15 Psychological tactics grocery stores use to get you to buy more

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We all go food shopping, and most of the time, that means a visit to our local large chain grocery store. But while we may just want to whisk in and out for the items on our shopping list, we almost always come out with more – and, sometimes, a lot more.

That’s no accident, as every single aspect of these stores’ setup and design are carefully engineered to make you buy more based on advanced consumer behavior psychology.

In fact, grocery stores employ many of the same psychological tactics used by other large retailers like clothing or electronic stores or even casinos to attract more customers, make them stay longer and see more, and entice them with a host of visceral triggers and subconscious cues.

From colors to smells, layout to the music playing in the background, it’s all in place for one purpose – to get you spending!

Here are 15 of those psychological tactics grocery stores use:

Sale signs

Nothing draws in potential customers like a sale, but it’s no coincidence that Sale signs are ALWAYS bright red, as it’s long been understood that reds actually prompt purchase behavior more than any other color. Likewise, grocery stores make these signs and ads as big as possible to catch your attention.

Limited-time offers

If value is a subjective proposition, human beings attach more value to something if it’s fleeting or even unavailable. That’s the psychology behind limited-time offers, which instantly make people start thinking they may miss out if they don’t buy now.

Or “Limit one per customer”

To create the same reaction as limited-time offers, stores offer certain sale items but with a limit to the number each person can buy. Of course, they have enough stock and aren’t going to run out, but they just want to create the perception of high value by limiting your options (but, in reality, they usually just let you buy as many as you’d like!).

Encourage shopping cart use

Shopping carts are always outside the store’s entrance or right in the front. Of course, that placement is common sense, but grocery stores also vigorously encourage shopping cart use instead of just the smaller hand carts, for instance. That’s because research shows people spend much more and stay longer in the store if they have a large shopping cart to fill and don’t have to exert any effort carrying items.

Color in the front

Next time you walk into a grocery store, pay attention to the color layout. You’ll quickly notice that the front of the store is dominated by yellows, reds, oranges, and other warm, inviting colors. In the back of the store, however, you’ll find far more stark whites and maybe some blues and greens, which encourage people to spend.

As well as baked goods and flowers

Who can say no to freshly baked cookies or muffins? Rare is the person who doesn’t respond positively to the site of pretty flowers. That’s why those items are always in the front of grocery stores – not to mention the great smells they produce.

Staple food items in the back

Milk, eggs, bread, and other staple items are usually in the back of stores for a good reason – you’ll have to walk all the way through the aisles to reach them, therefore increasing the likelihood that you’ll pick up a few other items along the way.

Change up the aisles

Grocery stores often send in the White Coats from corporate to review a store’s layouts and aisle placement and make changes even when none are needed. In fact, they frequently change the placement of displays and move items around aisles, so shoppers don’t get too comfortable with one layout, which would become stagnant and predictable, allowing them to rush in and out with what they need.


These corporate consumer engineers also set up the displays to purposely act as roadblocks for the flow of traffic, which makes people slow down, stop, and look at certain items. Displays at the end of aisles and the center of the store are also like goldmines for positioning.

Aisle eye candy

Magazines, batteries, chewing gum, candy bars, sodas, and the other small-purchase items that populate the check-out lanes while you’re waiting to pay are BIG money makers for stores, who encourage impulse purchases with small-ticket items to a captive audience.

The Domination Effect

Another good reason why those small-priced nick nacks and items are at the front aisle – the Domination Effect. Research shows that people aren’t likely to think about breaking a big bill (like a $20, $50, or $100 bill) or break out their debit or credit card for an item that only costs 75 cents, 99 cents, or a dollar. However, if they already are going through that checkout process, we’re far more likely to pick up a few of these items without inhibition.

More expensive items are at eye level

If you’re ever looking for a specific brand of product that has many options, take a look at their placement on the vertical shelves. The higher priced items are always located at eye level, while cheaper generic versions require you to bend way down or reach way up to grab them.


Needless to say, we’re more likely to buy an item – or more of any groceries – if someone is offering free samples.

The music

A whole lot of research has gone into the correlation between music and consumer behavior, and this is the consensus: slow music (elevator music, acoustic, slow cover songs, etc.) calm people done and make them shop at a leisurely pace, as well as spend more. Additionally, classical music is piped through high-end grocery stores because it stimulates more expensive purchases. However, loud music or fast-paced music has no effect on their shopping behavior.

“$5 for 5” deals

While that gets us excited at the perception of savings in bulk, you can almost always purchase just one of those items for that same unit price!

Right side?

This is crazy, but most stores set up their best selling and big earning items on the right side of displays. Why? They know that 90% of the population (and shoppers) are right-handed, so they’re more likely to look to the right and grab an item from that direction as they walk by.


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