I went to the store for three things and came home with 10.

That’s how it goes for me, and many other shoppers all over the country, I suspect. How do grocers do this, get people to buy extra items?

Some of this, I suppose is because we all see something that we forgot to put on our list in the first place. “Oh yeah, I need an onion for the salsa I’m making later.” And an onion tumbles into the cart.  

However, I really think that impulse still plays a large role in consumer purchasing choices. As a produce clerk working the late shift, I spoke to many shoppers who had ducked into the store during what we called the dinner rush. It started out innocently enough as I greeted them and offered to help them with anything.

“Dinner,” more than one shopper shot back. “What can I fix for dinner tonight?”

I’m not someone that thinks too much about complex recipes, but I know what guys like me like. And I’d suggest those things. Simple, quick dishes that prompted many customers to say, “Oh yeah, that sounds good.” Or, “I haven’t made that in a while!” Which led into me pointing out where to find the bell peppers for stuffing, the mushrooms for sautéing, or the potatoes for baking.

It’s the driving force behind our business. People’s appetites regenerate, and they’re looking for something good to eat. In the produce aisle, this goes a step further. After all, there isn’t someone to advise every customer who walks into your store. So the produce must speak for itself.

That’s where we circle back around to the whole buying-more-than-what-they-came-in-for phenomenon. 

And that single appetite-driven thing is impulse. I know I’ve touched on this on several occasions, but I don’t think it gets near enough attention. Especially considering that a high percentage of produce sales (I’ve heard upward of 80%) derives from impulse. Can this really be true? 

In speaking to produce directors, supervisors, produce managers and others over the years, this tends to be the consensus: “If you can slow down the customer, ‘wow’ them with some display in some manner, you have a good chance of them buying whatever it is they’re looking at.”

That’s produce impulse sales, and it’s an effective way of filling shopping carts.

Try to look at it this way: Don’t just have some produce representation out on the shelves. Present each display at its absolute best. Strive to make each display clean, fresh, culled of any less-than-desirable product, stocked to an abundant look, level with the adjacent displays, neatly stocked, well-signed, and — you know — see what happens. 


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