How to suppress sales


merchandise_store_stockIt may not have been what Hegel had in mind, but understanding the opposite of a thing can also bring greater clarity.

A useful example for a retailer is having a better understanding of opposite sales growth: how to suppress sales.

Let’s start thinking about self service shoppers when they’re trying to find what they want to buy.

How could we make this as difficult for them as possible?

There are two major things the shopper has to do to buy something in the typical retail store.

First, they have to find the general area in the store where they will find their desired product.

Second, they have to select from the options presented to them and find their specific brand.

If we can figure out how to interfere with this finding and selection process, then you will likely suppress sales.

It will also be clearer on how to do the opposite: help shoppers find and select what they want, and thereby increase sales.

So let’s take as a given that there’s four walls in the store and a few tens of thousands of products in stock.

Now think hard about how you could interfere with the shopper finding what they want. (It’s really not hard.)

We could think about a maze that it is hard for a shopper to find their way through.

Here’s a diagram showing a maze on the left.

Maze store design

Of course the store could be made a good deal more maze-like. But the point is: is there’s anything we can do to make it less maze-like?

You could have a tiny store where everything is right at hand, but that won’t fit the thousands of items that, even if many are not purchased in great quantity, are still are attractive to shoppers.

Research has found many times that shoppers mostly shop from a pool of 80 products, but these are scattered about.

Take a look at this not atypical photo from a supermarket.


This illustrates both the maze-like character of the grocery store, as well as the burying of items in a sea of merchandise.

The dilemma is how to fix both the maze and sea of merchandise, while maintaining our original specs of the same four walls and tens of thousands of items.

Here is one solution that’s worked well to deliver outsize sales and profits to a few stores who have really taken the shoppers’ interests to heart:


This store provides a single, dominant, wide U-turn path that will conveniently take shoppers past the items most want to buy.

(After all, 300 items probably deliver 25 per cent of the store’s sales, while 20,000 others may deliver just five per cent.)

Those few items need to be clearly featured and prominently displayed on the dominant U-turn path, where virtually all shoppers do most of their buying.

The rest of the merchandise needs to be visually seen – even if it’s at a distance – so one can see its location but not necessarily distinguish items.

Why do you think fresh produce is usually the top selling category in any store in the world? It is not just because it’s attractive and fresh.

Look at the size of the displays, look at the low fixtures giving great visual access, look at the low number of items relative to any of the other aisles.

Of course, you can make that kind of display available for thousands of items, but you can and should make it for those crucial top sellers immediately.

Herb Sorensen is a US-based shopper marketing scientist, international speaker, and author of Inside The Mind Of The Shopper. Email him on



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