Grocery shopping is a perennial item on everyone’s to-do list. It is as fundamental as commuting to work everyday, but have you ever thought about what you buy, why you buy it and how grocery stores influence your purchasing. Marketing and promotion are keystones to all businesses. Grocery stores have many tools at their disposal to market and promote before you enter the store, as you are shopping and after you leave. Many of the tools they use include price promotions, store design, shelf placement, labeling and branding (Guptill 2013, Neff 2015). In recent years, the types and kinds of stores selling food has increased. Stores such as Target and CVS have increased their food offerings, and many stores such as Wal-Mart, Costco and Ikea include fast food restaurants within their stores. With an increase in the number of places food is advertised and offered, it is more important for the customer to be aware of how they are being advertised at so that they can make autonomous decisions.

On a recent visit to CVS pharmacy to get my flu shot, I noticed just how the store creates a space to encourage unplanned purchases of food. CVS, now CVS Health, has recently positioned itself as a health care center by discontinuing sales of cigarettes and promoting its pharmacy. Upon enter the store, I was immediately directed to the pharmacy by a large open aisle. As I walked towards the pharmacy, each aisle end cap offered impulse buys of junk food and candy, then toys and alcohol and finally while waiting in line at the pharmacy, over the counter drugs and pill containers. Should I or another customer get bored while waiting in line, there is a convenient barcode scanner available allowing customers to scan items to see the regular price and the member price encouraging customers to join their rewards program. Red and yellow tags alerted the customer to sale items and coupons. Junk food items were displayed at levels easy for adults and children to reach. With the impending arrival of the holidays, seasonal candy displays begged the customer to impulse buy a sweet treat.

Back at the pharmacy, I was processed through the line, told to wait for about 10 minutes and then stand in line again to be finally processed. Two waits in the pharmacy line and 10 minutes to explore the store gives customers ample time to impulse buy. I decided to explore the store. Upon further examination, every end cap on the left side of the store advertised some type of junk food. Each end cap highlighted a particular brand or type of food item for sale. One end cap advertised Arizona Tea. The labels prominently indicated that the product was all natural and fortified with Vitamin C. However, further investigation of the ingredients revealed that most of the teas contained high fructose corn syrup. In the food aisles, the “healthier” food was often located just inside the aisle such that it is easily missed when turning the corner and classic junk food items filled the center of the aisles. Staples such as bread and milk were practically invisible by occupying refrigerators in the back wall without any fanfare or red and yellow signs begging the customer to purchase them.

While sitting in the waiting area to get the flu shot, displays of lozenges for sore throats and coughs in the form of lollipops grabbed my attention. The display was lower to the ground in prefect reach of a child. At the cash register, more junk food impulse buys were within reach tempting the customer once again. If I had not been thinking about how grocery stores encourage impulse buys, I would have walked out with an Arizona Ice tea and a new pillbox, even though I already have a perfectly good pillbox.

The definition of a grocery store is expanding as corporations compete with each other for a larger share of the market. While these tactics used by grocery stores and other types of establishments selling food are not inherently bad, the customer must be aware of how they are being persuaded while shopping. Awareness and education gives the customer more power over their decisions.



Guptill, A., D. Copelton, B. Lucal. 2013: Food and Society: Principles and Paradoxes. Polity Press. Cambridge.

Neff, R. 2015: Introduction to the U.S. Food System. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.