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Secrets behind the supermarket layout

How many times have you walked into a supermarket with the intention of just picking up a few items, only to find your basket overflowing with unplanned purchases when you finally reach the checkout?

It’s no surprise to learn that this behaviour is no accident, in fact it’s part of a strategic plan adopted by almost every supermarket to encourage you to spend more.

Consumer expert Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, told Real Simple that "Two- thirds of what we buy in the supermarket we had no intention of buying.

Every aspect of a store's layout—from the produce display near the entrance, to the dairy case in the back and the treats at the register—is carefully designed to stimulate your shopping spend at every step of your journey.

Let’s look at the typical geography of a store.

Fresh is always first

Freshness is a key driver for grocery shoppers, hence the floral display at the entrance which not only enhances the overall image of the store, the colours and aromas deliver a sensory perception that is fresh, natural and clean.

Hot on the floral heels is fresh produce and bakery, where the store whets your appetite to purchase with the visuals of crisp, shiny apples and glistening, just-misted greens meeting the aroma of freshly baked breads.

There is also a school of thought that tells us if you shop healthy produce first, you won’t feel as guilty about popping more “less healthy foods” in your basket later.

A scramble for eggs, milk and other staples

Why are the things you most often need sometimes the hardest to find? Once again it comes down to insights into buyer behaviour, which shows that the longer you’re in store, the more you’ll be tempted to buy. That’s why the fridge and pantry staples are either at the back of the store or buried within the inner aisles, so you’ll be exposed to the maximum number of products even on your ‘quick trips’.

Eye level = Buy level

Where certain brands are placed on store shelves directly correlates to how much the brand has paid for the space. Front and centre, right in your sight line is what’s known as the ‘bullseye’ zone and manufacturers pay a pretty penny to be there. 

Some savvy retailers will actually plan these zones to take into account the difference in height between women and men of about 10cm and give the less popular shelves the title of “bend or stretch zones”.

Coles Supermarkets

The fixation for off-fixture displays

Off-fixture displays are standalone point-of-purchase displays that sit separately from traditional aisle shelves. And such is their ability to attract customers, the competition for brands to occupy this prime real estate is fierce.

These powerful pieces buy into consumer belief that if it’s on display, it’s on special, or part of a discounted promotion – even when it isn’t.

Off-fixture displays are strategically placed in and around the store. Those placed at the end of the aisles are set up to entice you towards them, while some are designed to act as visual speed bumps that literally stop you in your tracks. 

The grab ‘n go zone

Just when you think you’ve finished your shopping, you enter the famous “impulse zone”, more commonly known as the checkout. This is where you’ll be bombarded with snacks (aren’t you peckish after all that shopping?), chocolates (don’t you deserve a treat?), last minute essentials (you can never have enough batteries), and of course, a little something to appease the pester power of the toddler you’ve dragged to the supermarket with you.

So next time you find yourself wondering why you spent over $100 on just a few bits and pieces, remember, it was all by design.


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