We have been programmed to think that sales are opportunities

London - From “wobbly” signs to red stickers and even beer placed by the nappies, supermarkets are using an array of mind games to trick shoppers into busting the family budget.

Experts at consumer group Which? sent customers into the big four chains wearing eye tracking headsets to see how they are influenced by the way stores and shelves are laid out.

The guinea pigs all carried a shopping list and had a firm idea of what they needed. However, they all came out with many more items and a bigger bill than expected.

The experiment has lifted the lid on the psychological warfare waged by stores to subconsciously steer customers towards the products that deliver the biggest profits.

It found “wobbling” signs hung from the ceiling acted like a flag as we are more likely to notice objects in our peripheral vision if they move.

Stores slap red stickers on products as customers automatically associate them with price cuts, even if there is no reduction. Chains also understand the importance of where to place items.

Which? said: “A commonly quoted example is beer next to nappies, the theory being that men would buy them together on a Friday evening.”

Its experiment found shoppers read shelves like a book, running their eye from left to right and then downwards. The big brands pay chains a premium to ensure their products are at eye level.

Supermarkets also generally increase the price in small steps from left to right – subtly downplaying what is often quite a large difference between the cheapest product and the most expensive.

Value lines, which offer the lowest price and profit, are usually buried on the bottom shelves.

Given the cost of living squeeze, more families than ever navigate around a store by moving from one special offer to the next.

A Which? spokesman said: “Asda had ‘wobbling’ signs advertising offers in the aisles, which acted like a flag. Our shopper almost made it past the cheese offers but then appeared to be drawn back by the motion of the wobbling sign.”

The research found some stores promote offers on products such as cakes at the entrance on the basis they will lodge in the subconscious and encourage a purchase later.

The Which? spokesman said: “In Morrisons, there was a small fridge of bacon near bread and soup. This seemed an illogical place to put bacon, but whether it was by accident or design, our shopper still bought it. Having already looked at the bread, she was half way to a bacon sandwich.”

The sales tactics also extend to the store layout, with fruit and vegetables always close to the entrance to create a fresh and healthy ambience. By contrast bread, milk and sugar are often buried inside, effectively forcing people to trek through the aisles where they might be tempted to pick up other items.

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said: “Shoppers need to check if they really are getting the best deal.”



* Airy ‘decompression zone’ at the entrance is designed to make shoppers relax.

* Offers advertised at the entrance remain in the subconscious, prompting purchases later.

* Putting bread and milk at the back of the store forces us to pass through the aisles, where we might buy more.

* Related products are placed close together to encourage impulse purchases.

* Cheaper versions are hidden away on the bottom shelf.

* Red stickers make us think the price has been cut. - Daily Mail