Remember that grocery stores also change their layout every once in a while. Why?

If you change it, people have to search for stuff, meaning they walk more and see things other than what they just intended to buy. So maybe they'll buy more stuff. Lots of retail stores do this. I wouldn't be surprised if some online stores did this. I suppose that if you shopped only at high-priced stores, you wouldn't suffer from this. Money equals convenience. I just figure this is one of the inherent flaws of capitalism. Annoying, but better than the most glaring of the inherent flaws of communism, totalitarianism.

This is why milk is always at the very back of the store. Almost everyone buys milk, a lot stop for milk on their way home from work. and they are forced to walk past all the other foods in their shiny wrapped packages, calling out from the shelves, "buy me....JUST DO IT!!!"

Supermarkets in the USA ca. 2001 allocate shelf space according to complex and varied deals with manufacturers and distributors, to the point that exact amounts of space (x inches) are specified in contracts at the main office. These allocations are constantly changing as new products come along, old ones fall out of favor, media hype helps or hurts, deep discounts are offered, and so on. A result of this is that some hard-to-define or multi-category items get put into entirely different areas from time to time.

An example might be those plastic 'roasting bags' where one places meat and spices in a sealed bag in the oven. Do those go with the spices? the gravy mixes? the butcher counter?

These categorization problems are invariably solved differently by different companies, and are the source of most of the confusion.

Some stores print maps, but those are usually only the big picture and details like the example above are lost.
Perhaps someday there will be kiosks with simple search terminals, like at some bookstores (i.e. Borders Books) where customers can type in queries. This would be a great additional revenue stream for the supermarket owners, as they could sell screen space for image ads, offers from competing brands, etc., much the way the "instant coupons" that are printed at the checkstand work.

Another potential solution would be to have wireless transmitters in the stores that would beam maps and complete indexes (plus the aforementioned ads and offers) to customers' PDAs. Perhaps one could enter a shopping list and have the PDA beep as one wanders the aisles to alert that an item on the list is nearby.
For those who aren't aware, it's not just the placement of the milk that's been cleverly chosen to make you walk through more of the store. Every aspect of every grocery store's layout has been painstakingly crafted to maximize the amount of stuff that each customer will buy. The staple items, like produce, bread, meat, dairy, liquor and drugs are placed around the perimeter of the store. If you're only shopping for a few items at the store and they happen to fall into these popular categories, you can be damn sure you're going to walk as much as they can make you. And just what will you happen to see out of the corner of your eye as you walk along the perimeter? Those would be the endcaps, where the best deals in the store are displayed and often given great big signs advertising the wonderful discount. There is usually a helpful notice that points you in the direction of the aisle where more of the endcap product can be found if for some reason all those in the endcap have been purchased.

If you actually enter one of the aisles, you'll be in for a treat. The store layout folks, whoever they are, have taken the difficulty out of choosing which brand of a given product you should buy. Figuring that you are probably very lazy and unwilling to bend your knees extend your arms any more than necessary, they've placed the very best products in the vertical center of the aisle, where they are easiest to see and reach. What criteria are used in determining which products are best? Well, it turns out that companies actually pay grocery stores for preferential aisle placement. From this information, we can conclude that the company whose products are placed in the middle are the best, since they have the most surplus money to spend on things like aisle placement, implying that they make the most sales in that particular line of product, implying that more people prefer their brand to their competitors, and here in America, the majority is always right.

Of course, impulse items like candy, magazines and cigarettes are placed at or near the register for the benefit of the bored person standing in line who is still willing to spend more money. It is the ultimate crime for a store to fail to get you to spend as much money as you are willing.

Almost every other type of store you enter will use similar tactics to increase your awareness of the products in their store, and I know there's at least one multi-billion dollar company that does nothing more than consult department stores who want to make their layouts more effective. If you don't believe me, go into any store and see what's been placed 5-15 steps from the entrance, slightly to the right (the first place most people's eyes scan upon entering a room): if it's not the best deal or most desirable item in the store, it will be the ad from the newspaper that lists all the sales for the week. And if you're in a clothing store, take note of the placement of women's clothes, because 9 times out of 10 they'll be in the back. There was an article on this in the New Yorker some years ago, but I sadly lost it when I was moving.

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