The Supermarket Casino
Walking 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.
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.
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.