The Psychology of Shops

With the holiday season well underway and shops seeing their busiest time of the year, do you ever wonder why the shops are laid out the way they are? And why big brand stores rearrange just for the holidays, sometimes making it hard to find your favourite niche item?

The answer is much more complex than you might imagine as there is an entire field of psychology dedicated to it! It’s called retail psychology: the study of consumers and the factors that influence how they spend. Read on for the curious quirks you didn’t know worked in shops!

With the year we’ve had, it’s safe to assume everyone is being a little money-conscious this year. Understanding some of these basic may help you to not be subliminally persuaded into those unnecessary purchases.

The Entrance:

Department and supermarket stores will call this area “the dwell zone.” For a clue as to why, how often do we now hurry to get out of the rain through the door only to pause just inside to wash our hands, sanitize a cart, look for our list, or look around to decide which way we should be going first? Stores leave enough space here for it to feel airy and for displays that will draw you deeper in. A clothing store might capitalize on this space to show off the season’s trends on mannequins or clothing racks. Supermarkets will place products here called “distress goods,” which are things usually bought in a hurry, like flowers, magazines or newspapers, fast food, and more recently masks.

Store Layout:

The layout of a shop will promote a certain path, especially marked now with arrows to maintain social distancing in some stores. This path will lead you through features designed to improve your mood, make you hungry, or expose you to certain products. The smells coming from a fresh bakery, colourful displays at the ends of aisles, and even a certain order for displaying items on shelves. The triangular balance technique is used to draw your eye to the centre of the shelf, where the biggest, tallest, highest profit margin items are. The goal is to draw you in to what the business considers the best item. The most popular products are placed at eye-level because research has shown that consumers do not usually look around, therefore making it feel like the entire shelf is stocked with only quality products (not the 20p baked beans near the floor).

The positioning of broader categories of food is also very well planned. Bread and milk are positioned in the middle or back of the store because they are “destination goods,” meaning you must walk past as many aisles as possible to reach them. Fresh fruit and vegetables are near the front not only because they make the store look fresh and colourful, but because the produce looks healthier and fresher in natural sunlight near the door. Meat and fish, on the other hand, need clean white light to look their best on display.

Ever notice that your favourite snack or dinner item moves around in the shop sometimes? It’s on purpose. Not only do stores shift during the holiday season to dedicate more room to the hottest items of the season, moving things around causes you to search for it and maybe impulse buy something else while you’re at it!

Some more obvious tricks to get you to spend more include offers and club card schemes. If get loyalty points you may try to get everything you need from one place, or commit to buying from one place for the discounts. Yellow stickers are an obvious psychology trick, we’re attracted to bright colours and have learned that yellow stickers mean savings! It doesn’t seem like too much of a trick to group similar products together, sponges are next to the washing up liquid because you would naturally pair them.

Impulse buying:

Nearly all shops try to capitalize on the last minute impulse buy with sweets or small items by the tills. The ends of aisles are the main place impulse buys are displayed, as shops are laid out so you pass as many end displays as possible. There is also a specific technique of placing items in such a way that you have to see them, such as a new product display next to the shopping baskets. Lately, you will see masks placed very near a sanitizing station near the front of a shop with the hope you will decide you need one while hygiene is on your mind.

Other psychology in shops:

Supermarkets will often make their own branded product mimic the packaging or colouring of branded products so you might pick them up instead. Pricing something at £1.99 gives the idea it is cheaper than £2. Stores put a lot of effort into making sure they seem up to date with background music and décor choices. Clothing or fashion stores may limit the number of the same item on the shelf. If there was only a single handbag on the shelf and you bought it you might feel as though you have something unique from an exclusive store, when they really have 7 more of the same to restock with.

The bottom line:

There’s so much more depth to go into, as you can imagine the research into consumer psychology is vast, but these are some standard techniques you might notice on your next shopping trip. More than a little thought goes into just about every aspect of stores, especially big name ones!

Remember this holiday season that the impulse purchases aren’t necessary to make a good family gathering. From what we see on TV and even the adverts we see in store, people are made to feel that expensive gifts and the heavily food-laden table with a fully present-stocked tree are what it’s all about. It doesn’t have to be so high pressure. The main thing that matters is that you can relax and build relationships this time of year. The best gift for a person is a feeling of security in relationships and closeness with others. Boost your friends’ and family’s mental health by spending time with them and listening, that’s the best gift you could give this year.

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