The Supermarket Spell
Do you feel mildly confused when you enter a supermarket? You are not alone.
You pass through the automatic gateway, smell the bread and see the fruit and vegetables. The walls are sometimes dark, sometimes light. The lights are almost always bright. You make your first choice.
It seems to be between four options: bread, flowers, quick-buy goods, fruit and vegetables or, sometimes, the deli.
That done, you walk, in a mild trance, guiding the trolley passed the fish and the meat sections then down the aisles, usually following the same path each time.
Without even realizing, you glance at the bright labels and listen to the bright melodies playing through the speakers in the ceiling. Often, you buy the same items you bought last time or the ones you bought over the last two or three weeks.
Then, you pop out of the maze and mild malaise to a cash register flanked by confectionery, batteries, and magazines. You read a page or two of a trashy mag then put it back. You grab a chocolate bar.
The checkout operator asks after your health or how your day has been (or, much worse, what you are planning for the rest of the day).
Or, maybe you are like me, and you head to the self-serve cash register to scan, scan, scan and then pay; all the while, the friendly assistant watches you surreptitiously to ensure you are not cheating with false bar codes or other tricks that the school kids seem to learn so quickly.
You head to the car park humming the last tune you heard; amazingly, it’s the supermarket’s theme song.
I know it sounds strange, but the supermarket has cast its spell over you. It’s like something out of Harry Potter.
I’m not so worried about “who did it.” I am interested in “how they did it” and “how I can out-do them.”
How did they cast that thrall?
The first thing I noticed, as I walked into the store, was the well-lit fruit and vegetables.
They were set against darker walls and shelves. But, I smelt something, too. It was bread. There was a beautiful, sensuous baking smell.
And, I heard that music. I felt better: just a little.
Interestingly, my senses were turned on, but my thinking was turned off. My senses told me to feel good, but my mental calculator was snoring.
Some supermarkets call that first place the “dwell zone.” It’s a real place. It’s that open area just inside the door where you “sus the store.” In big supermarkets, it may be 5 meters deep or more.
So, I faced my first choices. But, they were emotional, not rational.
The odd thing about these choices was that I thought they were about what I wanted to buy. No way. The choices I was given were really about the paths I would take. And, there were just three choices: bouncing, skirting, or ambling.
Remember, my rational mind was having a snooze, so I had no idea what was actually happening.
Bouncing involves moving swiftly to those quick-buys near the entrance. You grab pre-prepared meals, snacks, flavored milk, and magazines then zip over to the cash register. And, you’re out.
It’s high profit and quick turn-over for the supermarket.
Trouble is, you were not there long enough for the spell to be cast.
You’ll be back.
Skirting means that you track around the supermarket’s outer walls. You pass the fridges and cool shelves on one side and the aisle-end shelves on the other.
Then, you head down to the back corner for milk and pass along the open fridges full of frozen, prepared food. That’s great as far as the supermarket is concerned. Everything you see is high cost and high profit.
But, my choice of path is different. I usually take the third: the “amble” option.
Ambling involves pushing that (sometimes rattling) trolley up and down each of the aisles, following the path that the supermarket prefers.
It’s motto is the “longer you stay, the more you pay.”
This is how it works.
I enter the supermarket and buy some greens and bread. Then, I usually spend up big at the deli. The supermarket puts it near the entrance because, at the start, people are ready to buy. Next, I select fish and meat then wheel right and start down aisle number one.
First thing to notice is that I am walking. And, I am looking to my right. But, I can assure you that my brain is not really engaged. It is doing no more than going “dum, de dum.” Or, in my case, “dumb de dumb.”
Walking often Stops You Thinking
You see, walking and watching dims the calculating character of a brain. And, there’s lots of walking to do and lots of products to see. They appear bright and cheerful as though they are waving from the shelves.
And, another thing. Have you noticed that the most sought-after products are usually halfway down the aisle? You have to walk to the middle, past everything else, to get to them. Funny about that. Of course, it increases the chances you will buy something on the way.
And, the music! The singer sings while the band plays on and on and on — holding me steady in a calm and slightly positive frame of mind (if the music it right for me).
So, I amble along the right side of the aisle and look at the items at eye height. These are the most profitable products the supermarket has to offer. On the left are the less profitable and less popular items. Why is that? Well, it is simple. About 85% of people are right handed.
The supermarket is chasing the Golden Mean.
Now, I am truly caught. But, I am not complaining. Grocery shopping is a persistent pain. The spell they cast makes their merchandising manageable.
You will have noticed that some shelves are dedicated to just one product. You could not miss it. But, other shelves have lots of individual products all jostling to be noticed. The bulk items make the profit. The rest are sometimes just fill.
Of course, the supermarket doesn’t want you to go someplace else.
Now let’s think about thinking, or the lack of it.
Think About the Lack
Look at the prices: $4.99, $3.78, $12.49.
How could I ever compare one with another? It’s impossible. Some places tell you what one bit costs: an ounce, a gram, a milliliter, a pound, a kilogram. That’s better. But, look at the measures.
Weights, volumes, numbers: 1.18 kg, 1.3 pounds, 235 mL, 245 sheets, 50 oz, 726 g, 22 packets.
When you are ambling down the aisles and your brain is mulling over music, labels, and light, you cannot digest more than the first number in any sequence. You may read them, but only a few will remember them.
But, I keep on pushing along like everyone else; taking an item from the shelf and placing it in my trolley. Take and place. Take and place. Always the right hand. Almost always the product is at eye height.
Those who cast the spell have arranged it that way.
When I have finished, I reach the register.
Remember the magazines? They’re the ones that folks read but don’t buy?
The publishers know about that. Their advertising rates are based on numbers of readers, not buyers. So, they are perfectly happy that you glance through while you wait. Their job is done.
The goods are scanned, or you scan them (retaining some sense of control). You pay. No, you don’t want cash out. Then, you are through. You guide the trolley to the car park. At last, the spell is broken.
So, let’s summarize what happened back there.
First, I was grabbed by my senses: smell, sight and sound.
They triggered my deepest instincts: hunter–gatherer.
By the time I was reading prices and checking weights, my number-loving brain had given up. My onboard calculator was kaput.
But, I felt comfortable enough: mildly happy. Well, at least, not grumpy.
And, I performed the regular actions required of me by the supermarket’s master magician: take and place; take and place; walk this way; take and place.
Now that you know about the spell, it’s time to turn things your way.
How do you do it?
The answer is deceptively simple.
You will never undo the power of the senses: smell and sight. They work too deeply in your instinctive world.
You will never disentangle the complex relationships between price, weight, volume, and number. Your mental calculator has been deliberately disabled.
But, what you can do is change the way you behave. Focus on the “take and place, take and place.” That’s the weak point. It’s there that you can gain immediate benefits.
So, what should you do?
Shop low for the best prices.
Shop low from hip to toe.
You see, the most expensive and most profitable items are at eye height on the right. If you follow the footsteps of the aisle amblers, the product placement becomes apparent.
I won’t say that the products you see from hip to toe are always the same quality as those at eye height. But, many times they are. In fact, often they are the same product provided in slightly larger amounts.
So, look down when you shop: choose the items from hip to toe.
How Much Difference Does It Make?
Imagine a standard shopping basket costing $100.73 of eye-height, right-side products. Yes, I know you spend more than that in a week; I do, too.
Imagine spending an extra $17.30 (over the $100.73). When you do that there is a good chance you will take home the equivalent of an extra $74.00 worth of eye-height goods.
That’s the difference when you shop low from hip to toe.
If you stretch it out so you buy $124 worth of products from hip to toe, you have possibly done next week’s complete $100 shopping basket as well (excluding milk, meat, deli, fruit, and vegetables).
Buy $124 (rather than $100) by shopping from hip to toe and you can shop twice a month for those items rather than once a week! That will halve the hassles of driving, parking and corralling the kids. Of course, when you buy from hip to toe, you have to make some changes at home. Improve your home storage with new shelves, containers, and labels.
Sound like a hassle?
Imagine cutting your shopping time and irritation in half for the rest of your life. From that perspective, getting a few jars and labeling them is no problem at all.
So, imagine shopping once every two weeks rather than once a week?
Imagine saving over 60% on your shopping bill, at the same time?
The answer may be surprisingly simple.