Why Supermarkets Are Getting Into Your Heads



There are two things missing in supermarkets – a giant clock that tells how much time we have wasted and an escape route.



It must be old age creeping in before it’s due, but I’m finding more and more reasons to moan about things. And I’m not just referring to all the people I have to be nice to in order to get paid. I’m talking about everyday life, from the moment you lock the front door behind you, so that the burglars can get in through the window, to the moment you come home to find your semi-detached house ransacked.

What is it with people in our world that has gone rather crazy, and why am I getting grumpy about it? It’s about time I put my thoughts to paper and start a dairy – “Grump’s diary.”





Having realised that we had run out of All-Bran, I cycled to the local Jumbo supermarket to solve our acute breakfast problem – not to be confused with the more chronic Brexit problem.

I only have to stay away from the Jumbo for a couple of weeks for everything to change places. It is as though the spotty-face-teenagers who are responsible for stocking up the shelves have managed to forget where everything was, the last time I went shopping. Why, I ask myself?

The answer cannot be that the previous lay-out was no good or was too untidy. No, the reason that supermarkets regularly change their lay-outs is that they want mugs like me to buy more than we came in for. So, instead of presenting myself at the till with my favourite All-Bran that they didn’t even have anymore (why?), I will put down no less than five items I had no intention of buying, just because I came across them whilst using my GPS to locate the shelves harbouring the breakfast cereals.

But let me disappoint the marketing gurus at the Jumbo. I’m no ordinary mug and I’ll be damned if I buy something I didn’t want. I came into the supermarket with the firm intention of buying two packets of breakfast cereal and I made sure I left the aforementioned supermarket with precisely two packets of breakfast cereal, and nothing more. It is a question of will and using the smallest basket instead of the largest caddy.

If it is true that supermarkets set up their stores based on psychological studies investigating which set-up configurations will make people buy more, it is rather scary. It unsettles me to know that an ordinary supermarket, in an ordinary shopping centre, in an ordinary town, knows more about my ordinary shopping habits than I do. Extraordinary, isn’t it?

Moving whole aisles and changing their makeup by crossing the All-Bran to the right of the main alley and the coffee to the left in June, and moving the whole lot a couple of aisles further down in July, must have beneficial psychological impacts on customers that make them buy more. Otherwise the supermarkets just would not bother with the hassle of emptying and refilling miles of shelves.

I am convinced that supermarkets are actually designed to get people like me lost. I do not frequent them frequently enough to appreciate the subtleties of their commercial strategy comprising a change in layout that allows me to obtain an overview of what I never thought I could buy. I feel forced to cross-over the same aisles time and time again, in search of that liter of long life milk that, instead of being logically placed in the vicinity of other dairy products, finds itself next to the sugar in June, and the crisps in September. But why not relax and wander through the aisles picking off the bulging shelves and filling my caddy with unwanted goodies. I’ll get to the milk eventually.

I suppose that my problem is that I am not an impulsive buyer. Standing face-to-face with a dozen different kinds of orange juice poses me an existential problem that is difficult to solve within an hour because it challenges my preconceived idea of wanting to buy a particular brand that I have been consuming for years but has suddenly disappeared from the shelves. My quest to find the elusive All-Bran was is yet another example – what I should buy, now that the Kellogg’s version of my favourite cereal had vanished from a shelve that was transposed as soon as I had got on my bike home, last time I was here.

We are spoiled for choice, of course, and the supermarkets aim to sell as much of that choice as possible. They have become experts at providing us with goods we never knew we needed. But there are two things missing in supermarkets – a giant clock that tells how much time we have wasted and an escape route.