If you’ve ever been to a grocery store and purchased way more than you planned, join the crowd. We’ve all done it. Thanks to subtle marketing tactics, grocery stores are minefields designed for one thing: encouraging you to spend more.
Following are some common grocery store tactics and how you can avoid them.
Store layout: Just need milk and bread? You have to go all the way to the back of the store for milk, then through several more aisles for the bread. Grocery stores are betting that you will spot something else to buy along the way.
Special displays: Grouping foods that go together is a good way to sell more. Think about a display that includes sale priced tortilla chips, salsa, cheese dip and beer. Are you going to buy only the chips?
Music: Notice that music played in grocery stores is slow and easy to listen to. You may not even be aware that it is playing. The music is designed to promote a slow, relaxing trip through the store.
Smells: The smell of freshly baked bread or cookies is sure to make your tummy rumble. You might be drawn to the bakery to buy the item that smells so good, and you just might buy more treats than you planned.
Giant carts: The size of the grocery cart has nearly doubled throughout time. Why? A bigger cart allows you to buy more. Plus, a half-empty cart makes you think you aren’t buying much, encouraging you to spend more.
Shelf placement: The most profitable items for the store are placed at eye level. Comparable, less expensive brands are often on the lower shelves. Cereals that appeal to kids are often placed at cart level so they will be sure to notice and ask for those brands.
Tag changes: Sometimes just changing the way a food is priced can increase sales. You are more likely to notice a tag that says “4 for $3” and assume that it is a good deal. The original tag might have been the same price, but at $0.75 an item you don’t buy it. Take a calculator, and do the math.
End of aisle displays: You might think items placed at the ends of aisles are on sale, but that’s not always true. This is prime real estate, and manufacturers pay to have their products placed there. These are often high profit margin items.
Markups: Sometimes, a sale is actually a price increase. The regular price may be cheaper than the combined price suggested for the sale. For example, an item regularly priced at $1 might be on sale for 5 for $6.
Page 2 of 3 - One-item sales: Sometimes, a store will draw you in with an amazing price on one particular item. They are counting on you doing the rest of your shopping in the store, as well, when you could potentially get a better deal elsewhere.
Patterns: Most stores follow a sales pattern. If you study their flyers for a few months, you can learn when certain foods are likely to go on sale. That allows you to stock up and always get things on sale.
Fine print: This might involve coupon policies or purchase amounts. Sometimes to get the sale price advertised, you must purchase several different items or spend a certain amount. If you neglect to do this, the items will ring up regular price and you may not notice. Check sale ads carefully and ask for a copy of the store’s coupon policy.
Shrinking product size: Although you may pay the same price for your favorite cereal as you did a year ago, chances are the box is smaller. This is a common manufacturer trick. Raising the price might cause you to buy a competitors brand, so instead they just give you an ounce or two less than before and hope you don’t notice.
Crowded aisles/checkout areas: Ever wonder why there are so many displays near the checkout counter or crowding the aisles? If you are forced to move slower or wait in line, you’re more likely to succumb to impulse buys.
Reorganization: Have you ever walked in to your usual grocery store and noticed that nothing is where you remember it to be? Stores like to shake things up once in awhile and keep you wandering through the store looking for things. This leads to more impulse buying.
Remember these tips to counteract merchandising tricks:
Consolidate your trips so you aren’t constantly stopping and running in for just a couple things.
Make a grocery list, and stick to it.
Make a menu plan so you know what you need to buy.
Keep track of what you are spending on a calculator as you shop.
Shop alone when possible. Others can influence our purchases and make us spend more.
Always check shelf tags for unit prices or use your calculator to get the best deal on sizes.
Avoid aisles you don’t need.
Have a base knowledge of regular prices.
Consider bringing only cash to the store. Knowing you may not have enough cash for things not on your list will prevent those impulse buys.
Never shop hungry!
Page 3 of 3 - Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.