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3 (Sneaky) Ways Grocery Stores Keep You Spending

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Photo credit: Boudewijn Live

I have always had a fascination with marketing, especially when diving beyond explicit advertising. Companies intentionally and strategically use marketing to induce very specific emotions and behaviours in their target customers.

In other words, stores want to stimulate your desire to buy things.

I think my enthralment with this field comes from my general love of psychology; after all, marketing is arguably the ultimate application of psychology.

Why do I bring this up?

Well, I noticed that I frequently enter the grocery store with the intention of getting a couple of things to get me through the week, but then somehow walk out with at least five extra things that I did not need.

So, I put on my detective hat and did a little digging to see if this was a common phenomenon. Turns out, IT IS. And it’s not really our fault.

Today I’m going to reveal 3 marketing tricks that grocery stores use to make us stay in the store longer and of course, buy more.

There are many more obvious strategies, including ones that we even low-key love (hello free samples and BOGO sales!).

But today, I want to expose some of the sneakier tactics used by companies:

1. Take the scenic route

This isn’t true for all grocery stores, but many of them have an exit that is separate from the entrance. It is difficult to walk in and immediately walk out should you change your mind about your purchasing needs.

IKEA is notoriously the biggest culprit of this tactic, but many grocery stores do the same thing. You need to take the long way around, passing the delicious aromas of the deli, the free samples of sausage, and the candy aisle, just to have the privilege to leave the store. This is all intentional.

It keeps you in the store longer, increasing the likelihood that you will end up purchasing something.

2. Bigger cart = greater purchases

Studies have shown that bigger plates promote the consumption of more food. There’s just something disconcerting about having excess space on a plate that can leave you feeling unsatisfied. This is the theory behind the popular diet culture hack of using smaller plates to make you eat less. [Insert eye-roll]

Nonetheless, it’s not a big stretch to think that grocery stores choose to have giant shopping carts specifically for the purposes of encouraging more additions to the cart.

Think about it: If you walked around with just a basket in your hand, you are more likely to purchase only the items you need because it would be difficult to carry too much more!

3. Arouse all the senses

What is the first thing you see when you step in? A sea of vibrant and beautiful colours, fruits and vegetables with their shiny waxed skin, and glistening water droplets adorning beautiful green leaves.

What is the first thing you smell? Freshly baked bread and pastries that bring you back to your fondest childhood memories.

Yes, this is also 100% intentional. By arousing your senses, the store lures you in, puts you in a good mood, and makes you feel like the food is fresh and delicious. The aromas entice you and you can’t help but add a bag of croissants and a pie to your cart.


Now that we've covered the less-obvious ways that grocery stores keep you trapped and buying more, you are probably wondering how to combat these psychological games that you didn't even know were being played. Check out my next post (here), where I cover just that!

Stay nourished my friends,


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