How supermarkets get you to spend more than you need

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A row of supermarket trolleys and a person with shopping bags walking by.

You nip into the supermarket for some bread and milk - and emerge considerably more laden down and poorer. A new Which? investigation claims supermarkets are now deploying increasingly sophisticated technology to get you to open your wallet more - much more. All in the mind? Actually, yes - and dead-centre from your eyeballs.

Shopping wobble

Which? used eye-tracking technology to track recorded shoppers' eye movements. It then analysed the footage to work out how supermarket design and layout affected your shopping habits.

For example, premium brands will pay more to have their products put at eye level. That sounds obvious. What's less obvious is that supermarkets often dial up the price of their stock in small horizontal stages across, making it harder to work out what's cheapest and what's not.

Wobbly signs in the aisle distract (Asda being a particularly adept practitioner here says Which?). And if you're distracted, you slow down.

That's a buying opportunity for the supermarket, and an opportunity to flag up products which might be more profitable for them.

Slow down, dear

Normally, staples like bread, milk and butter are buried deep at the back of the store, forcing you to walk past several aisles of other products first. It's also often more congested there. Think of your local supermarket: does it feel open-plan and spacious at the start?

This, says Which? is the initial 'decompression zone', right at the front of the supermarket. "It takes the average shopper about 10 steps to adapt to the store's environment and slow their pace to 'shopping speed'. The slower you move, the more you are likely to buy."

It's also often packed with fresh fruit, flowers and veg, to give the impression of just-bought freshness and vitality - like a country market.

Undermined

Supermarkets, it adds, often make aisles wider than really necessary. The theory is the less you have to navigate tightly packed areas, the more your peripheral vision is available to be distracted by products you pass.

The more you look at, the more you're tempted to buy. However, as the large players like Tesco - Tesco's share price is currently close to a 10-year low - continue to be undermined by the smaller operators like Aldi and Lidl, some lines may be cut in order to focus on price.

Morrisons have already announced it will be cutting some of its product range in future to be more competitive. That means less to look at. Supermarket selling, then, is trickier than it first appears - and about to get even tougher.


10 tricks supermarkets use to get you to spend more

10 tricks supermarkets use to get you to spend more