The Economist ponders why we buy

Published on: 2015-02-05

About once a year The Economist authors an article that's truly important to our industry and the way we operate. This year's came towards the very end, but was well worth the wait:

IT MAY have occurred to you, during the course of a dismal trawl round a supermarket indistinguishable from every other supermarket you have ever been into, to wonder why they are all the same. The answer is more sinister than depressing. It is not because the companies that operate them lack imagination. It is because they are all versed in the science of persuading people to buy things—a science that, thanks to technological advances, is beginning to unlock the innermost secrets of the consumer’s mind.

In the Sainsbury’s in Hatch Warren, Basingstoke, south-west of London, it takes a while for the mind to get into a shopping mode. This is why the area immediately inside the entrance of a supermarket is known as the “decompression zone”. People need to slow down and take stock of the surroundings, even if they are regulars. In sales terms this area is a bit of a loss, so it tends to be used more for promotion. Even the multi-packs of beer piled up here are designed more to hint at bargains within than to be lugged round the aisles. Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, famously employs “greeters” at the entrance to its stores. Whether or not they boost sales, a friendly welcome is said to cut shoplifting. It is harder to steal from nice people.

Our take:

Read this article. It won't take very long, and it will provide you with some valuable insights into why so many things at retail are done the way they are. While the details may be a bit light weight for professional merchandisers, package designers, CPG marketers and the like, for anyone else just dabbling -- say, during a foray into the retail digital signage industry -- it's a very quick, accurate and useful introduction to the industry. You'll learn about slotting fees, plan-a-grams, dwell zones and a dozen other things quirky and unique to the retail industry that can help make or break a digital signage network (actually, Bill gives seminars about this sort of thing all the time, but you can now read about it for free!)

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