Lost in the supermarket

These products on the end are usually loss-leaders.

In a previous life I took some advanced courses on marketing. The only part I remember clearly was the layout of grocery stores. With their fluorescent lights and drab tile, grocery stores are marketers’ dreams.

Everything about a grocery store has been carefully planned to make shoppers buy more. Dairy is the most popular item so it’s always in the back of the store, where you have to walk through other aisles with loss-leaders advertised on the ends. Loss-leaders are products sold at or near cost to make consumers believe all products in that aisle are that cheap. The location of the bakery makes a huge difference in sales, as does the floral department. All of these teachings were grounded in the notion of impulse buys.

Impulse sales are seen as vital to grocery stores and in-store marketing is devoted to the idea of telling customers what they need that they didn’t know they needed.

But this week, three associates of the Wharton School of Business have turned impulse thinking on its head. The results are in a rather vanilla sounding academic article called “Unplanned Category Purchase Incidence: Who Does It, How Often and Why.” The article argues that while grocery stores have traditionally assumed 50 to 60 percent of sales were impulse buys, the more realistic number is 20 percent.

If the research holds up, then grocery stores in the future will look quite different from today as marketers push towards sway purchases — i.e. when have ice cream on your list but not a specific brand of ice cream.

The research came from “2,945 supermarket shoppers over a two-week period in July 2006.” Within the larger findings are many little tidbits that marketers will take advantage of soon — for example, impulse purchases are 44 percent higher among people who drive to the store versus people who walk.

Another fact explains why marketers love those 18-25-year-olds: Young, unmarried shoppers are nearly twice as likely to buy something on impulse as older, married shoppers.

Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you have to fall for the impulse buy. The Simple Dollar has 10 ways to avoid making impulse purchases.

Categories: Dining, Food & Drink