To shop is to engage in psychological conflict, at least it is if you buy your stuff in supermarkets. This is not an idle or hyperbolic claim. It is the plain, unvarnished truth.

Supermarkets see their customers as units to be manipulated. They devote huge resources to this process despite the fact that at the end of the day it is very likely a zero sum game. People probably don't buy any more and if they do the amount involved may be fairly small.

What they are trying to do is to get you to spend more in their store. They are simply trying to outflank their competitors yet at the end of the day this competition costs you in two ways.

Firstly, if the supermarkets did not engage in these expensive tricks they could probably sell their products cheaper. Secondly, part of the game is to keep you in the store longer. They are deliberately stealing your time.

Everything is done to confuse. There are no windows. There are no clocks. Lighting is subdued, perhaps even blue. This is a strange, alien, possibly even aquatic world.

Then the supermarket will make sure you don't know where what you're trying to buy is. Goods are constantly shifted around. You may think this is in order to give prominence to seasonal goods or promotions, but it isn't. That's just a smokescreen.

The real reason for all the expensive shelf stacking is that they don't want you to whizz round the store on autopilot, buying only the things you always buy. They want you to look.

If you are forced to search you may find things you decide to buy on impulse. Impulse buying is what it is all about for the supermarket. They know you are going to buy the stuff on your shopping list so to increase their revenue they need to encourage impulse buying. In addition to forcing you to look, they keep you in the store longer, and they have reams of evidence that tells them the longer you are there, the more you spend.

Hence the store designs which attempt to keep you walking round a pre-ordained route, even when you only want a tin of beans. Hence the lengthy queues at check outs which make you think 'if I'm here I might as well buy several items, since it's not worth queueing for one'.

Probably the worst thing is that these days goods are not individually priced. Supermarket labels seem deliberately designed to confuse and mislead. For example today I saw a label which said 3 tins for £2, with the £2 in blue and hard to read letters. Underneath there was a large 80p (in fact the price of just one tin). Anyone who looked at it quickly would think that it was three tins for 80p, a bargain. As it happened 3 tins for £2 was not much of a bargain at all.

It often takes a lot of effort to work out exactly the label that refers to the product you are interested in (if there is a label of any kind). But does it matter? Supermarket goods are cheaper, aren't they?

They probably are but the supermarkets are constantly re-modelling their pricing in order to find out how they can maximise their income. For example the supermarket I use charges 82p for a pack of two garlic loaves, but only 40p if you buy one! It has been doing this off and on (another technique supermarkets use is only to supply goods intermittently to force you to buy other similar but probably more expensive products) for months. Why it does it, I do not know. But everyone must agree there should be a label that shows you it is cheaper to buy two individual packets rather than a pack of two!

Of course the council's consumer protection department could probably deal with this but they don't seem to bother. Perhaps they are too busy chasing people selling pirated DVDs, in order to prop up the multinational distribution companies!