Supermarkets are the surprise experts at UX

Product placement, blocked entrances, funnels, and fruit and veg…

Supermarkets are designed specifically to get you to spend more money. Every single detail has been mapped, researched, explored, tested, and deployed with that whole ethos in mind.

Next time you visit one think about your experience as you travel around the store.¬†Think about how the aisles work, where the different food types are located, which aisles, which shelves… eye-height, floor level, end-of-aisle.

Psychologists say that the fruit and veg is near the entrance to get you in the mood to shop – fresh smells, bright colours, healthy options, enticing you in and getting you in the mood to start to browse, whilst if you’re in a hurry for bread, milk, or eggs you’ll tend to find these along the back wall making you walk up aisles through the store to reach them.

And that aisle layout? it’s designed to make you walk up and down each one, impulse buying as you go. Peer pressure comes into play here too. Watch how irritated your fellow shoppers get if you start pushing your trolley up and down the aisles¬†against the “flow”.

Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for the traps placed for “influencers”… high margin sweets and cereals at the perfect height for children’s eyes.

Sneaky? maybe… but it sure works. It’s tried and tested. Almost every supermarket anywhere in the world follows the same pattern. Right to left. Fruit and veg first. Alcohol last.

When you’re done with the supermarket go home and browse one of your normal ecommerce stores (or if you run your own go take a look at that), and notice the same familiar patterns. When the web first leapt to prominence and the first sites started playing with online shops they envisaged online shopping malls where users clicked up and down virtual high-streets then clicked up and down virtual aisles. We look back now and recognise the sheer amateurness of it all (is that even a word?) but those first stores were doing their best to emulate the real-world successes of the supermarket chains.

And then along came the ecommerce giants we recognise today: Amazon, eBay, Tescos, Argos, Walmart, and Ocado, and they nailed it with easy searches, filtered results, recommended items, related products, special offers, and click-to-deliver.

Whilst the aisle mentality was gone, these new players found something in the old psychologies to use and their ecommerce ux design was flawless in its implementation straight out of the gate.

There is an elephant in the room though:

Basket abandonment.

In the real world people seem loath to just abandon a whole trolley full of groceries in the checkout queue. You may find the odd out of place item abandoned on a shelf somewhere (or next to the till) but in the main people load trolleys and baskets and then, whether they’re entirely comfortable or not, head through the checkout process.

Ecommerce UX design

Online is different. There’s nobody watching. Nobody to “tut” at them. Shoppers can drop out of the ecommerce process at any point (and they do) all the way up to the checkout. In fact research done by us shows that many many online users abandon right at the point of payment – and they cite a variety of reasons:

  • payment process is complicated
  • payment process requires additional personal details
  • they were interrupted
  • they’re storing the items and want to checkout later

No self-respecting offline supermarket would tolerate that.

If you need help with your ecommerce UX design then get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.


Written by Rob Harrison

Rob is a digital engagement specialist for Goodman Fox with over 15 years experience in building successful online experiences for the healthcare, technology, and property sectors.

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