Let’s pay a visit to Whole Foods’ splendid Columbus Circle store in New York City. As you descend the escalator you enter the realm of a freshly cut flowers. These are what advertisers call “symbolics”–unconscious suggestions. In this case, letting us know that what’s before us is bursting with freshness.
The prices for the flowers, as for all the fresh fruits and vegetables, are scrawled in chalk on fragments of black slate–a tradition of outdoor European marketplaces. It’s as if the farmer pulled up in front of Whole Foods just this morning, unloaded his produce, then hopped back in his flatbed truck to drive back upstate to his country farm. The dashed-off scrawl also suggests the price changes daily, just as it might at a roadside farm stand or local market. But in fact, most of the produce was flown in days ago, its price set at the Whole Foods corporate headquarters in Texas. Not only do the prices stay fixed, but what might look like chalk on the board is actually indelible; the signs have been mass-produced in a factory.
Ever notice that there’s ice everywhere in this store? Why? Does hummus really need to be kept so cold? What about cucumber-and-yogurt dip? No and no. This ice is another symbolic. Similarly, for years now supermarkets have been sprinkling select vegetables with regular drops of water–a trend that began in Denmark. Why? Like ice displays, those sprinkled drops serve as a symbolic, albeit a bogus one, of freshness and purity. Ironically, that same dewy mist makes the vegetables rot more quickly than they would otherwise. So much for perception versus reality.
Speaking of fruit, you may think a banana is just a banana, but it’s not. Dole and other banana growers have turned the creation of a banana into a science, in part to manipulate perceptions of freshness. In fact, they’ve issued a banana guide to greengrocers, illustrating the various color stages a banana can attain during its life cycle. Each color represents the sales potential for the banana in question. For example, sales records show that bananas with Pantone color 13-0858 (otherwise known as Vibrant Yellow) are less likely to sell than bananas with Pantone color 12-0752 (also called Buttercup), which is one grade warmer, visually, and seems to imply a riper, fresher fruit. Companies like Dole have analyzed the sales effects of all varieties of color and, as a result, plant their crops under conditions most ideal to creating the right ‘color.’ And as for apples? Believe it or not, my research found that while it may look fresh, the average apple you see in the supermarket is actually 14 months old.
Then there’s those cardboard boxes with anywhere from eight to ten fresh cantaloupes packed inside each one. These boxes could have been unpacked easily by any one of Whole Foods’ unionized employees, but they’re left that way on purpose. Why? For that rustic, aw-shucks touch. In other words, it’s a symbolic to reinforce the idea of old-time simplicity. But wait, something about these boxes looks off. Upon close inspection, this stack of crates looks like one giant cardboard box. It can’t be, can it? It is. In fact, it’s one humongous cardboard box with fissures cut carefully down the side that faces consumers (most likely by some industrial machinery at a factory in China) to make it appear as though this one giant cardboard box is made up of multiple stacked boxes. It’s ingenious in its ability to evoke the image of Grapes of Wrath-era laborers piling box after box of fresh fruit into the store.
So the next time you happen to grab your wallet to go shopping, don’t be fooled: retailers for better or for worse, are the masters of seduction and priming–brandwashing us to believe in perception rather than reality.
A live example that business men are the masters of impression manipulators. They are for a simple reason: constantly watching what sell and what not. BE can learn much from them. They are not academic or theorists but practitioners who know books and formula do not help but observation of customers do.