4 tricks supermarkets use to make you spend more money

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There’s a reason your grocery bills may be spiraling out of control.


Key points

  • Groceries are a big part of many people’s budgets.
  • There are tactics that grocery stores employ to get consumers to buy more products.
  • Don’t let digital coupons and end caps make products seem more special than they really are.

As someone who is serious about budgeting and saving money, I generally consider myself to be a pretty disciplined shopper. I can walk into my local retail store and walk out in just socks if that’s the only thing on my list, and I don’t usually splurge online or shop out of boredom.

But when it comes to grocery shopping, I have a strong tendency to overdo it. In fact, I recently took a look at my credit card statement and was surprised to see how much my grocery bill was for the month since I was making an active effort to spend less.

Now, to some extent, that overspending is my fault. I like to eat and I like to buy a variety of products to keep things interesting and also to keep my kids from complaining.

But let’s also be clear: supermarkets are very good at getting consumers like me to spend extra money. Here are four tricks they tend to employ.

1. Hide basic items in the back of the store

In almost every supermarket I’ve been to, basic items like milk and eggs are commonly found in the back of the store. Of course, that may be more of a strategic cooling game than some grand conspiracy to make me walk the aisles and spend more money. But it tends to work to the benefit of my local store.

2. Offering digital coupons

At first glance, coupons may seem like supermarkets’ way of throwing customers a bone. After all, coupons make your purchases cheaper, right?

That may be true. But coupons also encourage you to buy items you might not otherwise have been interested in.

And these days, digital marketing makes it easier than ever for supermarkets to encourage extra spending. After all, you don’t even have to clip an actual coupon anymore. If you have a store card, you can load a digital coupon on it and use it to buy an item that sounds tempting but wasn’t on your radar.

3. Use caps to make products look special

Walk around your supermarket and you will usually see specific items on display at the end of certain aisles. These plugs are strategically designed to entice consumers into buying items they don’t need.

Just the other week, I was walking through my supermarket and noticed a huge display of Oreo cookies. And do you know what happened? I bought a few packs, not because I love Oreos (I think they’re okay), but because the marketing gurus who work for my local store made those rows of cookies look so tempting.

4. Not having watches

Have you ever noticed that supermarkets don’t have clocks on the walls? That is intentional. Grocery stores don’t want you to feel pressed for time. Instead, they want you to take your time scouring the aisles for new products to add to your cart.

Granted, most of us have watches or cell phones to combat that strategy. But let’s face it: how often do you take out your phone while loading your cart with products? Mine tends to stay in my pocket or bag so it doesn’t accidentally fall out, which means I commonly lose track of time while grocery shopping.

how to fight back

If you know you’ve gone overboard at the grocery store, there are a few things you can do to limit your spending. First, make lists before you buy and stick to them. That way, you’ll be less likely to venture down different aisles and be tempted by products you weren’t originally looking for.

Second, buy the sales, but only in the context of the products you commonly buy. If puff pastry shells are on sale and half price but you can’t remember the last time you baked, don’t buy them. But if your favorite brand of yogurt is on sale, load up as much as your fridge can handle.

Finally, if the time comes, stop buying with credit cards and pay for your purchases in cash. If you go that route, you’re more likely to stick to the items on your list. Of course, this solution isn’t perfect, as it means giving up perks like cash back on grocery purchases. But if you think it’s necessary, do it.

I for one am somewhat resigned to spending a large portion of my income on groceries. The consolation is that I am buying lots of healthy items for my family to enjoy. And if I end up impulse-buying a few Oreos from time to time, it really won’t affect my budget much (although my waistline is a different story).

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