18 Sneaky Supermarket Tricks They Use to Get Your Money

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Did you know that when you’re grocery shopping, they use some cunning supermarket tricks to make you spend more money? With inflation running at a 39 year high right now, that is definitely hitting you below the belt when you think about groceries (sorry for the pun).

Woman food shopping who is tired of supermarket tricks

I’m afraid to say that inflation is not likely to disappear soon. Be alert and look for these supermarket tricks when you are shopping.

I wrote in the past about the many “tricks” that general retailers use in your favorite shops, especially around the holidays to get you to dig deep and spend more. (If you’re interested, here’s part 1 and part 2.) But you actually are more influenced each week at the grocery store than anyplace else you shop! Don’t think that’s true? Take a look at this!

Don’t Be So Trusting

If you thought the supermarkets were on your side, you are being very naïve. While there are lots of great deals that genuinely could save you bucks, don’t forget that supermarkets are out to make money from you, plain and simple!

From sneaky money-saving offers that don’t actually save you cash, to multi-buys that cost the same as buying individual items, supermarkets employ a whole host of tricks to get their hands on your hard earned moolah. Arm yourself with the facts and think twice before grabbing that so-called “special offer”.

I spent a decade working with supermarkets and I can tell you they are really good at what they do and getting better all the time. Here is what I learned and you should know.

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Supermarket Tricks That Make You Spend More

1. Floor layouts designed to keep you spending

It’s crazy, but you wouldn’t believe the amount of time and effort that goes into the planning of the layout of a supermarket, all with the intention of encouraging you to spend more cash.

2. Playing slow music

This makes you feel less rushed and happy to spend more time (and money!) in the store.

3. Look at all those beautiful fruits and veggies

They put healthy fruit and veggies at the front so you shop there first and don’t feel guilty about the less healthy foods that go into your basket later as you walk around.

4. What’s that smell?

The moment you walk in the door at your local supermarket, you can smell the bread baking or the rotisserie chicken roasting in the deli section. That’s because stores know those smells will get your salivary glands working and you’ll buy more.

5. Keeping the eggs and milk in strange places

Talk about knowing how to get you to buy more! The stores put all of the dairy products that you constantly use like milk, eggs, and butter as far from the front door as they can and you end up on an egg hunt (and not the Easter kind). Placing essential items like milk at the back so you have to look for them (and come across a few things you don’t actually need but want to buy along the way) is a common strategy.

6. Stacking more expensive products at eye level

Branded products are at eye level while cheaper alternatives are higher or lower where you may not see them. And stocking popular combinations (like tortilla chips and salsa) next to each other encourages you to buy both.

7. What’s with these checkout lanes?

Supermarkets crowd the checkout lanes with last-minute “essentials” to encourage impulse buying. That’s a total spending trap.

8. Using smaller floor tiles along certain aisles

They use smaller floor tiles along the aisles that have more expensive items so the sound of your carts wheels speeding up will encourage you to slow down and spend longer looking at the shelf items. Pretty mind-blowing stuff, right?

9. Bogus buys

The bogus buys you buy like the classic buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO) offer is popular but may not be a good deal. Too often these offers are extremely deceptive.

You may just be tricked into buying way more of a product than you intended to. For example, you might come across offers such as 3 for $3 when the item is individually priced at $1 each anyway. See how that works?

Since you can’t possibly know the prices of every item your supermarket carries (or even the ones you buy almost every time you shop), track prices and keep a price book. Chart the sale cycles and refer to it when necessary. Tracking prices over a period of a few weeks will give you a price book and you will know when to stock up when the items are at their best prices.

10. Deals that are just plain phony

When walking around your supermarket aisles, it’s likely you’ll be inundated with lots of brightly colored signs for “top deals”, “lowest prices ever” or other not-to-be-missed deals. They are said to be products that have been reduced to a cheaper price. I recommend having a good look at what the original price of the item was before you buy. Many times these so-called “deals” had been the same price for six months or more. That’s not a special price, is it?

11. The more you buy, the more you use?

Once upon a time you used to buy a 6-pack of soda at the supermarket and then you’d drink those 6 cans during the week. Next week you do the same and so on and so on. But, nowadays you most likely are buying a 12-pack or a 24-pack of soda because that’s the current standard size you see on the shelves. That’s not any kind of an accident, but actually a winning strategy when it comes to selling!

You’re going to start drinking 12 cans a week when you have 12 cans in your home. When buying larger sizes, the stores know that that can and will make your usage habits change as a result. Think about how many jumbo, giant, and supersized things you hear about and see around these days. It’s science wrapped in a trick!

12. Was the shopping cart always that big?

In case you hadn’t noticed, shopping carts are much bigger than years ago and there’s a reason for that. Studies have shown that people tend to shop until they fill the cart up and the bigger it is, the more they buy! Buy just what’s on your list and then this won’t be your problem.

13. The “leaving outdated promotions on display” mistake

Some stores are perfect at posting their new sales on time and being clearly marked. But some will deliberately keep their displays with promotional branding on display up after those deals have already ended. Why do that?

If you think it’s a great price (and maybe it was), you buy and then you get overcharged at the register with the “now price” that you had no idea about! They get away with it if you don’t look or check prices even at the register and if it’s a “mistake”, they just apologize. Make sure you always check that your promotion has been deducted at the check-out, and if not, show the display to a manager and ask for your money back. Some supermarkets will even give you the item free as a peace offering, so ask.

14. Misleading packaging

The fancy packaging of that “high quality” bacon can convince you it’s going to be much better, but will you really be able to taste any difference?

The packaging on premium brands is designed to tempt you into parting with those extra pennies, but in reality, your extra cash is just paying for that fancy packaging. On your weekly shopping trip, look for value brands, store and generic brands that can save you up to $500 a year!

15. The food to-go section

They always have the same food in much larger portions at cheaper prices in other areas of the supermarket. If you get that small version, it might include a plastic knife and fork, but you’ll pay a fortune for them.

16. Buying bulk?

If they have to tell you to buy bulk to save, it probably won’t save you. Thanks to wholesale stores, it has been drilled into us that buying bulk-sized products over smaller items will automatically involve a savings.

Buying a massive tub of butter rather than a small one can seem like a good deal because you’re saving on that expensive packaging right? But some supermarkets take advantage of that assumption and will price the larger tub higher than two smaller tubs which combined have the same weight.

They’ll often also make it tricky to work out the weight-to-price ratio by labelling one product in ounces and another in pounds to throw you off. Make sure you look at the shelf unit pricing to compare.

17. They make comparing impossible

This might totally go against your best instincts, but while packaged goods do normally cost more than loose items, this isn’t always the case.

Supermarkets rely on the fact you think this way, and will often make comparing items confusing. This is particularly the case with fresh produce like fruit and veggies. For example, packaged items will be priced per item, while the price for loose ones will be displayed in pounds.

18. Online shopping and the substitutions

Unfortunately, supermarkets use tricks when you’re food shopping online too. Nowhere is safe!

For example, they tempt you with ads and side bars on the order screen to get you to add to your order.

Also watch out for the “allow substitutes” box. Checking this means that they can change parts of your order if they’ve sold out, and replace it with something else, even more expensive items as replacements. You may not even notice it.

One Way to Avoid the Tricks

If you’re looking to avoid the supermarket tricks, at least some of them, one alternative is to shop online using Shop at Home (SAH) services. You can use Instacart to shop your local supermarket and get it delivered to your door (or pick up at the store). Yes, there is a fee, but you may save that using discounts and by sticking to your list, plus you’re saving time. There are plenty of other good reasons to use SAH, including shopping for heavy items, avoiding bad weather, staying home with small children, or physical impairments that make it difficult to shop. It’s worth a try…look for new customer discounts!

Final Thoughts

I have to admit that at one time I thought that I knew it all when it came to bargain hunting my way through the grocery store. After all, I had spent decades working in retail so I did have a leg up on the shopping experience and thought I knew every trick there was to get people to buy, buy, and buy more!

But then a new reality set in and I started to have my eyes opened when I began working for supermarket chains as a consultant. That’s when I learned exactly how supermarkets try to trick you into buying more every week when you make the time to shop!

They know how to fool you and trick you every time. This short list is only the tip of the iceberg. I can add dozens of additional tricks, some old and some brand new.

The bottom line is that grocery shopping is a key part of your budget (usually 10% or more of it), and weekly spending can actually make or break your budget too. In order to have a good chance of sticking to your monthly budget, you must have a good plan for food shopping. It’s something you must do and you do it every week!

Do you plan all of your food shopping trips every week? Are you sticking to your budget or do you even use one? Do you have a price book? What supermarket tricks are you aware of and how do you avoid them?

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