city like Singapore it’s not very effective.

      2. Swing gates are common sense. I’m not going to waste people’s time by including straightforward observations that everyone can deduce for themselves.

      3. Good point made. Hypermarkets have their fruits and vegetables all the way on the other side, i.e. all the way in. Why? So you’re gon have to spend even more time finding them! Maybe I should have included it.

      4. I personally tested it myself, and observed people slowing down multiple times. I already said in my first paragraph that no photography are allowed in the stores, so I’m not going to risk getting into trouble mentioning their names just to appease someone who doesn’t believe in me.

      5. You just proven my point ;)

      6. Sure, go ahead and waste time. Would you bother spending so much of your precious time doing investigative work, or would you just grab your item and go?

      7. No sir, I don’t need a case study for this. It’s really common sense.

      8. All three supermarkets have their entrances located on the right, as mentioned in the paragraph. If you can find data on how many open via the left vs via the right please let me know. I’m not about to heckle down every supermarket just to do this piece.

      9. Thank you.

      10. I already mentioned it in my post. Endcap displays make the products more important. All three I visited have endcap displays. In fact, I have never been to any without any endcap displays.

      11. If you find relevant data, do let me know. I’m not spending time surveying the whole of Singapore when the message can be sent quickly and clearly without any case studies.

      12. I disagree. Bread, eggs and milk are equally important, maybe even more. I didn’t say that Cold Storage makes it even easier. I said they placed everything all the way in, which means you have to go one big round just to get to them, the same effect as having all three items placed very widely apart.

      13. No photography allowed in supermarkets! I already included the Cold Storage ones with the photo, which helps prove the point for Singapore markets. I find it ironic, because this is the section where photos are important yet you’re telling me that photos aren’t important to substantiate my point?

      14. Wet markets uses ice cubes. Have you been to one, because ask anyone and they’ll be able to tell you.

      15. I already mentioned! Please read again.

      16. Common sense.

      At this point in time, while I thank you for your lengthy feedback, your points are simply telling me that you haven’t been to a supermarket in a long time or observe the dynamics while you’re there. Also, I suggest reading the entire piece, word for word. The part of the music makes me think that you simply skimmed over the article hence missing out key points. You’re asking for more information, more words, yet you missed out on fully absorbing the existing information. My job is to tell my readers how supermarkets are influencing their purchase decisions, and their jobs is to go down and see for themselves, or simply reflect on their past trips.

      Regarding your last point, I believe I already made an impact, considering how you just spent 30 mins writing this comment, and how this article have been circulated widely. If you feel you can do a better job, be my guest :) I’ll make changes based on your suggestions as I see fit and necessary. If you have data to the parts you want me to find out more about, feel free to send them to me.

    • Chen says

      This is an interesting and a well-written article and many of the theories are probably common sense to most of the people.
      I work in a Consumer Package Goods company, so I can verify the #10. We called it Gondola End (GE), and many companies will want to get that spot to create “disruptive” display which grabs attention, and more likely to stimulate spending on the items.

  14. FluffyMutt says

    Hi there, don’t let the smartypants commenters get you down. Seems like they’re just targeting the word “making” in the title. Pretty sure I’m not the only one who never thought of all these “tips and tricks” that supermarkets use to influence us to spend more, and who found this article informative and interesting.

    I thought of a little example while reading the article: heavyass items like rice or maybe 24-can drink cartons are quite often placed near the exit. possibly cos if you get them at the entry, you’re not going to want to buy anything else. Bulky items like washing powder and toilet paper also.

    Re Are you sure there’s a discount, as an auntie-in-training, I can tell you that the uncle/auntie grocery shoppers in Singapore have crazy good memory for prices. An irate uncle once stopped me from choosing cherries because the price is supposed to be $1.64 per 100g, now $2.28 is daylight robbery! Pretty sure unless there’s a real discount involved, the tactic of choice for reputable supermarkets is (as you mentioned in your article) just to put a big yellow sign that says “Great Savings!” or “Value Buy!”

    Anyhow, good job! I learnt a lot today. :)

    • Hey there! Thank you for your kind comment. Yea I realised everyone seem to be taking this more seriously than they should. Loved the example you provided to me in your third paragraph. Not a surprise considering how the previous generation were living in a survive-no-matter-what environment where every single cent matters. I’m glad you enjoyed this piece and learnt something new :)

  15. ohbq says

    you’re 16? no wonder so cute. when you grow older and are actually the one buying groceries you will already have realised all this. unfortunately this is not an expose as all these tricks have been long known. if you ever take a business course all this is the basic fundamentals of marketing you will learn in your first week

    • Man you take the word “expose” way too seriously. Judging by how widely circulated this piece is, I’m pretty sure these tricks are not very well known. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that that’s because not everyone got enrolled in a business course? Thanks for reading through my piece tho.

  16. Kevin Seng says

    This is not about “exposing the supermarket”.
    They as a business, have think about how much to “extract” from you – ultimately they “answer” to their shareholders.
    Whatever you have mentioned, can be owed to this thing called “marketing”. Most of these marketing now occur in a psychological level, where they pander to your senses to entice you to buy food. Even when you are going to the coffee shop, you can see brightly lit stalls or specially designed signboards just to grab your attention. (Of course if you already know which stalls are good, and you go to them despite all the other attention-seeking boards, you are beating the marketing game).

    Now that you have highlighted and understood some of the ways supermarkets “trick” you to part with your money, you would be more aware and hence better in making your decisions? End of the day, it is your own hand to put that pack of chips or that cake into your trolley basket. End of the day it is your own choice whether to push 3 items in your trolley to the counter, or pack 10 items into the trolley simply cause you “feel obliged”. You decide to think something like “Do I really need that bar of chocolates? Or am I just adding it into my basket because I think it looks good/taste nice/it’s cheap? Supermarkets do not forcibly put these stuff into your basket, and it’s up to your own discretion whether to follow your shopping list or lose to these marketing strategies that supermarkets come up with.

    • Hi Kevin! Thanks for reading thru my piece. I think you’ve misunderstood what I wrote. Whatever you have written in your comment is what Ive written / insinuated about in my post.

      • Kevin Seng says

        Hi Lhu,

        Ok I did a re-read through and I realised at the last paragraph you have put your statement there. My apologies for trying to bring you down.

  17. James says

    Yawn…plenty of speculative comments but not one shred of solid evidence in the form of research papers or even pictorial evidence (e.g: You claimed you stumbled across discount labels that had same prices as the original ones.)

    Even if this any of this were true, remember that the final decision to spend is always up to us, the supermarket doesn’t force you to buy more. These little “ploys” you go on about would at best “suggest” or prime us (scientific term) to want to buy more. It doesn’t force us to.

    Back these comments up with some scientific research that tell us that these tricks leave us no choice but to spend more and maybe there’ll be more to discuss than the false moral outrage that we see here.

    • Hi James! Thanks for your comment. I already mentioned in the front that no photography is allowed in the stores and I was reprimanded twice for trying to take pictures of the pricing labels. One would think that I would be smart enough to think of pictoral evidence before embarking on a project like this.

      Regarding your second point, I’m not sure where you’re pointing at. You’re telling me that this article isnt true, but the little ploys are there to prime us to want to buy more? Isn’t that the point of the article? This is a blog post, not a research paper. Sources used are credible as well, so it’s puzzling as to what problem you have with this article, when you’re telling me I’m right.

      Lastly, the points here are backed up with scientific evidence. Please refer to the references section, where I refer to points made by professors, behavioral psychologists and other reliable sources.

  18. Cedric says

    Point 2: the swing gates also makes you feel like you are entering an amusement park, a wonderland. Makes you hyped up and ready to shop!

  19. Pingback: Fun and informative articles to share! - www.hardwarezone.com.sg

  20. ms T says

    hi there! Happy new year, this article is such a fantastic read! Would you kindly do a “volume 2″ on pharmacies/health & beauty stores like Watsons and Guardian? I spend so much time in there and I keep analyzing and analyzing! Some of the theories here did make me think back (big promotional tags that say ” great value”?!?). Really looking forward to your next post!such a helpful and interesting lifestyle piece :)

    • Hi Liang Tong! Happy new year! I would love to do a Part 2 someday (I already have something planned), but there would be more research so I doubt it’ll be anytime soon. To keep up with my latest posts I would suggest putting your email in the newsletter sign up form so I’ll be able to share more interesting stuff with you!

  21. Impressive article from a 16 y.o.! A lot of good tips in here — are they your ideas and observations, or were there other sources (articles) that you used and may want to quote? Nice photos nevertheless… Keep writing!

  22. Benjamin says

    You may want to do more case study on more stores in sg on entrance positioning. There are some areas which has some errors such as pairing items n decision of positioning of such pairing by supermarket. Interesting article with quite abit of extraction from brandwashed. Giving my 2 cents worth from being in the fmcg industry.

    • Hi Benjamin! Thank-you for your suggestion and kind words. I chanced upon the Brandwashed book while doing research, but I’d never read it at all. Maybe I should give it a chance when I’m free.

  23. Xieheng says

    A nice article! Enjoyed it very much.

    Re: point 3 – in the Czech Republic (and maybe other beer crazy nations), i observed that they put alcohol at the front of the supermarket. Guess the Czechs have different temptations from us!

    • BEER AT THE FRONT!? There’ll be an outrage and protests if that happened in Singapore! Anyhow, thanks for reading thru this long piece and I’m glad you enjoyed it :)

  24. Loved this. I actually worked at a rather large supermarket chain in the US for about 3 years. Keeping the store layout in mind while you went through the article, all I could do was agree. There is so much the stores do to rope you into buying more and spending more time than you need. Also, like you pointed out, going on a full stomach is a must. The customers know they shouldn’t go in hungry but there were many times a day a customer would comment that they started shopping before they ate and had more than what they wanted.

    There are still countless times I go into the store needing eggs, nothing else, and come out with five more items. Luckily I am getting into the habit of a list(man does that help) and the hand basket rather than the large carts. My shopping mate is also pretty good at math and will take a moment to figure out if the deal is worth it. While it takes a little longer, it helps in the long run.

    • How’s working in a supermarket like? Bet it was tiring. I’m glad you’re able to get some help to aid you in your trip, and while I agree your last part is tiring, it’s definitely more helpful and will reap pretty good rewards in the long term :) Have a great 2015 btw!

      • When I started working there I thought it would be pretty easy. Some parts were but, yes, I went home so tired. I worked in the deli, so lots stocking, slicing, we fried foods, made big trays for parties. I am happy to have done it but I don’t want to go back.

        Have a happy and eventful 2015, too!

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