Grocery Shopping: Stores’ Strategies

I had a really interesting marketing professor in graduate school whose career, aside from teaching, focused on food marketing. His class gave me a whole new perspective on grocery stores and  grocery shopping.

The main thing I took away from my professor’s lessons is that every item in a grocery store is placed it its exact spot for a reason: to get you to buy. All big box grocery stores, and even the smaller local stores, are laid out in a manner to keep you in the store longer and to make you spend more. Here are some highlights:

-Almost all grocery stores are laid out in such a way that shoppers walk a set path or track. Typically you walk in one door, usually near the produce, and out another door, right by the check-out lines. Grocers like shoppers to enter at the produce section because this is usually the brightest, freshest, most visually appealing area of the store. Shoppers who are greeted by beautiful, organized produce are more likely to form a positive impression of the store and spend more. Shoppers then typically have to cover a lot of ground in the store to get what they need before reaching the check-out line. At check-outs, stores place tempting impulse items like gum, magazines, bottled drinks and candy. Grocers know you’re likely to buy those items when you’re stuck waiting in line with nothing else to do but stare at the tasty treats in front of your face. Grocery stores want to put as many items as possible in your line of sight for as long as possible because the more you see, the more you’ll drop into your cart.


-This relates directly with the next point: placement of staples. When Americans go to the grocery store, it’s almost guaranteed that they will need to buy either milk, eggs, cheese or meat. These are staples in the American diet, and grocery stores know it. That’s why they almost always place their dairy and meat sections at the back or in the far corners of the store. To get to those sections, shoppers have to walk past tons of other products. Stores are banking on the fact that they can grab your attention with items that weren’t on your list while you’re on the way to grab some milk, and that one or a few of those items will interest you enough to buy.

-One way to get your attention and get you to make an unplanned purchase it to group items. Have you ever gone to pick out your bunch of bananas only to notice the display of Nilla Wafers and pudding right next to them? Or the tortilla chips placed right next to the avocados and tomatoes? Even if you weren’t thinking about making banana pudding or guacamole before walking into the store, the store got you thinking about it with its product grouping and increased the likelihood that you’ll spend more.

-Finally, while grocers decide how to best layout their stores, food companies (the suppliers) do a lot of research and spend a lot of money to have their products placed exactly in the spots at which you’re most likely to buy them. The cereal aisle is a perfect example. Here are two pictures I took at a Harris Teeter today:

Notice that the of sugary cereals with cartoon characters on the boxes (Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Pebbles, Cap’n Crunch) are placed at the bottom of the shelf. The bottom of the shelf just so happens to be at kids’ eye levels. Quaker and Kellogg’s, among others, have contracts with grocery stores that address where each type of cereal should be placed. Sugary “kid” cereals compete for spots on the middle/bottom of shelves, while the other big-name cereals (Cheerios, Chex, Kashi) compete for spots between adults’ waist and eye-level. Off-brand, bulk, and “healthy” cereals are placed in the least desirable shelf space, the very top. The highest margin, big food items (often some of the least healthy) are the ones placed right in front of you.

So, while I am always an advocate of shopping farmers markets and local health food stores, I know we all need to visit the big box grocery stores from time to time. Hopefully these points will make you a more informed shopper. Stay tuned for my tips on how to navigate big box grocery stores for a more efficient grocery shopping experience!

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One Response to Grocery Shopping: Stores’ Strategies

  1. Pingback: Grocery Shopping: 8 Tips for Shoppers | In Sustainability and in Health

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