Selling in Supermarkets: 5 Forgotten Methods

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Selling in Supermarkets: 5 Forgotten Methods

Grocery shopping is no longer the thrill it used to be, and while the shopper may not realise why the zest has gone from their experience in the aisle, they know it has.

While the typical shopper may blame the price factor, it’s far more than that – retailers seem to have completely forgotten the value of some of the familiar enticements and persuasion techniques that have worked wonders for years, and instead are merely focus on special offers and discounts.

I’m not talking about techniques used in the dark ages, I’m talking about influences that were used in stores just a couple of decades ago that actually changed the perception shoppers had, and their behaviour in-store. Aisles varied in width – narrowing to speed shoppers through sections with low margin products and providing more space in higher margin sections to slow them down and persuade them to look a little closer. Lighting was varied so that some sections were brightly lit whilst others looked more seductive at a low level, and the type of music playing changed from department to department. These were not accidents – they were clever strategies put in place – and they worked.

It was part of a re-engineering project that completely changed shopping patterns. For example, using a study on how women shopped for cosmetics, we changed the shopping experience in home furnishings and sales increased by 350% – simply by using an in-store display. In another case, a simple redesign of packaging increased sales by more that 20% – all we had to do was rearrange it so that men could actually handle the product before buying.

Strangely, the more we know and understand about the psychology of shopping, the less we seem to use it, so how about we go back to basics and use the methods that are proven to create more sales? There are 5 psychological methods that transform shoppers into buyers, and they are as follows…


Shoppers make the decision to buy based on emotion, and so overwhelming them with price and promotion is far less effective than enticing them with an image of what the product will do for the shopper. I’ve used techniques that focused on the shopper, connecting with them emotionally and increased sales up to 150%.


Remind people of the reasons behind their purchases and they will be more likely to buy. Suddenly, the large pack of sweets aren’t just sweets, they are part of a special occasion; the burgers essential to the family BBQ etc… by placing triggers that encourage shoppers to think beyond the product, and about the times and occasions that they enjoy celebrating.


Create a shopper experience where all the products needed for an occasion are placed together, and inspire them to see possibilities, and shoppers will buy the occasion. To create a scenario such as a movie night with the guys, you could place DVD’s, beer and ‘chips & dips’ in close proximity – and they will think it was all their idea to collect the set. The secret is to create an occasion that the shopper may not have seen if the items stood alone.

Branded Displays

As shoppers, we get jaded, we see the usual promotions in-store and we’re bored of them. As such, they have little to no effect. However, place a branded display of different products in the middle aisle, and change it every week, and we have something that works a lot better. Shoppers get a new ‘surprise’ each week, and as well as keeping things interesting, it keeps them buying.

Plus-One Merchandising

Make buying the ‘plus-one’ a special deal. If the shopper is looking at a product, strategically place related items nearby to encourage the ‘oh I could get one of those to go with it’ mentality. Make them stand out in such a way that the buyer picks up the ‘plus-one’ as well as their original product. For example, ‘Meal Deals’ where items bought together are a special price will encourage shoppers to buy not only their sandwich at lunch, but also a drink and a snack to go with it to make the most of the deal. They may have spent more than they originally intended – but they think they have a great deal, and so they take advantage.

The reasoning behind these techniques is to use the emotional cues that have proven to be so successful in the past. Floor placement handling has changed so much that the focus has been taken away from the shopper’s experience and emotions, and directed instead towards visual and space factors.

It’s time to start thinking about changing that.


I’m Phillip Adcock, author of ‘Shoppology, The Science of Supermarket Shopping’, and Managing Director of Shopping Behaviour Xplained Ltd (SBXL) – a company that specialises in analysing shoppers and shopping for some of the leading brands and retailers in the world.

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