Have you ever gone to the store to buy a couple of items, and not too long after you’re in the store you forget what you came to buy?

Not only that, you also end up buying a cart full of things you didn’t even plan on buying??

It’s a real thing and it’s called…

The Gruen Transfer

It’s a carefully engineered effect that stores use to drive unplanned sales.

It’s named after an Australian architect Victor Gruen who was against this because of its manipulative nature.

The Gruen Transfer is highly effective because it creates a sense of safety and calm – a sense of familiarity.

The design of stores is carefully laid out – from entrance displays, floor plans, routes, colors and smells.

Everything is perfectly engineered to make you buy buy buy.

If you’ve ever asked yourself why the milk and bread are on the opposite sides of the store – this is why.

It’s designed this way to distract you and get you to make impulse purchases along the way.

This is also why candy and chocolate bars are located next to the check-out.

It’s an attack on your senses.

One of the first psychological attacks upon entering the store is the smell.

Ever notice that the bakery is the first thing you encounter when you enter a grocery store?

The smell of fresh-baked bread and pastries?  This is no accident.

It creates that sense of safety and calm, it also increases your appetite so you ultimately end up reaching for way more than you intend to buy.

All of your senses are at the mercy of this effect:

  • smell (the bakery at the store front)
  • sound (the slow music)
  • taste (‘Would you like to sample this amazing new cheese?’)
  • visuals (the vibrant colors of produce at the front) and
  • touch (all the fancy packaging)


I’m now going to share how you can avoid succumbing to this effect – helping you to stay on track with your weight loss journey and keeping more money in your wallet.

1. Never shop on an empty stomach.

An empty stomach usually means a full shopping cart, mostly things you never intended to buy.

Eat a full meal before grocery shopping and you won’t be as tempted to buy things you don’t need or shouldn’t eat anyway.

At the very least have a banana or an apple before shopping.

2. Make a list.

Having a grocery list and sticking to it will eliminate a ton of undesirable foods.

No impulse purchases: just what you need.

A bonus?

More money in your wallet!

How many times did you buy something on impulse and it went bad or you completely forgot about it in the fridge?

3. Wear headphones and listen to upbeat music.

Stores intentionally play slow music to get shoppers to move through the store more slowly.

On average this effect causes shoppers to buy 29% more then what they intended to.

4. Shop early or late.

The busiest times are midday weekends and between 4-6pm weekdays.

To avoid the rush and long waits at the checkouts, shop later at night (after dinner so you’re not hungry) or first thing in the morning (before 10 a.m) on the weekends while everyone else is still waking up.

5. Shopping Carts

Don’t feel the need to fill out your shopping cart.

Grocery stores are increasing the size of their shopping carts because testing has shown that people tend to buy more when they use a larger cart.  

Best practice is to use a basket or a mini-shopping cart but if you need to use a regular cart, be conscious of this tactic and try not to fill it up.

5. Don’t buy at eye level.

Companies pay higher slotting fees to have their product placed at eye-level shelves, and this cost is usually passed onto the consumer.

You can get the same item for less if you just look up or down the shelves.

The reverse is true for the cereal isle.

Brands pay more to have their cereals placed on the lower shelves because their real target customers are children. The next time you’re in the store do an experiment and check out this fact.  The more colourful packaging and bigger more expensive cereal brands are actually on the lower shelves.

6. Shop alone.

Shopping with a friend, partner or children can be a trap.

It puts us in a more relaxed mood, making us a little more careless and carefree.

Friends and family can also be bad influences as they can tempt you to buy things that you normally wouldn’t.

7. Shop the perimeter.

This is where you’ll find the most fresh and whole foods like produce, meat and often bulk foods.

The centre isles mostly contain highly processed food – avoid these isles as much as you can.

8. Beware of packaging.

Manufacturers are in the business of selling products, so this means their packaging has to be top notch to get you to pick it up and buy it.

The shinier, brighter, and smoother it is the more likely it’ll draw you in.

This is the goal.

Going beyond the visual appeal, there are many misleading terms used on packaging that make shoppers thing they are getting a healthy product when they aren’t.

Although there are some regulations to product packaging, a lot can be left up to interpretation.

For example, the term all natural isn’t defined by the FDA.

Words such as multigrain or light may not always mean what you think they mean.

Watch out for descriptions like no sugar added, lightly sweetened, or made with real fruit, which may be misleading.

When in doubt, check the labels and ingredient lists.


Everything in the store is perfectly engineered to make you buy.

Always go in with a plan, and you’ll win every time.