Mellody Hobson: Savvy Shopping Secrets

There are tens of thousands of grocery stores and big-box retail outlets in this country (34,052 supermarkets at last count), but there are shared secrets among them all as it relates to getting shoppers to fill their carts.

Last year chain supermarkets generated sales of almost $500 billion. The largest, Wal-Mart, with 2,089 stores, had sales roughly under $100 billion.

What should you be on the lookout for next time you go shopping and what are the stores doing to get you to buy more?

Stores Strategically Place Items on Shelves

The average 5-year-old is about 3 feet, 6 inches tall. Retailers know this, and packaged-goods companies know this. Therefore, the items intended for child consumption are placed accordingly.

For example, cereal, a child favorite, is strategically placed lower on store shelves or at cart level -- within reach of a child riding in a shopping cart. Additionally, the colors on the box (bright and almost always primary) as well as the eyes of the characters (purposely looking down) are intended to encourage young children to ask their parents to purchase the item.

Besides shelf placement, retailers are masterful at placing items strategically throughout their stores. Kohl's Department Store was the first big-box retailer to introduce the race-track setup for shopping. In essence, a shopper has to walk around the entire store to make a purchase and is forced to view almost everything before making it to the register.

The general concept behind this setup is the idea that the longer you are in the store and the more items and categories you view, the greater the likelihood you will buy more. Supermarkets are great at this as well. It is virtually impossible to walk into a supermarket and pick up a few common items by just going down one aisle. The maze is purposeful.

Stores also maximize the aisle ends with promotional items -- goods people normally do not have on their original shopping list -- as those are key traffic areas.

Finally, retailers are genius when it comes to pairing items or cross selling -- for example, most supermarkets place a number of salsa choices next to their tortilla chips.

Check-Out Lines Can Be a Consumer Killer

There is nowhere else in a store -- grocery or big-box retailer -- where you are more of a captive audience than in the check-out line.

According to News America Marketing, an average shopper waits in line for five to eight minutes at a supermarket. To capitalize on this wait time and turn it into sales, retailers are unapologetically direct with their placement of last-minute purchases.

Typically, the items placed around the check-out register are all small enough to fit in or on top of even the most packed shopping cart. Magazines are placed at the check-out line not to keep you informed while you wait but to encourage you to start reading an article and finish the magazine at home -- after you throw it in your cart or on the conveyor belt. Similarly, candy and gum line the aisle because they are easy last-minute impulse purchases that can be added to the conveyor belt.

Stores Have Mastered the Art of All Senses
They use music, sense of smell and even taste to get you to purchase additional items.

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