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Your favorite grocery store has been mentally conditioning customers for years, and you may never have realized it. When you walk into almost any supermarket in any town in America, you are greeted by a well-lit, well-stocked mecca of food, beverages, flowers, banks, post offices, and pharmacies. In the larger stores, you can take care of almost all your needs, from enjoying a fresh lunch to paying your utility bills. Few of us can recall a single traumatic event associated with a supermarket trip: we meet friends, become "regulars," and stay up with the current trends. But behind all the lighting and conveniences lies a different dynamic altogether. Your grocery store has ways of making you buy more items on impulse, and you may not even be aware that the grocery store manager is using sales psychology to increase the store's business. Here are five proven sales psychology secrets the supermarkets may not want you to know.

1. Sensory overload. When you first enter the store, notice the nature of the first section you encounter. Chances are very good that the first area is either a floral department, a produce section, or a bakery. The cumulative effect of all these wonderful smells, sights, and tastes is called "sensory overload" and is a powerful seduction force. You want to linger in this section, admiring the fresh fruit or smelling all that bread. Even if you had no intentions of buying flowers or fresh baked goods, chances are you still make a mental note of returning to that section later. You've already been put in a much more pleasant state of mind by the association triggered by these high-profit departments.

2. Staple items spread to the four corners of the store. Did you just come in for bread, milk, and eggs? Good luck. It is no mistake that none of these basic staple item sections are placed close to each other. If a shopper could walk over to one section and get everything he or she needed, the store would be empty in ten minutes. By spreading the most commonly bought items far apart, the store has the opportunity to increase your time in the store, giving the store owners more opportunity to sell you more impulse items.

3. Conditioning. The noted psychologist Benjamin Skinner observed that rats in a maze tend to take the same path to the food every time. If that path is changed, the rats have a period of confusion and frustration as they attempt to take the old established route. The same psychology applies to customers at a grocery store. People develop a natural flow direction while shopping, but the supermarket helps create that flow by positioning the shelves much like the maze walls in Skinner's experiments. You are naturally directed to move to the right of the checkout counters; then you progress down the aisles in a routine order. Rarely will a shopper change this pattern once it has developed. The items you are most likely to buy tend to be on the righthand of the aisle as you progress down. Most of the sale items are on the lefthand side to help move the less popular items.

4. Children make the best shoppers of all. Once you've made your way to the cereal section, you are immediately bombarded with dozens of choices. The different cereals may appear to be randomly stacked, but look again. Most of the "healthier" cereals--brans, granolas, vitamin-enriched, etc.--are stacked on the top shelf. Bargain cereals and bulk or bagged cereals are generally placed on the bottom shelf. Right in the middle, right at a child's eye level, are all the sugary and highly-advertised cereals. This is clearly not a coincidence, and there is little that can be done to avoid it. Your child will see his or her current favorite and will most likely not be satisfied until that brightly-labeled box of Sugar Rock Puffs is securely in the basket.

5. "Valued Shoppers Cards." We live in a society that runs on cards of all shapes and sizes. Most of us would feel underdressed if we didn't have our debit card, credit card, phone card, and driver's license right at hand. We also like to feel that we are privy to a bargain that other people won't get. Enter the "bonus card." Many grocery stores offer an easy way to get substantial discounts with the use of a special card. All the customer had to do was fill out a simple application and receive instant gratification. You now are a member of something: a club that rewards its members with substantial savings. This is a powerful and seductive concept on its own. Never mind that you have just handed over personal information to a third party without even blinking. Supermarkets can use that information for whatever purposes they wish, including selling a database to interested companies. Who's buying a certain brand of soap? Here's a list. Who spends more than $10 a week on soft drinks? Here's a current list of those customers. For the most part, the information gathered would be used for rough statistical purposes only--raw demographics and sales comparisons--but the customer eager enough to apply for the bonus card may also be receptive to a few more direct sales tactics, such as coupons in the mail or telemarketing calls.