How do psychological tricks work in supermarkets

Psychological tricks of the supermarkets: How you as a customer are enticed to buy

Published on 07-08-2019, by Stefanie Schöneberger

Most people go to the grocery store several times a week, often to just grab a few ingredients to cook with. But what was often planned as shopping for a few things ends up with standing at the checkout with a half-full shopping cart. And then you wonder how it came about. If you recognize yourself in this scenario: You are not alone. Like many others, you have fallen victim to the psychological tricks of the supermarkets. We will explain below which traps are lurking for you in the supermarket and how you can avoid them.

1. Large shopping carts

Over the years, the shopping trolleys in German supermarkets have gotten bigger and bigger. Statistics have now calculated that double the size of the cart helps customers shop 40% more on average. Likewise, many shopping trolleys are now slightly inclined, so that goods accumulate where they are not directly in view. Another trick that is often used on shopping carts is that their wheels start to jerk as soon as they are pushed faster. The annoyed customer then pushes the shopping cart a little more slowly, without being aware of the real reason: those who walk more slowly stay longer in the supermarket and are inclined to buy more.

2. Go in on the right ... go out on the left

This is likely to be one of the less well-known tricks that many are not aware of. But if you think about it, how often is the entrance to the supermarket on the right-hand side while the cash registers and exit are on the left? The buyer is directed counter-clockwise during his shopping tour. And there is actually a reason for this: The majority of all people are right-handed and they feel more comfortable when their right, dominant hand is “outside”. Incidentally, this has been confirmed by studies: Supermarkets were compared in which customers walk clockwise or counterclockwise. In comparison, supermarkets with entrances on the left and exits on the right, i.e. customers walking clockwise, generate 10% less sales.

3. Long shopping paths through the rows of shelves

Products that we often buy include eggs and milk, i.e. products that perish quickly. These could of course be conveniently located right at the beginning of the supermarket so that you can just grab them quickly and run straight to the checkout. But this is not in the sense of a supermarket, which should bring in a lot of sales. This is why it is precisely these products that are often located directly at the other end of the entrance. This forces the customer to walk through the long corridors. Accordingly, the chance that the customer will buy other products increases.

4. Fresh produce and flowers at the entrance should put you in a good mood

In almost all supermarkets you are greeted by beautiful flowers and colorful fruit and vegetable shelves, which convey a nice market atmosphere. The colorful view is intended to increase the good mood of the buyer and to capture them emotionally. The fresh goods also increase the appetite, which should be stimulated before the shopping trip. If you have ever noticed that some supermarkets spray their vegetables and fruits with water: This is not just done to keep them fresher longer. The gentle water mist also suggests more freshness to the potential buyer. And in fact, people prefer to buy fruit and vegetables, even if subconsciously, when they are sprayed with water.

5. Tasting bites

Small tasting bites are often offered in the cheese and bread counter area. These small sales stands in supermarkets also serve to stimulate the customer's appetite and thus the desire to buy.

6. Cheaper products are not on par

Most of us will have heard of this simple trick: Expensive branded products are on the shelves at eye level, while cheaper competing products are either uncomfortably high or low, so that the buyer either has to stretch or bend over to look at them reach. This is why these products are also called bulk goods. The place at eye level is actually so fiercely competitive that some companies pay extra to have their product offered in such a place. The viewing zone is approximately 140 to 180 cm above the ground. There is also a gripping zone, which is 60 to 140 cm above the ground. It is interesting that this height information is also deliberately taken into account as to whether it is a product for men or women. Products for men are often placed a little higher and products for women a little lower in order to do justice to the average eye level of the sexes. In addition, there are also so-called endcaps, i.e. goods that are placed at the end of an aisle. If you walk through an aisle, this corresponds to the goods that are set up at the front of the aisle - you move straight towards them and have them directly in your field of vision.

7. Price trap for economy packs

Be careful with economy packs! Just because a product says economy pack doesn't mean you automatically save money. A large pack does not mean that the product is actually cheaper. Instead, it is worth paying attention to the fine print and comparing prices with the conventional offer accordingly. Because the price per 100 grams, kilo or liter is much more informative than a colorful economy pack, which is supposed to distract from the price-performance ratio.

8. Promotional goods

Have you ever seen a pile of promotional goods piled up? This should suggest that it is a bargain that you have to strike. At least that's what I want you to believe. Because often this is not a bargain. As a result, the promotional goods are often not next to a comparable competing product, so that the buyer cannot make a direct price comparison. Another strategy is the so-called cross and cross sale: During the asparagus season, for example, a bechamel sauce is offered on a separate display right next to the asparagus. The customer is happy because he wanted to buy it anyway, saving himself the trouble of searching for the product. But if you go into the appropriate aisle where the sauces are, you can assume that the practical bechamel sauce next to the asparagus is certainly not the cheapest.

9. Red, blue and yellow light

Many freshly offered goods are supported by lighting. This is indeed possible because different color spectra are used. For example, the meat counter is illuminated with reddish light, which makes the meat look even fresher and juicier. The fish counter, on the other hand, has lighting with a more bluish component and the cheese counter, accordingly, more yellowish lighting. The task of the lighting is the same in all cases: the color of the product should be enhanced. Products with more intense colors imply more freshness and accordingly sell better.

10. Scent that is supposed to encourage shopping

Have you ever smelled the delicious smell of bread rolls in the supermarket? It is also no coincidence that there is a bread maker in the supermarket. Many people find the smell of baking rolls and bread to be very pleasant. The aim is to stimulate the buyer's senses when he breathes in the scent of the warm bread roll.

11. Temperature and pleasant music

For the buyer, who should stay in a supermarket as long as possible, there is actually a perfect comfortable temperature: 19 degrees Celsius. According to research, this should not be too warm, so that the customer does not work up a sweat, but also not too cool to prevent the shivering customer from taking off. Likewise, the buyer is often sprinkled with pleasant background music, which is supposed to put people in a good mood and encourage them to linger and shop. Nothing is left to chance here!

12. Quirky goods at the checkout

Another trick that many customers are now aware of are the sweets for children that are in the checkout area - the so-called whine goods or whine zone. If the children start to get bored while you wait for payment and the sweets come into view, the whining won't be long in coming. The exhausted parent is then often inclined to put the cheap chocolate bar on the till belt. But not only children are seduced in the checkout area while standing in line: what the chocolate is for the child, the newspaper area is for the adult. When standing in line, people like to leaf through the newspapers and magazines offered there or study the cover picture extensively. When the queue then moves on, the magazines are happily placed on the checkout belt.

13. Shorter cash register belts

While many tricks are used to get the buyer to stay in the supermarket for as long as possible so that the shopping cart is as full as possible, the checkout cannot go fast enough. As soon as the buyer has completed his purchase and is ready to pay, it should be processed as soon as possible. In order to speed up the checkout process and keep the waiting time in line short, the checkout belts have become shorter and shorter over the years. This puts pressure on the buyer to pack his goods in their pockets as quickly as possible and make room for the next customer. In many supermarkets you can find more and more self-service checkouts (in short: self-service checkouts). Since these require less staff and space, they contribute to a cost-efficient payment process.

But how can you arm yourself against these psychological tricks of the supermarkets?

Write a shopping list

The simplest trick with which you can already counteract many of the sales strategies used is the tried and tested shopping list. Before you go shopping, write down exactly what you need and then stick to it while you go shopping. Studies have shown that around 70% of all purchase decisions are made in the supermarket. That means that almost 2/3 of all purchases are impulse purchases. Humans are very susceptible to the previously listed tricks that are used in supermarkets. But once you've written a shopping list that you can stick to, it's easier to resist the many temptations.

Pay attention to the basic price

With tempting promotional prices or savings packs: Always look at the small print to find out the price per 100 grams or per kilo or liter. If necessary, carry out a price comparison with the actual product or competing products. This is how you expose traps that are set with promotional prices or savings packs.

Hamster purchases

Hamster purchases are only worthwhile for products that can actually be consumed before they spoil. However, the safest way to buy hamsters is to buy non-perishable products. So it is usually worth buying toilet paper in large quantities. However, pay attention to the small print here!

Cash instead of card payment

If you write a shopping list in advance, you often know how much you will spend. Therefore, shopping with cash can also be worthwhile. Because you can't spend more than you have pocketed. With the card, it pays off very easily and without thinking: If you just have to swipe your card quickly and don't have to hand over the actual amount of money, the price may not feel real and therefore not so painful.

Tote bags instead of plastic bags

This tip not only benefits your wallet, but also the environment. Why spend extra money on a plastic bag when you can bring a reusable tote bag with you from home? Supermarkets offer plastic bags in the checkout area, which are often bought for convenience or forgetfulness. However, this should be avoided as much as possible.


The next time you shop, pay attention to which tricks you can find in the supermarket of your choice. Most, if not all, of the sales traps are likely to be found. It should be said, however, that the psychological tricks described only apply to supermarkets. Different rules apply to discounters, which are often exactly the opposite of supermarkets.


Stefanie Schöneberger

In order to provide our customers with comprehensive information about what is happening in the German and international service market, my colleagues and I research tirelessly and then present critical analyzes and articles on our website. We also appreciate the personal contact and exchange with our customers. To get in touch with us, you can of course contact us directly via email and telephone or contact us via our social media profiles.