Grab and Go: Chocolate as an Impulse Buy

Advertisement can often times be traced back to the supermarket aisle (Usbourne). While it may go unnoticed, retail and chocolate companies put extensive amounts of thought and research into different aspects of a product as well as their effects on the buyer (Kendall). Some of these include the packaging and relative location of the chocolate (Kendall). My comparison of chocolate presence in a supermarket and a home improvement store as well as the analysis of the past and future support the view of “selling has become a science” (Usbourne), especially when it comes to chocolate as an impulse purchase.

The first store I observed was the Shop-rite store. There are two main areas where chocolate congregates: the aisle designated for candy and the area around the check-out counter. In this particular store, the aisle is divided into two sides – one side with chocolate and the other with non-chocolate confections. The chocolate was further divided into “sections.” Towards the beginning of the aisle, there was a higher frequency of chocolate bars, singly packaged and made for a single consumer. Walking down the aisle, the chocolate changed to gift assortments of chocolate. Then, at the end of the aisle, there were bags and/or bulk packages of chocolate. The lateral distribution of the chocolate also varied. The top was mostly brands that marked itself as “gourmet” or luxury, with the price tags to match. On the bottom, there were generic brands as well as lesser known brands, such as the Endangered Species Chocolate. In the middle levels, there were the chocolate products of the Big Five Chocolate Companies (Martin, Lecture 7) – namely, Mars, Nestle, and Hershey’s. Ferrero and Cadbury were sometimes placed either with the luxury chocolates or the international chocolates and, thus, on the top or bottom shelves.

Single packages of chocolate

The chocolate placement featured many interesting strategies by the retail and chocolate companies. The first is the distribution of chocolate as a consumer walks down the aisle. Consumers will first see the “single package” of chocolates. One online article explains that consumers tend to grab products at the end aisles without much thinking (Usbourne). Chocolate, as a product prone to impulse purchases (Clarence-Smith 19), is not a product that sellers want potential buyers to think about for extended periods of time. If people walk down an aisle and begin to think about the different aspects of chocolate, such as its high sugar and calorie content, they may not want to buy the items anymore (Usbourne). On the other hand, if the products are placed in the front of the aisle, it is easier for consumers to just grab it and place it in their shopping cart, not really thinking about it until they’re already on a different aisle (Usbourne). One key aspect to note is the type of chocolate products located at the beginning; they don’t tend to be those perfect not for gifting or sharing. Instead, they’re tended for self-indulgence. Again is the concept of chocolate as a “sinful” product, one that consumers impulsively buy. Allen from “Chocolate Fortunes” details the relationship between the American consumer and impulsive purchasing of chocolates (Allen 31-33). Unlike Chinese buyers, Americans tend to buy chocolate for themselves as an impulsive purchase (Allen 31-33). Another interesting aspect is the lateral distribution of the chocolate products (Kendall). The “popular” or household name chocolate brands tend to be in the middle. By placing the popular items in the middle, the people will gravitate to grabbing these items first (Kendall) and thus optimize sale levels for retailers and chocolate companies. The Big Five Chocolate Companies (Martin, Lecture 7) may have paid slotting fees as an investment in order for their chocolate to be in the most visible position (Berlinger). However, while many strategies apply to aisles for chocolate products, Allen states that only 22% of consumers actually walk down the aisle (Allen 31-32). Thus, companies must also bring to focus another aspect – the checkout counters.

Candy in Checkout area

Another area where candy and chocolate are found is in the check-out areas. In the Walgreens store that I observed, there was a heavy presence of candy bars. The candy bars were placed in the middle or bottom shelves, while gum and chapstick were located on the top shelves. A similar yet strange case was also seen in a store that normally does not sell any candy or goods at all – Home Depot, a store that sells goods that help people build and improve their homes. In the traditional and self check out areas, there were several boxes of different candy bars, usually those of the household brands, such as Reese’s and Snickers. In both cases, not all of the traditional lanes for check out were open.

Check-out areas are what the retailing companies label as “hot spots” (Allen 32). They are the places where consumers are most likely to make an impulse purchase, and that is where most of chocolate sales exist. One book, a guide to “cure” chocoholics, states that 90% of chocolate occur as impulse buys, with a majority of those products located in the checkout aisles (Vale 13). (“Chocolate Fortunes” gave an estimate of 70% (Allen 31-32)).Many people, especially those who were not looking to buy chocolate in the first place, will not make their way down those aisles. This could be one of the reasons why Home Depot and stores that do not seem like sellers of candy have these products in the checkout areas. In addition, the amount of employees at the checkout counters not only decrease labor and wage expense, but also forces people to spend more time looking at the chocolate (Harwell). In each of the check-out places I have encountered, the packaging of the chocolate bars also tend to be very minimalistic. They usually have solid coloring as a background with the product picture and/or product name and brand in big bold letters. This may be a good way to seek consumer’s attention as a good they bought before and enjoyed– but not too long for them to consider the pros and cons of buying it (Allen 31).

This supermarket shows that not all the check-out counters are open.

It is not only important to show what occurs presently with chocolate/retail companies and their marketing strategies for impulse purchases, but also to look at the concepts in the past. Chocolate isn’t a sort of item that a human being needs to survive (Coe & Coe). Thus, chocolate producers had to market their chocolate in a different perspective through want, rather than need. Chocolate has been seen as a “classic ‘impulse buy,’” starting from the 1800s and mass production(Clarence-Smith 19). The main marketing strategy (Clarence-Smith 19-21), similar to the one mimicked to adapt to the “introduction” of chocolate to China, is visibility (Allen 31-33). When workers begin to see the products in stores, they buy it and eventually, sales increase (Clarence-Smith 19-21). In addition, the association of psychology and chocolate is not just from marketing. While it is not certain if chocolate possesses enough quantities of certain chemicals to cause a physiological addiction, statistics show that chocolate’s great taste makes it an incredibly popular craving food (Benton 205-207). Advertisements starting in the 1900s also played a role, as advertisements featuring women succumbing to chocolate also showed up (Martin, Lecture 9). These ads, while also introducing gender stereotypes, also encouraged humans to impulsively buy and consume. This is because impulse and indulgence go hand in hand (Tuttle), and thus these commercials play a huge role in complementing the chocolate placement in the store. They continue to do so today. (Below is an advertisement of KitKat, that encourages consumers to take a break from their schedules and have a daily indulgence.) Impulsive buying has existed for a long period of time for chocolate products and adapts to contemporary situations – from the general store to the super market aisle/check-out counter.

Self-checkout lines

On the other hand, these psychological tactics are not static. New issues arrive every day. According to Hershey’s, sales from chocolates have dropped due to the fact that buyers are too busy looking at their smartphones while in line (Tuttle). Thus, they don’t pay attention to the goods that are on display nearby (Tuttle). This chocolate company and many others are looking for ways to adapt to these external factors (Harwell). In their interview, they stated that some of their future plans include using technology to their advantage as well as establishing more vending machines, which increase visibility and thus sales (Harwell). Another issue comes from self-checkout areas, where people don’t need to spend time waiting in lines or for the employee to scan their goods (Harwell). Thus, once again, these businesses have to evolve and create new strategies to get more sales.

Chocolate has evolved to be an impulse buy. Both chocolate companies and retailers are finding ways to “trick” consumers into purchasing these products on a whim. These can be seen through observations of the most subtle product placements, such as placing popular chocolate items at eye level or near the checkout counters (Kendall). The concept of psychology and chocolate is also not a contemporary concept, but one that originated from a gradual evolution in addition to the chemical composition of chocolate that makes people crave it (Benton 205-207). This marketing strategy of product placement and impulse purchases for chocolate is also still in the process of changing, as companies like Hersey’s put in more money to research and create solutions for new issues related to technology and educated consumers (Tuttle). Chocolate will, however, remain as a product that proves “the sales axiom: ‘I see, therefore I buy’” (Allen 31).

Works Cited

Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association, 2010. Print.

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Cravings.” Editor, Nehlig, Astrid. Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC, 2004. Print.

Berlinger, Joshua. “A Few More Ways That Supermarkets Mess With Your Minds.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 28 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 May 2015.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Harwell, Drew. “Hershey’s Plan to Hook Americans onto Impulse-Buying Chocolate Again.” 24 January 2015. Web. 12 May 2015.

<http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2015/01/29/fast-checkouts-are-crushing-impulse-candy-sales-heres-hersheys-plan-to-change-that/&gt;

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Kendall, Graham. “The Science That Makes Us Spend More in Supermarkets, and Feel Good While We Do It.” The Conversation. 4 Mar. 2014. Web. 13 May 2015. <http://theconversation.com/the-science-that-makes-us-spend-more-in-supermarkets-and-feel-good-while-we-do-it-23857>.

Martin, Carla D. Lecture 7: The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for Global Market. 14 March 2015. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. Lecture 9: Issues in Advertisements. 04 April 2015. Lecture.

Smith, W. G. Cocoa and Chocolate, 1765-1914. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Tuttle, Brad. “Why Chocolate Companies Hate the Way You’re Shopping.” Time Magazine.  2 February 2015. <http://time.com/money/3696197/impulse-buy-candy-hershey-online-shopping/&gt;

Usbourne, Simon. “The Secret of Our Supermarkets.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 27 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 May 2015. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/the-secrets-of-our-supermarkets-8228864.html&gt;.

Vale, Jason. Chocolate Busters: How to Kick It … Easily! London: Thorsons, 2004. Print.

Video 1. Web. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPWBfd79g6A

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