Sneaky Supermarkets use Manipulative Marketing



American Supermarkets are the enterprise of food in our modern age. Each day, customers stroll into the supermarket to scour the abundance of food. The place seems like a Garden of Eden, but there are many modern techniques that these stores hide from consumers. Routinely, they plan to purchase a few items on their list, but leave with more than they intended. To stimulate profits, supermarkets draw you in and get you to spend as much time and money as possible in their store.


Following my interest in the principles of marketing commerce, I took Foundations of Business last year. Throughout the semester, I learned about a variety of business topics: marketing and how it affects the economy, companies and their executives, competition in the marketplace, and common marketing strategies. One of the strategies that caught my attention was the Gruen Transfer strategy – the store is laid out to be confusing and maze-like for the customer. This strategy forces customers to wander through the entire store. The customers view a wide range of products, which have appealing colors and enticing packaging, and end up purchasing items that they did not initially desire. 


Learning about this strategy was an eye-opening moment for me. Until that moment, I had never noticed the maze-like layout before—I became aware of my surroundings and actually considered the location of the items in the aisles. One fascinating section was the center aisle, which housed water, seasoning, baked goods and candy. Water is a necessity good while seasoning and baked goods are the centerpiece of home cooking. To place it in the center of a maze and surround it with candy is a brilliant strategy since customers will have to walk by other goods to get to the center of the store and make it past the candy section. 


At each corner of the store, there are baked goods, produce, dairy products, meat products, and a beer garden. For customers looking to get to the back of the store to get their dairy products, meat products and eggs, they have to walk past the produce, beer garden or baked goods. Some may find themselves drooling over all the donuts, pies, cupcakes on their way to purchasing a dozen eggs and a carton of milk. This distraction can lead customers to make impulsive purchases.


After the school year ended, I got a job as a cashier at a supermarket, which allowed me to directly witness the effects of marketing strategies on customers. I often interacted with customers that came to the store for roughly three or four items, but they ended up spending far more than they intended; frequently over $100. This occurrence became so frequent that over time my response to the customers became: “this always happens!”.


I realized that the labeling or design of the products also weighed in on people’s shopping habits owing to the appeal of them: bright colors and smiling children on the packaging, organic, all natural, non-processed, gluten free, nut free, soy free and no trans fat—it is all confusing. Additionally, I noticed that if a customer’s items appeared appealing to another customer while they were laid out on the belt, they would start a conversation, asking where they could find the item and purchase it. The person buying the item would talk about the uniqueness of the product: its high quality, its delicious taste, and its affordable price. The person interested in the new product, intrigued by the eminence of the product, would end up purchasing the item the next time they made a trip to the store. The packaging design and interaction between customers might not have been the supermarket’s initial strategy, but it still plays a pivotal role in selling new products to customers.


These marketing strategies have an effect on people’s daily lives without them realizing it. Customers can be deceived by these hidden strategies by simply walking into the store. They instantly step into a world of systematic marketing strategies and perfectly choreographed psychological techniques. Although the supermarket’s strategies prove effective in marketing and allow companies to stimulate profit, some of these methods remain unethical since they use confusing psychological strategies that drain wealth from consumers, many that could be living paycheck to paycheck with rising prices and towering inflation. With savings drained, many customers have less to spend and cannot afford higher prices for food. Supermarkets are not held accountable for their actions and do not care about their effect on each consumer’s life. Opening your mind and others to these strategies will help prepare you for these harsh strategies.