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We all like to think of ourselves as savvy shoppers, but how much do we really know about the art of retail psychology?

If we know the techniques retailers are using to seduce us into spending, we’re less likely to be led astray and end up blowing our shopping budget.

In our guest blog, retail expert and managing director of Visual Thinking Karl McKeever, gives us an insight into some of the tricks of the trade.


So, we all know the basic golden rules of supermarket shopping – always make a list and never shop on an empty stomach. Most of us are also aware that bakeries tend to be at the back of a store so that the smell of warm bread wafts through the shop, and that fruit and veg is normally always at the front so that we’re greeted by colourful, fresh produce. However, there are other subtle techniques that it’s also worth making a note of.

The Power Aisle

This is usually the central aisle in a store or a prominent area with lots of promos and offers, with some of them being ‘one-off’ special deals.

Of course, the most traditional space for offers in a supermarket is on the aisle ends. Interestingly, many supermarkets changed their layouts some years ago, splitting the aisles in two with a central aisle running vertically through the middle of the store. One of the main reasons behind this was to double the number of aisle ends.

It can feel a little like running a promotional gauntlet when you travel down it and it can be awash with red promo signs. Most of us know that this is where the offers are, but I have noticed some retailers being a little cheeky and placing full price items here too. So, check you’re getting a good deal before you buy.

Destination Goods

We’ve already discussed the purposeful positioning of the in-store bakery and fruit and veg areas, but have you ever considered why certain products are placed where they are in a supermarket?

The perfect example is what I like to call ‘destination goods’ – bread and milk. These are the items that you may nip in for on a regular basis. You always tend to find them tucked away in the middle of the store or right at the back. The reason for this is simple – retailers don’t just want you to pop in and out. They want you to walk past as many profitable items as possible in an attempt to up your spend.  

Eye-Level / Buy-level

Past studies have shown that when we walk down an aisle, we only really pay attention to goods at eye-level. Therefore, it’s a natural choice for retailers to place items with the biggest profit margins here. Cheaper goods tend to be towards the bottom. So, if you want to spend less, you’re going to have to work for it.

It’s quite simple, if you want a bargain, look up and look down.

Creatures of Habit

Years ago when we all used to shop at smaller shops, there was no problem getting to know your friendly local retailer. There’s no reason why the same theory can’t be applied to big supermarkets too.

Get to know the ways they operate. A great starting point is to learn the time of day that they start to reduce perishables. If you coincide your shop with this, you can bag yourself some great bargains.

Also, become familiar with individual reward schemes. Some retailers offer a discount if you spend above a certain value on a number of occasions during a month. It may be worth changing your shopping patterns to meet the criteria.

Petrol discounts can be a huge help too and if you follow your preferred retailer on social media, you will often get an early heads-up on special offers and events.

It’s Not Just About Food

Supermarkets are now about so much more than just food and drink. You can buy a whole host of things as part of your weekly shop, including electrical items, mobile phones, DVDs / Blu-Rays and homewares. The best thing is, you can usually get some great deals, so remember to factor the supermarket in if you’re on the hunt for a new TV, kettle or microwave.

It’s also worth being methodical about the times of year that you buy these things. As an example, September is a great time to purchase, as you will find lots of bundle deals in supermarkets aimed at students, which offer excellent value.

The trick is to learn the way that retailers work and use it to your advantage. Shopping smart will pay dividends financially in the long run.