Supermarkets and Priming

Have you ever wondered why flowers are always located at the front of a supermarket? Why there are bakeries located in grocery stores, and why there just seems to be an unnecessary amount of ice located throughout the store? Why are we more likely to pick up a product that’s located on a middle shelf? And how come your small child is always able to reach the cookies and fruit snacks, making your life all the more difficult?

These are just a few of the questions answered in the articles, “How Whole Foods ‘Primes’ You to Shop” http://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/article/113511/how-whole-foods-primes-you-shop-fastco and “Supermarket Strategies” http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/food/supermarket-strategies-359780.

According to the authors, none of the above mentioned experiences are accidental. In fact, every time that we step into a supermarket, we, as consumers, are being manipulated by all sorts of techniques to make us spend more than we had planned to. In fact, according to Consumer Expert Paco Underhill, “Two-thirds of what we buy in the supermarket we had no intention of buying”. So why do we buy it? We’re primed to.

Priming is defined as the implicit memory effect in which exposure to a stimulus influences response to another stimulus. When we are primed, an unconscious form of our memory is activated. What does this mean when I’m shopping? Well, it means that if you see flowers when you first enter the store, for example, you’re likely to think (without even realizing it) about freshness. It makes sense- flowers are fresh, they smell nice, they look nice, and most of us have positive associations with flowers. If this is the very first thing a consumer notices when entering a grocery store, then he or she will be primed to think of freshness during his or her shopping experience. If that consumer encountered manure at the beginning of his or her shopping trip, that person would be primed in a very different (and likely negative) way.

Put simply, the goal of priming is to influence the person-in this case the consumer- to start thinking about the stimulus- in this case the product- in a certain way. Since our memory is very dependent on contextual factors, priming helps put the product in context for us, leading us to activate various parts of our implicit memory.

We then evaluate the stimulus based on these contextual factors. This of course leads us to act based on our evaluation. Will you buy those apples? That all depends- did you know that the average apple sold in a supermarket in the U.S. is fourteen months old? Or did you walk into the store, view the fresh flowers, think about freshness, and see water lightly sprinkled on the apples?

Are you curious about those questions we asked at the beginning? I think we’ve kept you waiting long enough.

- Bakeries are located in stores to cause you to salivate and make you hungry

- Ice is located around the store to an excessive degree because it helps consumers think about purity and freshness

- Items placed in the middle shelves are right on our eye-level, called “the bulls-eye zone”, and are typically the best-sellers and most profitable products

- Kids’ “bulls-eye zone” is different than adults’, and that’s why their favorite products are located on the lower shelves. How hard is it to say no to a smiling kid already holding his favorite box of cookies? Pretty difficult, and that’s what supermarkets are banking on.

Now that we’re all aware that our minds are manipulated by marketers each time we enter a supermarket, do you think you’ll be less susceptible to the effects of priming? Will the flowers seem less fresh? Will the baked good not cause you to salivate? Or are these processes simply out of our control?

Priming and human memory systems. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/247/4940/301.abstract

Perception without awareness: perspectives from cognitive psychology.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027700001268

The effects of Contextual priming in print advertisements.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/2626813

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