The Supermarket Casino

Las Vegas Safeway signWalking into a supermarket nowadays is like walking into a Las Vegas casino. In both cases, the environment is designed to overwhelm your senses and distract you from how much money you’re spending. And in both cases, it works. Here are some of the more annoying ways that large grocery store chains work to overwhelm your mind.

Too Many Choices

The human brain can only think of so many things at once. Almost everyone remembers their own 7-to-10-digit phone number, but few people know their 20+-digit credit card number. And when it comes to choices, too many options can make every decision paralyzing. Don’t get me wrong: some choice is okay. Like if Heinz Ketchup isn’t on sale, I’ll buy Hunt’s. It’s nice to competition that keeps prices down. On the other hand, we don’t need 27 kinds of Cheez-Its. or hundreds of varieties of cereal and soup. But just like casinos with thousands of dinging slot machines, supermarkets use overstimulation to numb our minds. We end up buying things that are overpriced, as well as things we don’t need at all.

Tricky Layouts

The modern supermarket is not laid out with the customer in mind. In fact, they’ve designed it to slow you down and make your grocery shopping as inefficient as possible. Just like casinos, grocery stores put the things you want most, like restrooms, as far from the door as possible. Milk and eggs in particular are a trek to get to. Supermarkets have been putting these staples in the far back corner for years, but as they’ve gotten bigger, it’s become a nightmare to run in and out. And it’s not just the distance either. The Tom Thumb by my house is notorious for putting racks and displays in the middle of the aisles. When combined with the oversized shopping carts they have nowadays, I feel like a need a traffic copter to get to the dairy section.

Word Problems

Math is the enemy of casinos and grocers alike. If you gamble long enough, you will lose all your money. The house always wins because the odds are in their favor. But if you make the games complicated enough, it gets hard to tell which bet has the best payoff. Likewise, grocery stores make it hard for you to tell what item is the cheapest. That’s why they have 2 for 1 sales and buy-one-get-one-free sales.

In recent years, I’ve noticed these offers getting more complex. Obviously they’re using computers to make the calculations more complicated. If Del Monte green beans are $1.27 with a buy-8-get-2 free sale going on, and Green Giant green beans are $1.18 with a $2.82 discount when you buy 10 cans, which one is more expensive? You can figure it out, of course, but it can be frustrating to shop when every purchase is a convoluted word problem. At some point, you’ll probably just start shoving things in your cart. And that’s what they want.

Steve Lovelace

Steve Lovelace is a writer, photographer and graphic artist. After graduating Michigan State University in 2004, he taught Spanish in Samoa before moving to Dallas, Texas. He blogs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at http://steve-lovelace.com.

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4 Responses

  1. July 20, 2012

    […] Don’t get me wrong: they’re delicious. But there are too many kinds. Go to your local supermarket, and you’ll find half an aisle of them. Just out of curiosity, I went to the Cheez-It […]

  2. February 13, 2014

    […] go” outside of an advertisement. Then there’s “on the run”. I remember once at the supermarket, I heard an ad that asked “What do you eat when you’re on the run?” Unless […]

  3. July 3, 2015

    […] Europe took centuries to construct and untold riches and labor to create. In contrast, the Big Box grocery store is erected with some slabs of concrete and some steel girders. 20th century architecture brought us […]

  4. July 12, 2015

    […] Europe took centuries to construct and untold riches and labor to create. In contrast, the Big Box grocery store is erected with some slabs of concrete and some steel girders. 20th century architecture brought us […]

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