Reasons to go off your trolley

Half of us have become angry in supermarkets over the past six months. The other half are lying
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The Independent Online
It is National Consumer Week, and the bad news is that you are probably off your trolley. The good news is that according to the latest survey of shopping habits, just about everyone else is as well.

"We're required to process thousands of bits of information the moment we enter a supermarket," says the consumer psychologist Sue Keane. "Our goal is simply to survive."

She paints a rather touching picture of a nation in which almost all of us (90 per cent) take the trouble to prepare for the weekly shop by making a list or checking the cupboards. And then, every week, we glide through those automatic doors and promptly lose our minds. Suddenly, almost everyone - from accountants to brain surgeons to pensioners - becomes incapable of figuring out what a kilo of tomatoes looks like. We loiter in front of "dull" products - this is what the experts call household cleaning stuff - trying to divine the true meaning of "concentrated". In condiments, we are transfixed by the conundrum of whether the two-for- three offer on jumbo tomato sauce is really for us. Then, having obsessed about saving pennies on cat food and yoghurt, we go on an impulse buying spree in chilled meals. All of this means we get our (frozen) just deserts when we get the bill.

"You can see people looking at their till receipt as they come out as if they do not know what they have bought. Our ability to work out value for money has actually diminished over the years," says Sue Keane. "It should be that the more information you've got, the better shopper you are; but it just doesn't work that way."

The Procter & Gamble survey found that two-thirds of us continue to rely on imperial measurements, even though the world has gone metric, and that we want manufacturers to provide simple and clear information on packaging. It also found that 77 per cent of men find it difficult to choose household products (no surprises there) and resolve their confusion by reaching for something large with a recognisable brand.

Then we come to a worrying statistic. It seems that just over half of us have become angry or irritated in the supermarket over the past six months. The other half must have been lying - or, to use the polite expression, repressing reality - because supermarket dating has now clearly been replaced by supermarket hating.

We hate the Muzak, the maddening practice of changing the location of the soup every month or so, the way the delicatessen queue only gets longer. We dislike all children in the store (especially our own), and almost all other shoppers (except those engaged in revealing pre-divorce arguments over frozen peas). We especially hate the way famous people, a la Barbara Follett, go to supermarkets to meet "ordinary folk". None of which has prevented a boom in supermarket business. It emerged this week, for example, that Marks & Spencer is to take on 2,000 staff in response to a rise in profits of 11 per cent.

Information overload, Guesstimation, Doublespeak. Strange people, Bad music. No wonder one of my friends finds that supermarkets are the perfect place for a good cry. I would, too, if I could only figure out which tissues are better value for money.