How South Florida Supermarkets Move Customers Through Their Stores

Oct 28, 2013

Publix supermarket #794 in Miami Shores was recently remodeled. The deli was expanded, as was the produce section. Publix says they remodel stores every five years.
Credit Karen Rundlet

The store you probably spend the most time in isn’t a boutique or a department store. I’ll bet, over the course of a year, it’s the supermarket. 

On average, supermarket customers shop for groceries twice a week and spend about $100. In South Florida, Publix is the marketshare leader – dominating with close to 250 stores. Winn Dixie is second. And then, we have Walmart and Sedano’s.

While each chain is distinct in terms of pricing and store environment, there are commonalities in how many of them are designed, said Paco Underhill, a consultant and author who studies the science of how people shop all over the world.

Miami Shores is a village in northeast Miami Dade County. I do plenty of shopping at the one and only Publix within the village limits. Can’t walk in there anymore without seeing someone I know.  Neighbors, children from my daughter’s school, friendly faces I know from the park or church.

Without ever visiting the store, Underhill was able to tell me about the design of my hometown supermarket. I grab a cart and hit the doorway. He explains why I see what I see.

“There’s a reason that there are flowers or bakeries upfront, which is to get our saliva glands working.  We tend to be much less disciplined shoppers when we are salivating,” he said.

The store directs me to the right.  Towards the fruit and vegetables.

Credit Karen Rundlet

Publix corporate offices told me that the company remodels stores every five years. This particular store #794 was remodeled a few months ago. I’ve noticed the new layout in produce.

“Most produce sections are now lit theatrically," said Underhill, "meaning that that orange is displayed on a black or a dark background and it is lit like a television studio, so that the orange pops.”

He explains that supermarkets encourage me… us… to shop produce first because it’s one of the highest margin categories in the store. But here’s the sad part – on average, we throw out 20-30 percent of our produce purchases because we don’t eat it quickly enough. I always throw out spinach.

We move through the store pushing our carts with our left hand and generally putting things in our carts with our right hand so that most stores are designed with a counterclockwise circulation pattern putting our dominant right hand closest  to the product. Maybe lefties like my husband have an edge.

We need chicken thighs.

There is a reason why meat is in the back right hand corner and dairy is in the back left hand corner, which is to try to pull us as deep in the store as possible under the basic premise that the longer somebody holds you is the more likely that you are to purchase more product.

Of course, there are lots of items to pick up in the aisles.  Cheerios, paper towels, Yummy brand hard dough bread, salt, Ting, almonds.

Another customer tips me to a deal on frozen pizza.

The organization of each shelf is subject to negotiation between the grocer and the manufacturer so that the most popular and most expensive items tend to be located at eye level.

OK, I’m done. 

Probably the most frustrating part of our grocery experience is standing in line at the register. We in the United States trail the world in checkout technology systems.

Then Paco Underhill starts talking about a supermarket in Stockholm called Ica. He says Ica is very high tech, much more advanced than grocery stores in the U.S.  The chain runs promotions that allow shoppers to use their Facebook accounts to get lower prices.

For the most part, this basic supermarket design was formulated in the 1930s. With time though, it’s become more sophisticated. The placement of every product, shelf, display is subject to some form of sale or negotiation.

WLRN's The Sunshine Economy will devote an hour to the grocery store business in South Florida. Tom Hudson hosts. We’ll talk about everything from the new Trader Joe’s in Pinecrest to the desert for supermarkets in Broward County. That’s today, October 28, at 9:00 a.m on 91.3 FM.