Mastering the Grocery Shopping Experience

11 Jul 2005|Darrel Rhea

Recently Heide Collins, a CNN anchor, was interviewing me as an expert in visual marketing. She asked me how I would advise the typical shopper to deal with the grocery shopping experience. CNN’s query was sparked by consumers’ increasing wariness about being manipulated by manufacturers and marketers. I figure that we are all shoppers, so this might be useful to you. So, here’s my list for ways to deal with that and not be unduly swayed to spend money on what you don’t really want and don’t need.

Darrel’s Tips for Mastering the Grocery Shopping Experience

# 1. Don’t shop hungry.

You’ve heard this before, but probably forget. Hungry people impulse buy more then satiated, full people. Haven’t you ever noticed that usually the delis and bakeries are near the entrances with higher margin products? Yes, those indulgent-looking and savory-smelling products make us hungry and want to buy…now.

#2 Make a shopping list.

Most grocery purchases aren’t planned – 60% of them, in fact! No planning means most of your purchases will be on impulse, an expensive proposition that marketers (those who want your money) count on. Better yet, if you want to resist the influence of product, packaging or store design, make your list from a menu which you have prepared in advance. Do your homework, too, to learn what you really need and what’s in season or on special.

#3. Focus on retrieving only the items on your list.

Store design is a big part of the influence on your buying habits, and it’s not random. The store flow is consciously laid out to cause you to walk by a lot of enticing products to impulse buy. Instead, go straight to your products and avoid browsing. You’ll find the dairy section in the back and most essentials on the perimeter.

#4. Make sure that specials are special.

“Feature priced” items don’t always save us bucks! We all want more value for our money, but those 2-for-the-price-of-1 items often entice us to buy things and quantities that we don’t really want or need. And don’t forget that those end isles displays may not be good deals. Some company probably paid for that space, and they pay to get your attention, not to give you a break.

#5. Slooooow down.

Give yourself time to make purchase decisions. Most people make purchase decisions in a fraction of a second. It’s this critical primary time that the manufacture’s use of design has huge impact on you. Interrupt that impulse. You can make yourself less vulnerable to design if you carefully evaluate the factors leading you to your decisions.

#6. Be aware that packages often influence your purchase decisions more than the product does.

Try to become more conscious especially of those products that are less differentiated commodities. In many cases, the only significant distinction between products is in their packaging – this includes water, vitamins, pain relievers & cold remedies, motor oil, spices, and often even frozen entrées.

#7. Ask yourself, “What is this package trying to say to me?”

Packaging is designed to give you exactly what you want. It’s not a sinister plot to trick you, but it is designed to make a promise about the quality, price-value and performance of the product. Manufacturers know that if they don’t deliver against that promise, it will hurt their ability to establish a trusting relationship with you and their long term sales will suffer. Notice that some of their messages are about reassurances, sensory experience, natural vs. regular, convenience or entertainment. The more conscious you are of the message the manufacturer is sending to you through their packaging, then the more selective you can be about buying what you need.

#8. Ask yourself, “What values am I expressing in this purchase?”

Think about what is really important to you. It’s human and unavoidable to want psychological satisfactions from products. Sometimes we express our values through our purchases. Let it be OK. Use it as an opportunity to align your actions with your values. For example, choose packaging with more environmental sensitivities and fewer conveniences, such as some of those found in the cleaning product isle. Or, choose brands like Neumann’s Own or Ben & Jerry’s because of their positive political affiliation.

#9. If you’re really paranoid about being influenced by packaging — shop online!

Yes, your rational decisions will still be affected, but less so. The impact while shopping online will be mostly be limited to the how you already feel about brand names, without the kind of influence packaging design exerts on you when you are standing in the store aisle reacting to it in person.

prev next