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10 Sneaky Ways Supermarkets Trick You into Spending More Money

Impulse shopping is inevitable.

On average, 40% of the items you buy at the supermarket are actually impulse purchases. That’s nearly half of your grocery bill!

We – except the most stringent shoppers among us – can’t help but cave into our temptations and splurge a little extra on that box of freshly baked cookies that just so happened to catch our eye at the bakery. Who can blame us, though? The box of cookies was right there on a cute little display, beckoning to us with its scrumptious aroma and the “$2 off!” sign attached to it, wasn’t it?

When it comes to impulse shopping, we often chalk it up to a guilty pleasure or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While that may be true, we’re actually placing way too much blame on ourselves. We don’t realize that our impulse shopping is actually the store’s doing. Without our knowledge, we’re being manipulated into spending more money than planned.

The bigwigs at the grocery store are smarter than you think. They’ve conjured up a bunch of tricks to prey upon unsuspecting shoppers, including you. It’s time to smarten up and beat them at their own game!

To start, let’s take a look at the following 10 sneaky tricks grocery stores use:

Playing slow or depressing music

Slow music is relaxing, isn’t it? Grocery stores know that, and they use it to their advantage. When they want you to move slower and linger around the store, they play slow music. Sometimes your grocery store will play depressing music, often from the 80s or 90s, because it will put you in a depressed mood… and then what happens? You go on a shopping binge and stock up on comfort food. Once in a while, when the grocery store is really busy, they will play fast music to get you to move, move, move (and buy, buy, buy).

Want to beat this trick? Simply bring a music player with your favorite songs, and pop in the earbuds before entering the grocery store.

Hiding the shopping baskets

Have you ever wondered why it’s usually so darn hard to find the shopping baskets upon entering the grocery store? Here’s why: the grocery store wants you to skip the small baskets and use their large carts. If you push a giant cart around the store (instead of carrying around a small basket), you will feel tempted to fill the cart with impulse items you don’t even need.

To beat this trick, take the time to look for a shopping basket, or just carry everything in your arms (especially if you’re on a quick run to the supermarket).

Giving out free samples

The nice folks at the grocery store give away free samples just because they love their customers, right?

Well, that’s what they want you to think. The truth is, they want to guilt you, and every customer, into purchasing the product on display. By giving you free samples, they want you to feel inclined to give them something in return in order to “even the score”. Don’t fall for this psychological trick! Just try the sample, and don’t buy the product unless you really, really like it.

Rearranging the store

Supermarkets regularly move items around the store in an attempt to make customers walk around the store longer. Supermarkets also place new products on shelves where top-selling items are usually found. This is to manipulate shoppers into buying and trying new products.

Placing the most profitable items at eye level

This is probably the oldest trick in the grocer’s handbook. Most customers don’t have time to look around, so they would go for what they see right in front of them. That’s why grocery stores place the most profitable items at eye level, and hide the more bargain-priced items on the top or bottom shelves.

If you’re looking to save money, take the time to scan up, down, and all around the category for the best deal you can find. Also, beware the aisle-end specials, because it’s yet another trick…

Putting items at the end of the aisle

Aisle-end items are convenient for quick shoppers who don’t have the time to run up and down the aisles. However, contrary to popular belief, they’re not always the most budget-friendly option. It’s hard to tell, because similar items aren’t around to allow you to comparison shop. The real reason those items are placed at the end of the aisle is because food manufacturers actually pay the grocery store to have their merchandise put there.

Tucking away the milk at the back of the store

Did you know that milk is the #1 product bought at supermarkets? That being said, why is milk always tucked away in the back of the store? Well, here’s why:

The supermarket wants you to spend as much time as possible in the store, so if you run to the grocery store just to pick up milk, you will have to make the trek to the back. That means passing profitable items, yummy treats, and enticing products you can easily grab before reaching the milk or the checkout line. This is also why they place other common items like eggs, butter, or bacon back there with the milk.

Understaffing the checkout lines

The supermarket is not short-staffed. It’s quite the opposite. They have plenty of cashiers ready to come at their beck and call, yet they still keep only a few checkout lines open. It’s so you will spend enough time in line to take notice of the highly profitable items strategically placed in the checkout line and impulsively grab a few candy bars or magazines.

Use a self-checkout machine if you don’t have too many items in your cart. However, if you have no choice but to use regular checkout, try to distract yourself as much as possible until you reach the cash register.

Enticing you with smells

When you smell something nice, your brain releases dopamine, a chemical in your brain that makes you feel joyful. The supermarket takes advantage of that by placing freshly baked goods or the floral department near the entrance. Not only will the enticing smells of flowers or freshly-baked bread put you in high spirits, they will also make you more likely to impulse spend. Enjoy the delicious aromas, but don’t forget to follow your shopping list!

Misting the produce

Humans are naturally inclined towards shiny things, and grocery stores know this. Despite the fact that water makes produce rot faster, most grocery stores mist their fruits and vegetables a good number of times a day. It makes the produce look fresher, shinier, and more valuable than it actually is.

How to beat them at their own game

Supermarkets prey those tricks upon us because they want us to spend as much money as possible, so the only way to beat them at their own game is to shop with cash. Cash is king when it comes to avoiding impulse spends. It allows you to limit your shopping cart to items you actually need. Also, you will find it emotionally harder to give up cash than it is to swipe a credit card, so you will be more inclined to spend less.

The bottom line: Ignore the tricks, spend as little time as possible in the store, and get only what you need … with cash!

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Join the Discussion

  • gabydewilde

    Here they put the cardboard boxes far away from the check out. Ask for those, it is something you can take home for free. No need to buy a bag. Having a bunch of boxes at home can also come in handy. (I use to move a lot) The supermarket wants to sell you a bag with their logo on it.

    Then the biggest trick of the supper market is to sell you everything, this way they can take less per item but more in total, it may prevent you from going to the little stores and that can put those out of business. If the small shop has a quality product you like then you should bother to always buy there. Don’t be lazy, these people need you as much as you need them. If you skip the baker half the time you could be eating factory bread the rest of your life.

  • doug

    Much ado about nothing. I disagree with every item except the free samples which are few in this market area unless I go to Costco; generally the packages there are too large for a single person to deal with. The other factors shouldn’t influence a shopper with common sense. The main rule is within your control, not the store – don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry!

  • katherine

    Out of all the supermarkets near me, I can say they almost do literally none of these things. This seems very outdated.

    • MC

      where do you shop? they do all of those things at all the albertsons and safeways in my city.

  • 1goodday

    This is ridiculous a best…. end of the isle.. because its a good deal or is a deal for that particular isle… Our grocery store plays a variety of music that is fun and enjoyable…. the bakery has always been at the front of the store mainly because they come in much earlier in the day and are there alone in the department…. milk and eggs are at the back to be close or against the dairy cooler in order for the product to stay cool or easier access to put up the product.. the economy and the district managers only allow so many associates per day to match the sales of the previous year… no one pays to have their things displayed.. when the vendors sell well so does the store cause they also make profit on the item… they rearrange the isles becuase the reps and the store want a particular amount of product on the shelves and the amount changes.. some things are removed and discontinued so there is more or less space for things on the shelf…. they try to make the shopping more of a convenience for the customer… by giving out free samples i get an idea here and there for a recipe if i don’t know what to make that night.. i’ve gotten tons of ideas from samples.. and its probably on sale too….so i have been in retail a total of 24 year on and off for the same company.. I can’t say all company’s don’t do these things but the good ones don’t have to! They want sales not high dollar as much as quantity… This story is not on with the times….

    • MC

      lol oh honey you’re so naive arent you?

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