Did you know that I’m a trained community food advisor? I teach people about nutrition, cooking tips, and feeding their families on a budget among other things. The thing is, I fully admit that those grocery store commercials where they talk about “shopping without frills” don’t appeal to me. I want ALL the frills. I really dislike shopping so I need a little motivation when I have to go. But, by being aware of what the grocery stores are doing when it comes to trying to manipulate me into spending more money, I can choose which of those frills I’m willing to pay for (if any) and which I’m not. This is how grocery stores trick you into spending more money.
How Grocery Stores Trick You into Spending More Money
Making it pretty!
My favourite grocery store has a florist shop right at the front of the store where you enter. It’s hard not to smile when you see all those beautiful flowers the moment you want into the store. Also, right there near the entrance, there’s now a Starbucks. Yep, right inside the store! Most stores put their most attractive items right at the entrance and they make sure to appeal to as many senses as possible. All of the brightly coloured flowers and produce, the smell of the bakery, the coffee at Starbucks – they are luring me in from the second I set foot in the store.
What can you do about it? Be aware that this is happening. Have a list in your hands and stick to it. Add a fun splurge to your list so you don’t feel deprived and tempted to give in to ALL of the splurges. Sometimes mine is a bouquet of flowers (just those inexpensive $5 bunches of mixed flowers – my store even has a loyalty card and after 7 bouquets, I get one free!) and other times it’s a cannoli. Either way, knowing that I’m going to be “rewarded” makes it easier to stick to my planned shopping list.
Placing the essentials at the back of the store.
That’s where the milk is. And the bread. If I want to pick up those basics, I have to walk past the gourmet meats and cheeses, the cookies, and the truffle oil (yes, my store carries truffle oil). They do this on purpose, of course. Retailers don’t want you to just pop in, grab the milk, and go. They want to tempt you along the way.
What can you do about it? Again, stick to that list but plan for a splurge or two. You can allow yourself a set number of impulse buys per trip, or use my preferred method which is a set dollar amount. Cyn, you can have $10 to spend on items NOT already on your list. Another option? If all you’re doing is picking up milk and bread, do you need to go to the “fancy” grocery store? Go to the one without the frills – run in, grab what you need, and out you go.
Ah yes. The call of the food sample siren. It’s hard to resist. If they can get you to try that new food and you like it, even just the tiniest bit, you’re more likely to buy it right then and there. And of course, they often give you a coupon for it to seal the deal.
What can you do about it? Eat before you go shopping. You probably have heard the old rule of never shopping while hungry (trust me, I want to buy out the grocery store if I go there hungry!) and it really is a good tip. You’re less likely to partake in the samples if you’re not hungry. If you still can’t resist, this is where the “splurge budget” can come in handy again.
BIG grocery carts.
Some grocery stores have huge shopping carts. And they’re hoping you’re going to fill them! Psychologically, people can be more likely to indulge in extra items not on their lists when they still have room left in their carts.
What can you do about it? Choose the smaller cart option or a basket you have to carry yourself if available. These can really help you keep a lid on your impulse buys. And shop for what’s on your list first. If you’re the type who likes to browse, leave that for the end of your trip. Head to the perimeter of the store (where most of the healthier foods are located) and then only go down the specific aisles you need for the items on your list. If you fill your basket mostly with the items you need (as determined while thinking more rationally at home as you wrote out your list), you’ll have less space for non-necessities. Less space generally means you’re less likely to buy them!
Strategic product placement.
You’ll notice that stores often place the higher priced products at eye level, making you reach or bend to get to the bargains. We’ve also been trained to think of products on endcaps as bargains and stores use that thinking to their advantage.
What can you do about it? Know your prices. Confession time – I fall down on this one a lot. I’m not great at memorizing prices and I’m not terribly motivated to keep track of them. But I DO compare prices at the store. I do look at the signage to figure out which ones are the best value. I do have a few favourite products that I won’t sacrifice even for a much better price – Heinz Ketchup, I’m looking at you. So, I try to at least remember roughly how much the regular price of those products are so that when they go on sale, I can stock up. If you want to save money, don’t just grab for the first product you can reach. Don’t simply believe a store that puts up a sale sign.
Impulse items at the checkouts.
You know the ones I mean. The ones that often have your kids whining non-stop about how much they want some candy as you attempt to get checked out and get the heck out of the store. Stores do this on purpose. We’ll be embarrassed by the kids’ whining and grab something just to make it stop. Or we’ll be tempted ourselves and think, oh it’s only another couple of dollars.
What can you do about it? Go to the self checkout. There are no impulse items there. Problem solved.
Repeat after me, coupons aren’t always good deals. My store has them placed throughout the displays trying to entice me to buy certain products.
What can you do about it? Ask yourself, is this a product you would buy even without the coupon? If the answer is no, then don’t buy it. It’s as simple as that. If the answer is yes or maybe, dig a little further. Perhaps it’s a good deal but you have to buy a huge quantity in order to use the coupon. Or perhaps it’s one of those items you might put on your splurge list now and then – with the coupon, it’s a fantastic deal! Be really honest with yourself and only use the coupon if it truly is a bargain.
Recipes and cooking demonstrations.
I bought black garlic for the very first time because I saw a delicious sounding recipe using it in the produce department. I bought cipollini onions because of an in-store cooking demonstration. The more they can get you thinking about using the items in their store, the more likely you are to buy them.
What can you do about it? I go ahead and pick up the recipes but I take them home with me and think about it. I don’t buy the ingredients I need on the spot. Instead, I mull it over and if I decide to go ahead with making that recipe, it gets added to my meal plan and shopping list for the following week. This gives you time to look up alternate (cheaper) ingredients. It allows you to consider whether you still really do want to make that recipe. Don’t let the store push you into an impulse buy. Take control and decide in your own time.
The key to avoiding these grocery store tricks is to be aware of them. I like to think of it as a game. When I stay in control of my own shopping experience rather than succumbing to the retailer’s tricks, I win. And of course, I reward myself…with a splurge item at the grocery store.
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