The Art Of Subtlety: Steering Shoppers To Healthy Eating

It turns out that to get customers to buy what you want them to buy, all it takes is a bit of subtle prodding. A pair of researchers from New Mexico State University have been able to increase the amount of shopping customers do in the produce section of a local grocery chain simply by putting mirrors in the shopping carts.

The mirrors weren't their only idea. Associate professor Collin R. Payne and his colleague Mihai Niculescu tried several strategies. Dividing shopping carts in half and designating one side for fruits and veggies more than doubled average produce sales, while they jumped 10 percent by simply adding a list of the top-selling fruits and vegetables to carts, and 91 percent for customers participating in the government's Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

"The more mindless you are when you shop, the more you are going to be poked and prodded to buy the manufacturer's products," Payne told the New York Times. "We're trying to give consumers the same power the companies have."

The regional Lowe's grocery chain that opened its doors to the researchers has been thrilled with the results, and plans to put the placard lists in all of its carts across its 22 stores in El Paso and Las Cruces.

That exuberance isn't entirely altruistic. Produce sales did climb during these test periods, but overall sales stayed about the same, suggesting that customers weren't buying more, they were just reallocating their grocery money.

Still, the produce section and meat counter provide a greater profit margin. The products sold in those sections are bought in large quantities and the prices are marked up more than average over wholesale. So skipping the frozen foods to stock up on onions and oranges profits the healthy shopper and the store's bottom line.

"I think what they're doing is very innovative and clever," Drexel University psychology professor Michael R. Lowe said. "If you put up some cues that remind people of their weight or healthy eating, without hitting them over the head, they will go and choose healthier items."

For more:

- See this New York Times story

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