EXPOSED: 16 WAYS SUPERMARKETS ARE MAKING US SPEND MORE THAN WE NEED

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’reabsolutely 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 thatwas 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.

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