Are We in Control of Our Decisions? What Product Designers Can Learn from a Grocery Store

Grocery Store

Think about your last trip to a grocery store, perhaps all you needed was milk. Your plan was to make a quick trip, grab the milk, and be home before dinner time. However, as you walk out of the store, you find yourself leaving with not only the milk, but also a bag of chips, a few candy bars, and a couple boxes of cereal.

…as you walk out of the store, you find yourself leaving with not only the milk

Choice architecture is one of the core principles of behavioral science. It refers to the way that the presentation of a series of choices can influence our decision, often unintentionally. This is important to keep in mind when building software products.

Logically, the stores should place popular items like milk, eggs, and bread at the front of the store. It would make sense for both efficiency and customer experience to have a “quick grab items” section of the grocery store right as you walk in.

But no grocery store I’ve been to has a “quick grab” section. Rather, these types of groceries are almost always near the back of the store.

Why the Milk is in the Back of the Store

On an episode of Planet Money, Michael Pollen notes, “My general impression is that the milk is in the back, but it’s also usually very far from the bread. Both of them are very common items, so it makes you cover a lot of ground if you want them both.”

This is an intentional choice by those who design these stores. While they understand that customers have free will, they also know that the presentation of goods can influence purchasing decisions.

A $20 bottle of wine at a grocery store may look cheap, but only when it is placed next to a $25 bottle of wine.

A $20 bottle of wine at a grocery store may look cheap, but only when it is placed next to a $25 bottle of wine. Remove the $25 bottle of wine and place it next to a $15 bottle of wine, and all of a sudden the $20 bottle of wine doesn’t look so cheap anymore.

20% Fat vs 80% Fat Free

If you walk down another aisle, you’ll see a jar of ice cream labeled “80% fat free” and you’ll stop to purchase this calorie saving treat. In that same aisle, you see a jar of ice cream labeled “20% full-fat,” and you’ll walk right by. Both jars of ice cream contain the same amount of fat, but simply changing the framing of their label can influence your willingness to buy.

You then turn toward the chip aisle and grab a few bags of Doritos, but fail to notice the Tostitos on the bottom shelf. If the bags were swapped so that the Doritos were no longer at eye level and the Tostitos were, sales of Tostitos would increase.

As you purchase these chips, you’re aren’t thinking about the conversation you had with your buddy yesterday about whether Cool Ranch or Nacho Doritos are better. However, without the priming effect you may not have bought those bags of chips at all.

Decoding the Why — How Behavioral Science is Driving the Next Generation of Product Design.

In this article I shared an excerpt from my book, Decoding the Why.

I hope you enjoyed this post — if you enjoyed it and want to connect you can reach me here via email (nate@creativescience.co) or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Also, you can grab a free e-copy of my book Decoding the Why — How Behavioral Science is Driving the Next Generation of Product Design.

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Decoding the Why Book

Entrepreneur blending behavioral economics, data and technology to help changemakers inspire and move people to action. Co-founder @creativesci & member @yec.

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