Sometimes on the way to your dream,

you get lost and find a better one.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Consumer Demand?

Or supermarketeering cashing in on our impulse buying habits?

I’m a checkout operator.
Here’s something I see on a daily basis.
Not just at Christmas or Easter, but all year round.

Customer after customer coming to the checkout areas with a full basket or arms loaded with more items than they can carry.
Some of them are using a trolley.
Some of them start out with just their handbags, then when their arms are full, getting a trolley to continue shopping.

Why is this?
Impulse buying.

They have come in for just one or two items, then seen other things they’d forgotten they needed, or simply just decided to buy. On impulse.

This is the marketing tactic behind out of season goods being supplied when particular items normally wouldn’t be sold.

For instance, take the recent sales of Hot Cross Buns.
These have been on supermarket shelves since early January.
(For several years now).

But think back to your childhood.
Were these yummy buns available so freely back then?
No, they were not.

Traditionally, these buns are an Easter item, being eaten on Good Fridays, all over the world.

I don’t remember exactly when Hot Cross Buns first appeared so early in the year. I do remember that there weren’t nearly as many as there are now.
Nor so many varieties.
Fruit, fruitless, gluten free, choc-chip.
Regular size, mini buns.
(Give the people what they want and reap the rewards).
$$$$$$$$$$ Ka-ching!!

Did they appear because people had asked for them?
So soon after the Christmas feasting?
I’m inclined to think the answer is NO.


They sold, (of course), because we are impulsive creatures, and when we see something that triggers a memory, something that we’ve enjoyed in the past, our natural instinct is to buy it again.

Marketing industries have studied shopping habits worldwide and come to this conclusion.
Put a rarely seen item on the shelves and people will buy it.
Word will get around.

“Hey, look what I bought in (supermarket) today!”
“Oh, we love those, I’ll go and get some too.”

With increased sales (read - profits), these items gradually began appearing in greater numbers, then earlier and earlier.

Different chains began to try and outdo each other.

One supermarket chain had Hot Cross Buns on sale on the 2nd of January.
The next year a rival supermarket had Hot Cross Buns for sale on the 1st of January!

This is also the case with Christmas decorations, Mother’s Day gifts and Father’s day gifts.

Year after year, Christmas items are in the shops as early as September.

When I was a small child, Christmas items did not appear until late November or even early December.

From what I can see, none of this is actually driven by consumer demand.
If the items were not available in January, because Easter isn’t until April, (sometimes March), then I truly don’t think
they would be making a fuss, asking
"Where are our hot cross buns?"
"Why aren’t they on sale?"
"We want hot cross buns!"
"And we want them now!"

It all comes down to marketing. Sales designed to grab as many of our dollars as they can. And because we are such impulsive creatures, we allow this!!

Would the supermarkets suffer if we didn’t buy these items?
If we remembered that Hot Cross Buns are an Easter item?
If we didn’t buy them until the few days preceding Good Friday?

Perhaps in the first year or two, when thousand upon thousands of unsold buns had to be tossed away.
But they would still make good sales on all of their regular items.
(as well as left over,reduced in price, Christmas items, at least in January).

I think it’s time, we, as shoppers, took a stand here, buying items at the proper times.
Hot Cross Buns in time for Good Friday, and Easter Eggs in the couple of weeks leading to Easter Sunday.

I’d like to hear your opinions on this.


  1. I refuse to buy Hot Cross Buns or chocolate eggs or Christmas lollies until a few days before the event. It makes me cranky, and judging by the comments I hear while shopping, I'm not the only one.
    However, they must sell enough to keep them at it, or they'd stop, right?

  2. I'm with you both. Hate, hate, hate being pressured to buy.

  3. I just shake my head and laugh and buy Hot Cross Bun, Easter Eggs or anything else for that matter when it suits me not the supermarkets no impulse buying here or keeping up with the jones or the smiths or anybody else :-).

  4. No argument from me. Chocolates eggs and hot cross buns for easter only.

  5. I hear you and agree.
    I have not bought any of either item, this year or last year, 1st January or 1st April.
    I am smart enough to outwit a supermarket, BUT most people are really dumb. the ones who voted for john howard, or tony abbott for instance. They like Easter on New Years Day, what can you do?

  6. Couldn't agree more. And I'm married to a man who rails against this here as well with our special seasonal items - his kids call him the cultural food police. But I think part of what makes these times special is the anticipation and enjoyment of those special treats. And as lovely as they are, they lose their appeal if they are available all year round.

    But it's all about profit and instant gratification these days. We are restricted here by our extreme climate so some foods are seasonal whether people like it or not. I can't tell you how good fresh strawberries are at midsummer just because we've had to wait so long for them. Or those first new potatoes. The reality so far north is that we can't grow them at any other time, no matter if consumers demanded them. And we savour them when they come.

    My brother-in-law worked training sales people and he's filled us in on the psychological tricks used to sell goods, create an artificial demand and feed on our insecurities. It's a real eye opener to see how marketers conspire to entice us to buy.

  7. I think hot cross buns should be available all year. And while I'm not in any way religious, my religion defense of this is that since there are no exact dates for Jesus' presumed birth or death we should have them all time to ensure we get the day right. Plus they're awesome.
    Seriously though, I know some people who are on very tight budgets, who love that things are available so early because it means instead of buying stuff all at once right before easter, they can get one egg a week with their weekly shopping without blowing the budget. And I'm all for anything that makes things easier for them.

  8. Toni; they do sell plenty, because they're available, and likely to stay available, I can't see supermarkets changing a money making strategy any time soon, but I'll continue to buy hot cross buns the day before Good Friday.

    EC; I'm able to withstand their pressure, but so many people just can't (or won't) resist.

    Windsmoke; so you're not an impulse buyer?

    Andrew; Definitely. Although chocolate is available all year round, as are fruit buns, it's the packaging that makes it seasonally special.

    Ann O'Dyne; See, want, buy. That's most people I suppose.

    Marie; you've hit on a point I forgot to mention. The anticipation. I just don't see how hot cross buns on Good Friday morning can be any more special than the hot cross buns they've been eating daily or weekly since January. A lot of the joy in traditional foods and events is the anticipation.

    no-one; I agree that for people with tight budgets, having eggs available early can be a good thing, buy one a week and stash it away until Easter.
    My point is that even allowing for that there is no real reason for hot cross buns to be on the shelves as early as they are. People won't buy these to stash away, they'll buy them for breakfast, morning tea, afternoon snacks etc. For three or four months. Which leads to TV programs with articles such as "Hot Cross Buns - do they make you fat?" They then research all available bun types to determine fat content, fruit content, sugar and spice content.

  9. You've chosen a really good example of consumerism gone nutty. And I agree with Marie too. This loss of sense of anticipation really perturbs me. What's wrong with building excitement? What's wrong with waiting? For something so 'seasonal' as hot x buns, I don't think it's unfair to only have them available for the week or two beforehand. I couldn't agree more. And it's why I made my own this year! The shop ones are expensive and often stale (certainly compared to fresh home made).

  10. There's also the argument about free choice vs big brother. How far do we go with restricting choice? Who makes the decision about what is restricted and when?? Why is that person's choice more valid than mine or yours???

    I'm in favour of restricting holiday merchandise to the holiday to which it relates, and part of that is cynicism about profit motive.

    But do we really need another set of regulations when there's so many other things we can expend our energies on??

  11. Well it was a necessity this year as Easter is later than usual and practically treading on the advertising heels of Mothers Day. There'll be a quick whip round of signs on the easter chocolate boxes and Mother will magically appear.