Feeling Trapped By the Supermarket

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Like other recent posts, this one started from a tweet because I’m trying to keep up the daily habit.

I don’t know if I can adequately convey the anxiety I feel when I try to leave a grocery store empty-handed but feel trapped because the only way out is to maneuver next to a line of people waiting to pay.

Luckily, I’m skinny. And, while I can fit into small spaces — which my boyfriend uses to his advantage when he needs me to squeeze behind, beside or beneath something*, I still like to have adequate space around me.

(*A couple of times, I’ve reluctantly wriggled beneath a vehicle. I figure that it’s the shorter person’s version of being able to reach things up high and so it’s a symbiotic relationship.)

Yesterday I exited a grocery store via the entrance, ignoring the sign not to, pulling the arms of the “gate”, or whatever it’s called. It wasn’t a turnstile, but a couple of arms parallel to the floor that only swung toward the inside. Exiting through them was an awkward motion.

Two women happened to be walking past & activated the automatic door, which allowed me to escape.

I’d prefer not to do that, but there’s rarely an available exit that doesn’t require slipping through a cashier lineup. Sometimes there’s the threat of an alarm going off if a person attempts to exit through the entrance.

I avoid some food stores because it’s hard to leave without buying something to go through the cashier line.

Some supermarkets cordon off closed cashier lines. That’s where the entrapment happens. If I’m lucky, I find myself at a store that doesn’t cordon those off.

Anxiety turns to anger. I get angry because I can’t leave.

Let me leave the store. Please.

Why leave the store empty-handed? Well, maybe I couldn’t find what I needed, or maybe I don’t want to wait in the long lines. Yesterday, the lines didn’t seem too long on my way in, and there was nothing specific I needed. I had food at home that I could cook for dinner, but I was walking past the store anyway and thought that I might get inspired to make something else.

I recognize some concepts of supermarket design, designed to get people to stop and buy certain items. It’s psychological manipulation to encourage shoppers to spend money.

For example, real food” on the periphery, the dairy case at the back of the store — so people have to walk through the store to get there — thus exposing the shopper to more products, canned goods in the centre for the same reason, and impulse buys near the checkout lanes. I’ve watched some stores change their layout to make the checkout lines snake around with lots of travel-sized items and candy on the way out; those “impulse buy” products that a shopper might suddenly need upon seeing.

Fair enough.

I can work with these concepts. I also understand changing the layout on occasion so that a shopper has to interact with more of the store rather than following the path they always take. One Walmart store that I shop at has changed its layout twice in the last six months, renovating and redesigning the store. Although it’s in the city, it now looks more suburban or American.

Also, as much as it annoys me when I visit a Costco that isn’t laid out like the rest (most of them have the same layout, presumably to make it easy), I recognize that making some different might make people engage with the store differently. Instead of following the path we always take, it forces you to go off autopilot and pay attention. There might be some drives that you make daily, and then you sometimes find yourself driving that way when you intend to go elsewhere. Muscle memory. This muscle memory could be a metaphor for life: Shaking up the routine to go somewhere new and to renew your awareness and forcing yourself to be mindful of where you are.

Garden centres have evident placement, and if the grocery store sells flowers, those are near the entrance to make the retail space appear more welcoming.

But, closing off the exits — is that to deter theft? (But the cash drawers are empty or locked, no?)

I googled a bit to see if I could find a quick answer without having to do any thorough research. According to National Geographic:

…once you enter a grocery store, it’s often not easy to get out again. A common feature of supermarkets is the one-way entry door; to get back out, you’re compelled to walk through a good portion of the store — with its tempting displays of buyables — to find an exit.

Not in my experience. In my experience, you enter, the row of cashiers is there, and you can easily move parallel to them. It’s getting from that aisle that’s parallel to the front of the store that’s an issue.

I don’t expect the world to accommodate me, but it would be nice not to feel trapped, claustrophobic and anxious.

Bonus bit of information:

Did you know that the colour shade of bananas is the result of marketing analyses? The same National Geographic article shared this:

Sales records indicated the customers bought more bananas if their peels were Pantone color 12–0752 (Buttercup) rather than the slightly brighter Pantone color 13–0858 (Vibrant Yellow). Banana growers responded by planting their crops under conditions tailored to produce Buttercup.

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Digital Marketing Manager | Freelance Writer | ADHD Coach for adults | Available for hire. http://andreawrites.ca.