Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Just Rats in a Maze Market

September 23rd, 2010 · 10 Comments


Think about the place where you regularly buy your groceries. After you pass through the sliding-glass door, how do you make your way around the premises? Perhaps you believe you take this path due to habit or preference, but odds are you’re nudged in one direction or another by the store’s physical layout. Some supermarket’s make it so that you naturally circle the place in clockwise fashion; others opt for a design that encourages, if not requires, anti-clockwise navigation. Which approach is likelier to produce a happier shopping experience?

This is a topic of ridiculously fierce debate in the industry, and one that may soon be settled by our ever-deeper understanding of the way in which neurotransmitters affect human behavior in subtle ways. A pair of German researchers use just such expertise to make a pro-clockwise argument here:

Most shops guide customers through the store in an anticlockwise direction. This is generally justified by the fact that costumers are for the most part right-handed. However, neurophysiological research suggests a different explanation for this turning preference–-the hormone dopamine, which is responsible for locomotion in space. The higher the dopamine concentration on the left side of the brain, the more consumers’ attention (and consequently their locomotion) is focused on the right side. In a clockwise-orientated shop, customers will therefore frequently glance at the shop’s interior. It has further been suggested that shoppers also have a general orientation towards the walls because of security reasons of the shops as this makes them feel secure; this leads them to notice products on the left-hand side of aisles. Taken together, these two tendencies enable customers to remember more products in a shop with a clockwise layout, which in turn gives them a more positive attitude toward the shop. By contrast, in a store with an anti-clockwise layout, both tendencies concentrate on the right-hand side.

If this take holds water, does that mean the Brits have been right about driving on the left all these years?

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Tina

    Clockwise to nirvana.

  • Gramsci

    Does it make a difference with us left-handers? Is that why what I bring back from the store is met with such disapproval by the better half?

    Actually, I’m just going to assume it’s the layout’s fault. Yep, that’s what I’m telling her from now on.

    Also, isn’t most of a grocery trip the back and forth down aisles? I bet someone has studied what things are more likely to be bought walking toward the front versus toward the back wall. And why does walking toward the back feel like walking “up” and the entrance “down”?
    I’ll stop now.

  • Gramsci

    Also, the link doesn’t work.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Gramsci: Yikes, sorry. Link fixed.

    I think the argument from the Germans is that handedness doesn’t matter, though that seems to be the conventional-wisdom among many supermarket designers. I’m sure there’s tons of research on aisle layout–fodder for follow-up posts, perhaps. I love this sort of stuff, esp. since it brings up some heavy philosophical questions. Y’know, free will and all that…

  • Captured Shadow

    Hmm, I know all most all of the stuff I need is on the outer walls. (To increase traffic through the highly processed aisles I’m sure) So usually I want to pick up milk (or beer) and eggs last because they are heavy and I don’t like pushing a cart. So I choose the route that will take me by the milk/beer last. So in one of the shops I hit that is clockwise, in the other CCW. Hmm maybe my free will is constrained…….

  • Shaun

    Hmm. I am a hate-to-grocery-shop southpaw whose favorite store is Weggmans where the layouts are usually counter-clockwise.

  • ADW

    Produce first, liquor last. Though I’m a rightie, I tend to favor the counter-clockwise route, but I follow my P/L route pretty faithfully, unless the seafood/hot deli counter comes first – if, I’m in the mood. I tend to forget something when forced to shop clockwise. A list would help, but I usually forget it at home.

    @Gramsci —

    My father was a natural leftie, but was forced in school to write with his write hand, which led to all sorts of problems. But, then, he was born in South Texas, which I suppose lends itself to other-universe practices.

  • Gramsci

    @ADW OT, but did your father end up stuttering?

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