As I’ve wrote here in the past, though we think that we are mostly rational beings that carefully weigh any number of things before acting one way or the other, in reality, we are extremely susceptible to all kinds of external stimuli.
Retailers, among others, know this of course, and employ every tool there is in their psychological arsenal to lighten our wallets. So how bad is it?
Consider this excerpt from an article that appeared in The Economist all the way back in 2008:
In the Sainsbury’s in Hatch Warren, Basingstoke, south-west of London, it takes a while for the mind to get into a shopping mode. This is why the area immediately inside the entrance of a supermarket is known as the “decompression zone”. People need to slow down and take stock of the surroundings, even if they are regulars. In sales terms this area is a bit of a loss, so it tends to be used more for promotion. Even the multi-packs of beer piled up here are designed more to hint at bargains within than to be lugged round the aisles. Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, famously employs “greeters” at the entrance to its stores. Whether or not they boost sales, a friendly welcome is said to cut shoplifting. It is harder to steal from nice people.
Immediately to the left in Sainsbury’s is another familiar sight: a “chill zone” for browsing magazines, books and DVDs, tempting impromptu purchases and slowing customers down. But those on a serious mission will keep walking ahead—and the first thing they come to is the fresh fruit and vegetables section.
For shoppers, this makes no sense. Fruit and vegetables can be easily damaged, so they should be bought at the end, not the beginning, of a shopping trip. But psychology is at work here: selecting good wholesome fresh food is an uplifting way to start shopping, and it makes people feel less guilty about reaching for the stodgy stuff later on.
And that’s just the beginning.
The rest of the piece goes into more detail about the many other ways in which shoppers are…influenced (sounds better than “manipulated”, no?), as they walk through the other aisles.