Zones of Seduction

How supermarkets turn shoppers into hoarders

The global financial crisis that started in 2008 hit consumers hard. Three years later, they're still reeling. Spending is down across the board, and even the affluent are watching their pennies. In this fearful climate, retailers are applying ever more scientific and psychological tactics to lure shoppers. This was made clear to me on a memorable day in 2010 when I visited the laboratory outside Chicago of one of the world's largest consumer-goods manufacturers.

After driving nearly two hours, I reached my destination: a huge, imposing warehouse with no outward signage and a vast parking lot full of cars. A friendly...

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