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What Supermarkets can Teach you About Marketing

2188 words · Reading time: 11 minutes

There’s a lot you can learn about marketing by going into your local supermarket. Just like the internet, they are filled with adverts and products all trying to get our attention. However, if you take a closer look, you’ll be able to see what’s working and why.

Nothing ends up in your local supermarket by mistake and people spend a lot of time deciding where products should go. However, the placement of items isn’t the only trick supermarkets use to convince customers to buy. Here are some of the sneakier ones and why they work.

The Entrance

The entrances to supermarkets are packed with marketing tricks, and there’s a good chance you won’t notice a single one of them if you’re not looking for them. This is because much of the supermarket experience is designed to hit you on a subconscious level. So, the next time you go shopping, check for all of the things listed below and you’ll be guaranteed to see at least 50% of them, regardless of which country or supermarket chain you are in.

Trolleys and Baskets

Deciding between a trolley or a basket is usually the first conscious decision we make on our journey into the supermarket. However, it’s one which already has psychology at work. Trolleys are usually found outside of supermarkets, while baskets are inside. If you pick up a basket, you automatically limit yourself by weight, however, pick a trolley and you can buy more than you can carry. Therefore, it makes sense to present trolleys first. Plus, people are less likely to swap a trolley for a basket than they are to swap a basket for a trolley. But that’s not the only trick at play. Check out the size of the trolleys.

Shopping trolleys are deliberately over-sized and baskets are, you guessed it, deliberately undersized. The reason for this is to entice you to switch from basket to trolley and, once you’ve got your trolley, to try and fill it. Why? Because, if a shopping trolley looks like you can always fit something else in it, you’ll be tempted to do so.


The first thing to look out for, or rather sniff out, when you walk into a supermarket is the smell. This is because supermarkets aim to guide people in with their noses. The most common scent used in supermarkets is that of baked goods, e.g. bread and pastries. However, the smell of the bakery is usually much more prevalent at the entrance than it is when you’re actually by the bakery counter. But how?

The scents used in supermarkets are synthetic and pumped through machines, meaning all those wonderful aromas of freshly baked bread are actually a lie to attract you in in the first place. In fact, there is a whole industry based around designing shop scents for different purposes. One of which is Pina Colada, which is used in toy shops to entice the parents to stay longer. In the US Real Estate Agents will even use scents to help move properties more quickly.

Supermarkets use the smells of delicious foods because this subconsciously tricks you into shopping with your stomach, rather than your head. In fact, the best trick to spending less in supermarkets is to always make sure you eat before you go shopping. It’s the retail equivalent of wearing a suit of armour, and a lot of the marketing tricks won’t work on you.

While you can’t use smells online, you can ensure that the first thing customers see is something they’ll want. First impressions matter and it’s important to make sure that you grab their attention, even if they don’t realize you’re doing it. Images and text which generate thought and emotion can be just as powerful as scent, so it’s important that you take the time to get them right. For more information about how to do this, check out these articles:

Hook, Line and Sinker: 3 Effective Ways to Land Customers

Subconscious Advertising: How to have your campaigns seen when no-one is looking!

Brand Awareness and Direct Marketing Explained Using Classic Advertising Techniques!


Another thing to notice in supermarkets is the direction in which they lead you from the very start. In countries where people drive on the right-hand side, which is most of the world, supermarkets tend to funnel people through counter-clockwise, whereas, in countries like the UK, they’ll be persuaded to move clockwise.

Another thing to notice about direction is that you will have to go in one. Some supermarkets are really restrictive, while others give you a bit more freedom. In reality, most supermarkets are mazes and it’s completely deliberate. We’ll come to this in more detail.

Usually, when you enter, the tills will be blocked from view. This is to avoid people coming in during busy periods and walking straight back out again. If you’ve already taken the trouble to find what you wanted, then you’ll be more likely to stick around and queue up during rush-hour. Blocking the path to the tills also forces you to walk past more products, increasing the chance that you’ll buy more.

First Impressions

99.9% of supermarkets place all of their fresh fruit and vegetables at the entrance and there are a couple of good reasons for this. The first is that it presents a bright, fresh image of the supermarket. Just as with people though, it’s largely superfluous because lurking behind all that healthiness is the seedy underbelly of junk food, behind which are all the things you probably went in for. Which leads to the second reason why the fruit and veg is at the front.

The consumer’s road into the supermarket is paved with good intentions. They walk in, they see the fruit and veg and they think about their lifestyles, about how they should be healthy and they are tempted. So they might put a few items in their trolleys and then they are off to go and find the milk. ‘But wait, what’s this?…hmmm chocolate…I really shouldn’t, but what the hell, I’ve got an apple in my basket so I’m healthy.’

Now, imagine that scenario the other way around and it doesn’t really work. No one ever got tempted away from the junk food section by broccoli, and marketers know this.


Inside the Supermarket

As you can see, within 5 seconds of entering a supermarket, there’s already a lot of marketing at play. But that’s just the beginning. Once you’re inside, there’s even more fun to be had. The first is to find the staples: bread, eggs, milk and meats. Why are they never together? Simple! Because most people buy them. This means customers will look all around to try and find them. Meanwhile, they’ll be tempted to buy other things en route.

Eye-Level Buy Level


Supermarkets make consumers walk past as many products as they can. On each aisle, the most popular items will usually be placed in the centre, so that shoppers have to walk past more things to get to them.

Products are also placed on shelves according to the average height of the consumer. The most popular products with adults will be placed at their eye-level, whereas things for kids will be placed at children’s eye-level. Pretty sneaky right. The incentive here is to let kids see what they want and then annoy mummy and daddy until they either buy it or slap them.

Underneath these popular products are the cheaper off-brand ones. This means that, if consumers want to buy something, but don’t want to spend so much on the branded products, they can get a cheaper alternative close at hand, so that the sale isn’t lost completely.

Product Pairs

There are a lot of products that go hand-in-hand and marketers know this. They will often place popular combinations close to each other. Dry snacks are usually next to alcoholic drinks, toothbrushes next to toothpaste etc.

If you’re marketing multiple products then this is worth keeping in mind. Major online retailers like Amazon use this trick all the time and it’s great for up-selling. You can also use it in conjunction with seasonal offers to make gifts ‘extra special’.


The background music played in supermarkets is also there for a reason and will often change tempo depending on the time of day. If you are shopping during peak hours, then expect something a little more upbeat to get you moving more quickly, as the store needs to quickly circulate customer flow so it doesn’t get overcrowded. Off-peak music can be more leisurely and help you relax and spend more time browsing and buying.

It’s never recommended to use music on your sites but, did you know that colours can have very similar effects. For more information on how to use colours to convince your customers, check out our article on How to Influence your Customers Through Colours.

Real-world Versus Online

Websites and funnels work a lot like supermarkets. They need to guide people around and get them to do certain things. Just as every aspect of a supermarket is carefully planned for maximum profit, every element of your funnel should be too, until people begin moving in the exact direction you want them to.

A great way of finding out how people are moving around your site and interacting with it is to use heatmaps. These can show you exactly where people are focusing their attention and where you are losing them. This can allow you to optimise efficiently and effectively and see real data from the results.

Making your customers move!

A lot of people forget to keep their sites simple. This is because they often have a lot they want to tell their customers. However, you should always aim to have one message in mind and focus on it. That way, you can be sure that people visiting your site don’t get confused.

When writing the copy for your site, try to think less about what you want customers to know and more about what they need to know to buy your product. Lots of sites overload their visitors with stories about how great their company is and how long they’ve been in business. The trouble is, that doesn’t sell!

How many times have you been to your local grocery shop because it was ‘founded by two friends in 1993 and has since grown into a thriving business that employs some really cool people!’ Probably never, right? Now, how many times have you been there to buy milk? Wouldn’t it be better to say ‘We’ve got milk!’ rather than ‘We’ve got experience selling milk’.

Don’t let pride get in the way of the sale. Margaret Thatcher said, “Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” Similarly, if you have to tell people how great your business is, it isn’t.

KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid

The tricks used in supermarkets are the same all around the world. That’s because they are really easy to implement and they work.

If you want people to buy your product then show it to them, tell them how it will benefit them and then guide them to your landing page. Make the purchasing process as simple as possible and make sure that everything is easily visible.

Here’s a quick example of a really simple but effective landing page from Squarespace.


It does everything it needs to. It tells people that they can make their own website and how to do it. It makes them aware that it’s just a free trial but it also reassures them that they won’t need to

People often don’t realize is that every single sentence should be a Call to Action. That doesn’t mean you should litter your site with big red buttons saying ‘BUY NOW!’. Instead, you should write your copy in such a way that each part leads naturally to the next, to limit any confusion.

When writing your copy, try to look at it from your visitors’ viewpoint and ask questions at every turn.

Here is what your process should look like:


Customer: What’s that?

You: It’s Aproduct, a delicious new spread for bread that tastes great and won’t put on weight.

Customer: Looks good, but I need more information.

You: Click Here and we’ll tell you more

Customer: ‘Click’

You: Aproduct contains minimum sugars with maximum taste. It comes in 3 different flavours: MegaBerry, WonderChoc and Honeycombtastic. You can spread it on bread or host it toast. It’s available in all good supermarkets but, if you buy it from us today you can try all 3 flavours for just $5! That’s a massive 60% saving.

Customer: Wow, how do I get it?

You: Simply click here and order it today. It’ll be shipped to your address straight away. Or if you want more information, check out our nutritional information and customer reviews.

Remember, you can always give customers easy access to additional information, but don’t force them to read it. The trick is to make it easily accessible by giving them a choice. Your route should look something like this:


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