I’m a creature of habit at the grocery store. Because I often shop with my two kids, finding the “car cart” — the cart with a ride-in car, complete with two steering wheels and beeping horns — is an absolute necessity. It keeps them occupied and happy, and lets them feel in control as I zoom through the store.
I always have a list. If I go to the store without a list, I get lost: All I can see is a store full of food and nothing to eat. I have to meal plan, make my list, and be a woman on a mission.
I never go when I’m hungry. If I go when I’m hungry, well, it’s a recipe for disaster. Oreos are way more likely to end up in my cart, and things I don’t usually buy start to look way more enticing. I’ll even accidentally hit the bakery on my way to the checkout for a donut. (Sadly, the banana in my cart doesn’t do the trick some days!)
I like to think I’m in control at the store and that marketing ploys aren’t tricking me into impulse buys and expensive extras. I go in with a plan because I know that grocery stores are designed to make you spend money. Milk, eggs, bread, and produce are on the periphery of the store, just so that you’ll have to go through all the aisles to get to them. And I know that impulse purchases tend to not be the healthiest purchases — see Oreos above. After all, you’re (I’m) more likely to see a bag of chips and want to splurge than say, go wild on broccoli in the produce section.
If others are creatures of habit like me, is there a way to nudge them toward healthier habits at the store, like buying more produce and fewer processed items? Two social scientists are doing just that, and their results have been surprising, according to an article in The New York Times. With subtle nudges to be healthier, the researchers have increased the amount of produce customers are buying. In one store, for example, carts were divided in two with a line of tape, and shoppers were instructed to use the front half for fruits and veggies. Produce sales per person jumped. Arrows on the floor encouraging customers to head to the produce department also succeeded. And mirrors in shopping carts are being tested also: Will they successfully serve as a visual reminder of reality — maybe to remind you of who you are and what you should be eating, rather than being mesmerized by the store?
This sort of “nudge marketing” requires putting just the right amount of pressure on the consumer to make healthier choices. The researchers found that while some of these measures were successful, combining a couple of the tactics, like the floor arrows and placards in the produce department, had the opposite of the intended effect and had people running for the potato chips.
While I like to think that I’m the one in control at the grocery store, it does make me wonder how often I fall victim to supermarket marketing — and if these simple tactics would sway me to add more produce into my already produce-heavy cart. I’m not sure, but I’ll definitely continue writing my lists and trying to outsmart grocery store marketing ploys! I suppose getting tricked into buying more fruits and veggies isn’t the worst thing in the world if they do succeed. Besides, that car cart I love? Pure grocery marketing genius. Because happy kids equal a mom who is able to spend money at the store.
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