Tricks of the Trade: Supermarkets


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Today's modern supermarket is a micro-managed, computerized retail laboratory designed to gobble up your paycheck. Defend yourself by learning these nine tricks of the grocery store trade.

Grocery list? Check. Coupons? Got ’em. Eat a snack so you won’t shop hungry? Done. Mentally prepared to resist impulse buys? Totally.

Now you’re properly prepared for your weekly trip to the supermarket. Or are you?

No matter how hard you try, supermarkets often find a way to eat up more of your budget than you bargained for.  Don’t feel bad. Today’s modern supermarket is less a store than a micro-managed, computerized retail laboratory whose sole purpose is getting you to part with as much cash as possible.

In this video, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson talks about the tricks of the supermarket trade. Watch it, then read on to see other grocery store gimmicks and how you can avoid them.

1. Store layout

It’s no coincidence that staples like milk, bread, and eggs are placed in vastly different locations within the store, and nowhere near the entrance.

Is it possible you can run a gauntlet of 10,000 impulse buys on your way to the milk without succumbing? Sure. Is it likely? No.

Solution: Only go to the store when you really need a restroom. That way when you run the gauntlet, you’ll actually run it.

2. Grouping foods that go together

You spot a bag of some heavily-advertised tortilla chips. That’s OK – you’ve got a coupon. Too bad you don’t have one for those jars of salsa sitting next to them.

In the blink of an eye, they’re both in your cart. So much for that carefully planned list.

Solution: Wear these “anti-ogle goggles” and you’ll only be able to see what’s directly in front of you.

3. Sweet smells

It’s a secret real estate agents have known for years: The smell of freshly-baked cookies can help turn an open house into your next home.

If the smell of fresh-baked cookies will persuade you to drop $200,000 on a house, how are you supposed to resist dropping $4.95 on fresh-baked cookies?

Solution: Keep fresh-baked cookies in your car and stuff your face on the way to the store.

4. Biggie-sized carts

Grocery store carts are growing. In fact, carts at Whole Foods have almost doubled in size in recent years, marketing consultant Martin Lindstrom told Today in a 2011 interview.

Not only does a giant cart allow you to buy more, a half-empty cart makes it appear you’re missing something.

Solution: Don’t ever use a cart. Only buy what you can carry in both hands. 

5. Shelf placement

The most profitable items are often placed at eye level. If you’re looking for mustard, for example, you’ll immediately spot the gourmet and spiced mustards, but you may have to look down to find the more budget-friendly house brands.

Solution: Duck walk through the store. It’s good exercise and you’ll stay at bargain level. Stand up when you get to the check-out, however, or they may not see you.

6. Checkout line items

According to Business Insider, another home for profitable items is the check-out line. While you’re waiting for the cashier to ring you up, you might pick up a magazine or a pack of chewing gum.

Solution: After you finish the cookies in your car, pop some gum in your mouth. As for magazines, pick one up. Just put it back before you pay. Hey, they shouldn’t have made you wait.

7. Music

Punk would probably make you want to get through the store as quickly as possible, which is why grocery stores play easy-listening tunes. The more relaxing the experience, the longer you stay. The longer you stay, the more you spend.

Solution: Obviously an iPod with blaring punk and a pair of ear buds. Whatever you do, however, don’t start singing along.

8. Mislabeled meats

While we hope stores wouldn’t deliberately include the packaging in the weight or add ice to increase it, according to this TLC article, some stores use tricks like that to overstate the weight of packaged meats.

Solution? Bring your own pricing labels from home. If it feels light, fix it.

9. Store “deals”

Sometimes promotions help you save a few bucks. Other times, they don’t. Ten Greek yogurt cups for $10 may seem like a deal, but will you be able to eat your money’s worth before they expire?

Solution: To make sure you get your money’s worth, when nobody’s looking, eat a few right there in the store. If you’re not too full from cookies.

The bottom line

While our proposed solutions were obviously (we hope) a joke, the merchandising tricks of the supermarket trade are anything but. The real solution is to be aware you’re being played and respond accordingly. Your first line of defense is understanding the rules of engagement.

Every business uses tricks of the trade –  nothing sinister about that. But just as retailers are free to use them, you’re free to understand and resist them.

Stacy Johnson

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