Retail experts often talk about shoppers being on ’auto pilot’ when they enter a store. They’re so familiar with a shop that, because they know exactly what they want, they know exactly where to find it.

This really hit home to me recently when an elderly friend, who had become temporarily housebound, asked me to do her shopping for her.

My go-to supermarket is Sainsbury’s so I thought it would be a bit of a doddle. Well, I got that wrong. Her list was quite specific. For example, ’tomatoes (not Italian)’. Now, I know which tomatoes I usually buy for Mr West and I but having to scan all the tomatoes on the shelf to find the non-Italian ones was a novelty. But, even when I’d found some, I had to think whether she meant cherry ones, big ones, on-the-vines ones? The choice is immense. Then there were sprouts on the stem or loose, I wondered. Household cleaner branded or own brand?

As the lady in question is on quite a tight budget, I decided to go for a mix of some own brand and some branded stuff that was on special offer. At times, I felt I was on some sort of game show and my choices would be rewarded or otherwise.

Anyway, the reason I am saying all this is because I realised I am that typical shopper on ’auto pilot’, heading down the aisles grabbing my favoured items. I can see now why supermarkets always seem to be changing things around in the hope that shoppers will wander down an unfamiliar aisle and happen upon a product that they just can’t live without.

I know it’s more difficult for independent retailers to move whole categories around that usually only happens as part of a major refit. Plus space is typically tight so certain product aisles are in certain places for a very good reason.

However, there is the opportunity to interrupt shoppers on ’auto pilot’ by placing free-standing display units strategically. Obviously not where they will bring traffic to a complete halt but where there’s room and where they’ll catch the eye. I’ve seen some very good examples of this in forecourt stores recently, particularly on the way to the till and they definitely work.