If you're like many people, you stroll through your local supermarket without giving much attention to its design.
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"I don't think people are aware how much we think about where to put items," says Joseph Trimble, owner of Encinal Market in Alameda, California, and a 20-year veteran of the grocery industry. "And it's not just the expensive items. Items we want customers to buy -- as in, organic/natural -- are 'featured' at eye level."
Because there's a strong correlation between an item's location and its price, knowing how to analyze the supermarket layout can help you slash your grocery bills.
Strategically Placed Sale Items
"End caps will often carry sale or discontinued items," says Jeanette Pavini, household savings expert with Coupons.com. "Stores realize their weekly ad specials are what drive customers into the store, so these specials are often placed in the back of the store so you will have to walk through the aisles to get to the prized item – stopping to pick up other items along the way."
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By stacking sale items in large displays at the end of aisles, the retailer hopes to make up for a lower profit margin with additional sales.
Avoid Impulse Buys
On the other hand, pricey convenience items are often located near the checkouts, where you'll be more likely to make a spur-of-the-moment purchase. "You may actually find that same item in the store somewhere else at a less expensive price," says Pavini.
Beware of Pricey Pairs
Stores sometimes carefully match up two or more grocery items that fit together, pushing a higher-priced selection in the process.
"Usually if there's an item that can be partnered with something -- like salsa with chips, or dressing with salad -- the store will carry its more-expensive versions next to the product so you can grab it and go," Pavini says. "The less-expensive versions of that salsa or dressing could be found in their own designated aisles."
Search High and Low
Within the aisles, shelf positioning is also an important factor.
"The least-expensive items are generally placed lower on the shelves or on the top shelf," says Trimble. "Higher-priced items will generally be placed in the area between four and six feet off the ground. It's right at eye level and will get the most looks. Private label brands will also be featured at eye level because the store is making a higher profit percentage on that item when compared to its national brand."
Look in the 'Right' Direction
"Most people are right handed and tend to reach in that direction," says Trimble, "so placing expensive items on the right of a comparable item that is less expensive can help get extra sales."
Go Straight for the Staples -- and Don't Stop Along the Way
It happens every time. You run to the store for milk and bread -- and end up walking out with a dozen bags full of stuff.
"There's a reason why the meat, eggs, milk and other staples are located so far from the entrance," says Kimberly Danger of Mommysavers.com. "Supermarket designers lay out the basics along the perimeter to get customers who stop in to pick up a few things to pass by other tempting foods, linger just a bit longer and hopefully pick up a few things that weren't on the list."
To avoid detours that can tempt you to load up your cart, Danger suggests sticking to the store's perimeter.
Tips From an Industry Design Expert
Curt Johnson is vice president of client strategy for Miller Zell, a firm specializing in retail design and strategic planning for companies that include some of the top grocery chains. He offers a few quick tips on where the "hot deals" are often located:
• Front lobby and walk-in area: "Publix merchandises all of its 'buy one, get one free' deals as the first thing you see when you enter the store," Johnson says.
• Near checkout: "Kroger places hot deals in 'action alley' near the checkout location," he says. "This includes deli and bakery items as well."
Some Additional Tips From Johnson
• Each grocery store chain will vary in traffic patterns, but as a rule the perimeter and "power aisles" will cater to price-sensitive items that are tied to weekly print ads or special promotions.
• Also, hidden pricing for consumers will sometimes appear as special chain alerts, such as "10 for $10" selections, placed in areas away from the center aisle shelves.
• Hidden pricing gems can be found in "seasonal" or occasion-based aisles.
The Bottom Line
By taking a little time to analyze the supermarket's layout, you can target the most budget-friendly areas and keep more money in your wallet.