Short and tall tales of su­per­mar­ket de­sign


BE­ING ex­tremely short won’t help you at the theatre, the footy or on a bas­ket­ball court, but it just might save you money at the su­per­mar­ket.

Tall peo­ple, too, can save at the shops thanks to the re­tail­ers’ mantra of “eye level is buy level”, that puts their most prof­itable prod­ucts right in front of con­sumers’ faces.

Look­ing high or low on the shelves can be a good way to grab cheaper gro­ceries, say shop­ping spe­cial­ists, but they warn that other fac­tors also come into play.

MyBud­get founder and di­rec­tor Tammy Bar­ton said there was noth­ing ac­ci­den­tal about how su­per­mar­kets were de­signed.

“There’s a whole field of re­search ded­i­cated to su­per­mar­ket mer­chan­dis­ing and tak­ing ad­van­tage of con­sumer be­hav­iour,” she said.

“Cheaper prod­ucts are rarely at eye level – you need to be will­ing to bend your knees or crane your neck, which is where you’ll of­ten find bulk items that have a lower unit cost.”

Ms Bar­ton said her favourite place to shop was at home. “I do my gro­cery shop­ping on­line where I can set the items to dis­play by unit price. By do­ing that, I’ve dis­cov­ered cheaper brands that I can’t re­mem­ber see­ing on the shelves,” she said.

The word “spe­cial” can be a trap at eye level, as re­tail­ers may only of­fer a tiny dis­count on ex­pen­sive prod­ucts.

Con­sumer psy­chol­o­gist and Deakin Univer­sity se­nior lec­turer Paul Har­ri­son said re­searchers had stud­ied shop­pers’ emo­tional re­sponses to words such as “spe­cial”.

“It plays into our sub­con­scious and we think it must be good,” he said.

“When they see the word ‘spe­cial’, what tends to hap­pen is the emo­tional part of the brain – the less-con­trolled part – tends to re­spond first, as op­posed to the ra­tio­nal brain.”

Dr Har­ri­son said shop­pers did not need to try to find the big­gest bar­gain for ev­ery item.

“One per­son’s bar­gain is another per­son’s cheap prod­uct,” he said. “You can’t put ef­fort into every­thing, so pick your bat­tles.

“The brands that pay the most money for premium place­ment are the ones you will be drawn to first.”

Trol­ley Saver founder Sam Lee said premium brands might have the big­gest dis­counts be­cause they were the most ex­pen­sive items, but you should check a prod­uct’s unit price – its cost per 100g, 100ml or other mea­sure­ment – to make sure it still of­fered value.

“Home brands and cheaper prod­ucts are placed on top or bot­tom of shelves,” he said. “It’s def­i­nitely worth check­ing the bot­tom shelf as the price may be still bet­ter than the heav­ily dis­counted spe­cials.”

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