Grocery stores seem pretty unassuming, but the aisles of your local grocer are the product of a very strategic design. If you’re a keen observer (or if you shop regularly at a variety of stores) you’ve probably realised the produce is basically always in the same place, as are the baked goods, meat aisles, grab-and-go items, deli counters, and those impulsive-purchase-worthy chocolate bars.
Here’s a rundown of why certain sections are placed where they are, if you want to put your blinders on and stay on the frugal side the next time you navigate the aisles.
The size of your cart
Your cart is enormous for a reason. The size is meant to subconsciously present you with the potential for buying more and, thus, spending more. A bigger cart presents a bigger opportunity to pile those groceries high and shell out more money than you ever intended, which is what the grocery stores want.
Produce placement makes you feel good about yourself
Vegetables are the first thing you see when you walk into practically any grocery store. This is not a matter of subjective experience — ask anyone who has ever bought an onion. As dietician Christy Brissette wrote for the Washington Post in 2018, this is to make you feel good about yourself. “Produce is placed first in your path not to encourage you to buy more of it, but to make you feel super healthy.”
It’s a bit of deception that makes you feel better about all the other unhealthy stuff you might load up on later.
The irresistible bakery
The bakery is typically located near the front of the store, just beyond the produce. After you’ve already been goaded into buying vegetables that might rot in your fridge, you’re greeted by delicious carbs and comfort food. Again, this is trickery. National Geographic elaborates on this ploy, writing: “The message we get right off the bat is that the store is a welcoming place, fresh, natural, fragrant, and healthy, with comforting shades of grandma’s kitchen.”
The long walk to the milk and dairy
It’s an essential household good for many people — which is exactly why it’s located far away from the entrance. The idea is to get you to walk past a bunch of tempting sections, such as the bakery, which might be hawking seasonal cookies that weren’t on your list. This invariably works on the unassuming shopper, who might find their cart full of at least a few things they hadn’t expected to buy before they get to the milk.
End cap products
This is probably the least deceiving practice in the broader slate of grocery tricks. End cap products, which are goods displayed at the ends of aisles, are typically given more prominent placement because the companies pay for the more noticeable real estate. As Nat Geo notes: “Companies pay high prices to display their products there, since these are hot spots for impulse buying.”
The welcoming deli counter and coffee
If your grocery store is big enough to have a coffee bar, it’s usually right by the deli counter, which is usually in one of the front corners of the store. The idea, again, is to get you comfortable and consider staying for a while. Also, it doesn’t hurt to potentially sample goods you might consider buying later.
Strategic aisle placement
There’s a reason that certain sales experts insist that “eye-level is buy level,” which is because people are more likely to gravitate towards noticeable brand names that are easy to spot. Well-known brands pay for this placement, as it doesn’t necessarily matter to grocery stores which box of cereal goes where.
As Craig Childress, CEO of the marketing consultant Envirosell, told Real Simple in 2018: “Brands that sell best are always in what’s called the ‘bull’s-eye zone,’ front and centre, right in your sight line. It is the best placement, and the manufacturers have to pay for it.”
The final impulse purchase
This is the oldest trick in the book, but it still works. Chewing gum, chocolate, and all manner of junk foods that you might not need, but certainly want, are stationed directly next to the checkout counter. This is how grocery stores try to trick you into just a tiny bit more of an outlay at the last possible second.