Why Do People Spend So Much More At The Grocery Store?

By Turner Stephens
August 17, 2020

Grocery Shopping

Americans pride themselves on being independent and making their own decisions. However, just based on how they purchase food, many are easily manipulated to hand over more of their money to the supermarket.

If there was only one rule to reduce spending and buy what one wants, it would be this: make a list at home of what to buy, and buy only what is on that list. People buy emotionally and then justify intellectually that a purchase is a good one. Marketing and sales tactics are based on proven strategies to take advantage of the emotions and make it feel a lot easier to spend money.

Endcap displays are one of the most common methods to get people to buy more items. These large displays are at the end of each aisle facing the cash registers and are the most eye-catching exhibits in the store. What is normally stocked on end caps? Comfort foods like breakfast cereal, chips, crackers, snacks, and drinks like nutritional waters, sodas, juices, or beer. These products are usually on sale for a limited time.

Hundreds of small sale signs cover the shelves for other products around the store. Coupons and time-sensitive discounts are extremely effective in enticing people to buy now, and buy more. The scarcity principle comes into play here, where people feel they do not want to lose out on getting an item at a lower price.

Eating unprocessed, more natural foods, produce a steady, healthy release of dopamine in the body. High-fat or high-sugar comfort foods of all kinds, including frozen food snacks, pizza, baked goods, ice cream, and candy, make the body produce a huge amount of dopamine. A crash in dopamine levels soon occurs as the body attempts to bring dopamine to a healthy level, which leads to a craving for another dopamine hit. This can become an addictive cycle.

Baking bread or pastries while customers are shopping, fills the air with the smell of these comfort foods. This is most effective during lunch and dinner hours when people are already hungry.

The impulse sections next to the cash registers usually have candy, mints, and small sugary items, as well as gossip and rumor magazines. While waiting for the cashier to clear the line ahead, many people rationalize that the cost of a candy bar or a magazine is not much money, so it becomes an easy decision to grab that item and put it in the shopping basket.
The comfort and junk food items can be small purchases in a single shopping trip, but when these purchases are added up over a year, they can easily add up to hundreds of dollars.

Demos are small tables set up in stores where a demonstrator offers a free sample of food or drink to taste. Demos use the principle of liking the demo person or store because of free samples and begin to trust them more and buy items more often.
Food advertising commonly uses the principle of social proof to get consumers to associate eating or drinking comfort foods with having a fun time with friends. These ads constantly repeat on TV, radio, the Internet, and in print media because of their powerful influence.

Around 25% of US groceries are spent on processed foods and candy annually. This is also why these foods are advertised so heavily. Customers who want to take more control over their food budget and their health need to remember to make their list before shopping and keep to it so they improve their ability to counter the sales strategies they will face while at the store.

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