Do you remember the old days when the majority of rural and farm people had to buy goods out of a window of a small farm shop? You had to know exactly the items you wanted to buy for you to be able to call out to the person on the other side of the counter and window. Those days are gone and probably forgotten by most but there are still those of us who are melancholic and would love to romanticize even the gloomiest of times. We see roses and ignore the thorns.
It is true that during those days, the farm plebeians would be sold yesterday’s bread and often they would be sold foodstuffs that have gone beyond the expiry date. The refrigerated cold drink would be reserved for a certain class of consumers while the commoners would be lucky to buy a bottle of coke that is fished out of a bath tub full of tap water.
Those days are gone. Today’s consumer is spoiled for choice. The era of the street corner shops has reached its demise. It is replaced by shopping malls and plazas which become centres of shopping where at a single venue a consumer is able to satisfy a wild diversified shopping basket. The malls are convenient and made to save time and effort. However, with choice, comes a deadly challenge for the majority of shoppers: overspending.
Let us explore the shopping expedition we all go through on a daily basis but, before we do, let us honestly ponder over the following questions:
- How often do you find yourself buying items that were not on your shopping list?
- How often do you find yourself having gone significantly over the intended budget of one shopping trip?
- How often do you find yourself having put new brand items on your trolley?
- How often do you buy things that you would have done without?
Let me show how this happens and if it makes you feel any better, you are not the only one who suffers from overstretching your pocket. It is an epidemic in South Africa. We all suffer from overspending. Bra Tito and Trevor, respectively, are at pains trying to tell the nation to save money for rainy days but there astute and perhaps shrewd forces that lure an ordinary consumer to “shop till they drop”. These forces come in the form of psychologists hired by supermarket dynasties to study the behaviour of a consumer and design tactics to keep him or her permanently on the hook. Yes it is true, there is a big brother who is watching every move you make in a supermarket. The security guys you see at the door are less intimidating in comparison to the big brother watching you through the lens of a hidden camera or some smoke screen one direction mirror. Big brother is there to make you part with more than you bargained for. He will enter your thinking process and make you do three things: buy… buy… buy.
Have you noticed that all supermarkets have the fresh vegetable and fruit departments next to the entrance of the shop? As you enter the shop you encounter subliminal messages that impress ideas of freshness, earthiness and even honesty of a hard working farmer and health. The vegetable department gives you an illusion of health and good life. You smell the nectar of the orange, you are captured by the green colours of the vegetables and without knowing it you feel good about the shop itself.
Next to the greens you often find the chilled stuff which helps you internalise the newly found image of the shop in you mind. Things that we use on a daily basis, like bread, they are strategically placed at the back of the shop to force you to travel the length of the shop and get tempted to death while on tour.
The shelves are packed in a specific way to make a consumer react in a certain corresponding manner. We are predictable in our behaviour and we do not stand a chance against big brother. All items that are pleasing to the tender eye of children like toys, sweets and bed story books are, without fail put knee-high to be level with our toddlers’ eye. Why do you think the worst fights and tantrums are exhibited inside of shops than they are experienced in church or home? Big brother seduces and entices your child into becoming a little rebel.
On the shelves big brother uses a simple method of packing arrangement that will surely catch you.
Behavioural patterns of shoppers reveal that our eyes start from left to the right when we navigate brands.
Therefore, the cheapest brands will always be packed on the left and the prices rise progressively as you cast your eyes to the right. The logic is simple where your eyes rest is most often on the item that you pick for your shopping basket. Scary, isn’t it? Every consumer has got pride nobody wants to be seen at the tills paying for the “no name brands”. It is this, pride that big brother exploits to the limit. All of us want to pay the premium price for what we perceive to be a classy commodity. We all want to belong to the mink and manure lifestyle and big brother knows our weaknesses well.
I could go on for a long time about the trappings in the shop but the aim of this piece is to give advice on how to become a smart shopper. I could go on and tell you that on your way out of the shop big brother will finish you off by placing the “sin” items like sweets, cigarette lighters and cigarettes close to the exit. Before you think big brother is a monster, he will show his softer side by inviting charity organizations to help him milk you to the last drop at the door as you are stepping out to the gaping trunk of your car. You might be light in the pocket but certainly the trunk of your car will be full and your fuel bill a tad higher.
Dear shopper, remember that the shops will always talk about the “buying power” which they determine for you. They never talk about other options such as a “no buying power” which you have and a “buying smart power” which is your exclusive right. The choice is yours.
What you see in the shop is nothing compared with the behind-the-scenes activities that shops coordinate. The technologies they use in the shops are awesome. They are able to feed real time data to the central nerve. When the till rings the information is transmitted to decision makers who will, with a hawk’s eye, analyze the trends.
They are able to know what brands to stock during which time of the year, they can tell you which product moves fast during the morning and what product goes faster in the afternoon. All you have is your common sense and willpower to restrain from being extravagant.