Supermarkets are now lining shelves with "decoy" products to hide supply shortages
· Nov 16, 2021 ·

Another day, another view into what totalitarianism does to the free market:

While chaos reigns in supply chains, grocery stores are trying to present an appealing and seemingly organized front for customers. To do so, some are turning to age-old tricks of the trade, and developing new ones, to cover up gaps on the shelves.

That includes moving products to unlikely places in stores.

Shoppers in the U.K. said they have spotted bulky crates of beer piled into aisles reserved for prepackaged meals and boxes of chocolate filling crates usually stocked with fresh vegetables. One branch of Co-operative Group Ltd., which operates stores under Co-op, stocked refrigerated displays with shelf-stable HP Sauce and Heinz Salad Cream condiments so that shoppers wouldn't see empty racks.

The layout of a grocery store is a purposeful design that's meant to entice shoppers into parting with more of their hard-earned cash than they expected. There's deeply psychological reasons why companies fight over shelf space, why shelves are never empty, and why the dang milk and eggs are at the very back of the store.

In the UK, retailers have tried especially hard to hide their embarrassing lack of products.

Some have stacked whole aisles with items that ordinarily have a small space on one shelf. Others have filled gaps with cardboard "dummies," including empty prepackaged sandwich boxes—a tactic that isn't new, but one that shoppers are likely noticing is being employed more frequently, said Catherine Shuttleworth, founder and chief executive of retail consulting firm Get Savvy Marketing Ltd.

A spokesperson for British grocer Tesco PLC, which was spotted displaying cardboard photos of items in the place of merchandise in some stores, said the use of cutouts wasn't connected to recent supply-chain challenges, and that the pictures are used by larger stores for various reasons, such as a layout reconfiguration. Meanwhile, supermarkets including Sainsbury's PLC and the John Lewis Partnership PLC's Waitrose & Partners, have been using signs to fill empty shelves. A spokesperson from Sainsbury's said it had used signs to fill empty shelves in some stores before supply-chain issues began.

Shuttleworth said that it's "probably quicker and definitely cheaper to put bits of cardboard in than it is to do anything else," which is a great way to summarize how everyone is trying to hide the economic tidal wave coming our way across all industries right now!

It reminds me of the Lorax film, where everyone living in Thneedville thinks they live in a colorful wonderland, when in actuality there's a barren wasteland right outside their walls!

In the U.S., what with our magical superstores and their tens of thousands of square feet, big-name retailers are trying to keep supply-chain issues to a minimum by stocking a LOT more items in their warehouses and diverting ships to other ports.

Smaller businesses don't have those options.

Grocery store managers said they are deploying one of the oldest techniques usually used by stores running low on produce to other sections of the store: "Facing up," or bringing the few items on a shelf to the front so customers can't see the empty space behind. They are also increasing the number of "facings," or rows, a certain item is given on a shelf to cover gaps.

Matt Santarpio, the owner of the Walnut Food Market in Newton, Mass., said some items that he previously gave one shelf spot to now are spread across two or three to cover up gaps left by sold-out or unobtainable goods.

Even the big box retailers can't hide all of their woes, though. While the media would have you simultaneously believe empty shelves are a lie and also that empty shelves are good for you, all you need to do is poke your head into any store within 10 miles of your house and you'll see the problem!

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