Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The tempting food shop.

Supermarkets use a number of persuasive strategies to encourage the shopper to purchase more items. I definitely find supermarket offers very tempting, and often buy much more than I intend to, for example, when I go to the supermarket just to buy milk and end up spending around £10. A tactic that supermarkets use to encourage shoppers to spend more is to locate essential items in the middle of the store or along the back wall, so shoppers have to walk past other tempting offers in order to get to the milk. Also, items on special offer tend to be placed at the end of every aisle, which makes it hard to reach the milk isle without noticing, and being tempted by, the special offers.

This can be explained by the ‘smart shopper feeling’ phenomena (Shimp and Kavas 1984). The excitement about ‘getting a good deal’ creates an ego-expressive emotional response and the shopper may feel proud that they have managed to purchase the product at a cheap price. Research by Schindler (1988) supports this. 111 female participants were asked to describe a recent purchase where they spent over £20. They had to report the price that they paid for the item, the reference price (the price most stores charge for the item) and how satisfied they felt with the price they paid. Finally, they had to complete a questionnaire to see how responsible they felt for the price they paid for the item. Results showed that price satisfaction was correlated with perceived responsibility, therefore, shoppers felt more satisfied if they believed they had got a good discount and were responsible for finding the discount.

Therefore, ‘smart shopper’ feelings will be increased if the shopper feels they have found a good deal, and they will be likely to purchase even more items on special offer to enhance this smart shopper feeling. Interestingly, Kelly’s (1967) co-variation theory suggests that if shoppers feel like they are receiving a discount that not everyone else is receiving, their smart shopper feeling will increase further, making them more likely to spend more money in the shop. Thus, supermarket reward schemes that send customer’s money off coupons by post will enhance smart-shopper feelings, as the customer will feel like they have been sent a special discount. So, they will be more likely to buy the product and use the voucher, even if they do not actually want the product.

Another sneaky yet effective technique used is price establishing. This is when supermarkets claim that products are being sold at bargain prices, when they are actually being sold at the standard rate. For example, Tesco claims to have a ‘big price drop’ on certain items. However, to enforce this, they put the price of the product up for about a month and then lower it back to the original price, claiming that it is a big price drop. As long as the higher price is enforced for at least 28 days, then it is legal for supermarkets to do this. Other offers also exist that do not actually save the shopper any money or, in some case, loose them money. An example of this is shown in the picture below. Robinsons squash is being sold for £1 and is on offer: ‘any 2 for £2’. Special offers advertising acts as a subconscious trigger that attracts attention and causes people to only look at the special offer price rather than the price per unit. Therefore, they do not notice that purchasing more than one item will not save them any money. The yellow background label that accompanies special offers also catches the shopper’s attention, causing them to look at how many products they need to buy in order to get the special offer, rather than looking at individual unit price.  

This special offer saves the customer no money at all, but surprisingly most people will not notice this and buy 2 bottles because they assume it will be better value. 

This shows all the special offers located at the ends of aisles, which makes it more likely that customers will see them.


Kelly, H. H. (1967). Attribution Theory in Social Psychology, in Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 192-238.

Schindler, R. M. (1988). The Role of Ego-Expressive Factors in the Consumer's Satisfaction With Price. Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction, and Complaining Behavior, 1, 34-39.

Shimp, T. A. & Kavas, A. (1984). The Theory of Reasoned Action Applied to Coupon Usage. Journal of Consumer Research, 11, 795-809.

1 comment:

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