But much of this evolution is just a thinly veiled attempt to get consumers to buy, buy, buy. In fact, it even has a name: "supermarket science." Here are some of the most common tricks grocers use to get us to overspend—and how to sidestep them to save.
1. They give you a really (REALLY) big shopping cart.
I’m always on the lookout for the smaller carts when I shop because they’re easy to maneuver. But most of the carts at the stores near my house are super-sized. I mean, they are huge. That is not an accident.
- What to do: In grocery store tests, when cart sizes were doubled, customers bought up to 40% more! So resist the temptation to fill your cart. Buy what you need, then head for checkout.
2. They try to make you drool.
This is no joke. Freshly baked bread (complete with intercom announcements about the same), roasting chicken, free savory samples…if something smells good, just know that is deliberate.
- What to do: Try to shop on a full stomach for starters. Also, remind yourself that the scent is a ploy—and resolve not to let them convince you to overspend!
3. They encourage you to take it slow.
One of the best ways to avoid overspending is to bring your own music with you to the grocery store. Have you ever noticed that in-store music is slow, relaxing, "easy listening" type stuff? Grocers want you to stroll, not dash—and tests prove that you will add more items to your cart if they succeed.
- What to do: Power up your iPod or smartphone and put on some brisk dance or workout tunes.
4. They put kid-friendly items at kids' eye level.
Oh yes. Did you ever find yourself thinking, "Oh, man, I wish my child hadn't seen that!" There’s a reason sugary cereals and snacks are placed lower down on shelves—because that’s where little eyes can see them!
- What to do: Let your child ride in the front of the cart (where he or she sees grown-up things like you do). Or try to shop "sans kiddos." Or set up an agreement that each child can pick one "fun" personal item per shopping trip—preferably one you have a coupon for (this also teaches young ones couponing skills)!
5. They hide the staples (and the restrooms) far away from well-traveled routes.
If you want milk, where do you usually find it? All the way to the back of the store, right? This tactic is designed to get you filling up your empty cart with flowers, baked goods, end cap promo items—typically items with high profit margins—as you work your way back towards what you really need.
- What to do: Go collect your staple items first. You will fill your cart, check items off your list and be much less likely to linger, browse and buy items you do not need.
6. They don't tell you about the many freebies you can get—just by asking.
Have you ever asked the butcher to slice up and pre-tenderize your meat, or the bakery to slice your fresh bread? What about getting free fresh greens to go with your cut flowers in the floral department, or a pretty ribbon and tissue paper to wrap around your bouquet? These add-ons are free—if you know to ask.
- What to do: Ask for what you want or need. If it is possible, there’s a good chance the store will do it for you! (This also goes for products you wish they would stock but don't.)
7. They deliberately confuse you about which items are on sale.
I have spent more than a little time standing by an "on sale" sign, trying to figure out which of the items in front of me is actually the one that is on sale. Often, this is because the "on sale" sign is placed in between two items rather than right in front of one.
- What to do: When in doubt, ask. If there’s no one around to ask, take both items to the front with you and watch as the cashier rings them up. Then pick the one that’s on sale.
8. They put full price items on end cap (end of aisle) displays.
Here, the grocer has sold that valuable, high visibility end cap space to one of their manufacturers. The manufacturer is using the end cap space to market a product. Sometimes that product is on sale, but often it’s new and full price.
- What to do: Look before you grab. If you can't tell for sure whether the item is on sale or not, hunt it down in its regular aisle and compare the pricing with similar products.
9. They sell bone-in meat by the pound—just like boneless meat.
Who wins if you pay for a bone you can't eat? The grocer, of course!
- What to do: Ask the butcher to de-bone and slice or grind up the meat, then weigh it for checkout. You may save as much as 30%!
10. They mark an item up, and then run a "10 for 10" promotion.
This is one of the sneakiest tricks grocers have up their sleeves. Whether the item remains full price or is actually marked up, the goal is to get you to buy 10 of something when you were planning to buy only one, a few…or none.
- What to do: Compute the price per item, then compare it with other similar items on its aisle. You will soon see whether the item is a good buy or not.