The grocery store wants you to spend as much money as possible. You may not realize it, but supermarkets spend a ton of money each year working with industry analysts and consumer data specialists to track shoppers and develop algorithms and other strategies to increase consumer spending. This goes way beyond impulse candy bars at the checkout and giving out free samples. The marketing analysts have carefully tapped into every one of your senses as a shopper so that they may increase how much you’re willing to spend on products. These marketing strategies are more like magic tricks, ensuring the shopper doesn’t even notice how every single detail of a grocery store is thoroughly set up for the very reason of maximizing spending. Make no mistake about it – nothing is by accident! As a consumer, it’s important that you are aware of these strategies, so you can keep a clear head while grocery shopping and not be lured into spending more than you need to. Here are some of the most common approaches supermarkets employ to seduce you as a consumer:
- Meandering Aisles: Years ago, grocery stores were composed strictly of straight rows of aisles with specific categories. Have you noticed that many now have smaller, more broken up aisles and zigzagged displays? This is not an accident. Stores would rather have you meander around casually rather than lapping through long aisles. The purpose is to get you a little “lost” and create the illusion that you’re in a bountiful marketplace to browse through leisurely rather than just running an errand with purpose. The goal? To get you to spend more time in the store, which will ultimately lead to more spending.
- End Cap Confusion: An endcap is a product display placed at the end of an aisle. Most consumers believe that this the go-to spot for items on sale, but this is not always the case. Items are strategically placed here to get your attention, not because the item has the cheapest price.
- Appealing smells and sights in the front: Supermarkets deliberately manipulate your senses when you first enter the store. Placing baked goods, delicious smelling rotisserie chicken, and colorful produce towards the entrance of the store activates your salivary glands and makes you more likely to purchase more. Even placing fresh flowers in the front is a marketing strategy that has been shown to put consumers in a good mood, which increases the likelihood that they will purchase more.
- Cross promotions: Cross promotion takes place when supermarkets will place like items that pair well together in the same display. For instance, having a refrigerated basket of fresh mozzarella next to tomatoes in the produce section so the consumers will more likely pick up both at the suggestion that they will make a nice caprese salad. While this isn’t an entirely bad idea, it’s something to be mindful of. You’re much more likely to buy that more expensive dip if it’s placed right next to the potato chips rather than all by itself in the dairy aisle.
- Sales on Multiples: 2 for $3.00 may sound like a great deal on that expensive shave gel your husband prefers – but most sales like this don’t actually require you to purchase two in order to get the discounted price of $1.50 each. It’s a marketing strategy to make you believe the offer is too great to pass up. Note that some sales on multiples do require you to purchase both, but if you’re unsure of the signage, always ask. Remember, you shouldn’t be buying more than you need, otherwise the sale is not economical for you.
- Premium selection at counters: The butcher, deli, seafood, and bakery selections purchased at their respective counters does not necessarily mean they are any fresher, healthier, or higher quality than the same items located down the aisles. While there’s nothing wrong with seeking assistance from the knowledgeable employees working behind these counters, you can usually pick up packages of the same items they dish out for you elsewhere in the store and there is a bigger variety in price.
- Bulk isn’t always best: I am usually a huge fan of promoting bulk buying, but the largest size of an item isn’t always the cheapest. Grocery stores know how to advertise their bulk and family-size items to make all largest versions of items sound like the best deal so consumers will naturally select them. However, the best deal is actually based on unit price – this is the price per ounce, size, or unit of something. You need to compare the unit price of items to see what size is really the best deal. If the store does not identify unit price, this is where your calculator comes in handy.
- Remodels and layout changes: Do you ever step into your grocery store one day realizing that they’ve changed the layout around and you suddenly can’t find where anything is? This is completely intentional. Stores undergo many remodels and plan-o-gram changes (diagrams showing where retail items should be placed) to get you to think something is new and different when it’s really not – it’s just been rearranged. Stores know that most shoppers are running in to just grab a few things (see here for more of why that is an economical no-no).
- Produce Placement: Stores will almost always place beautiful produce in front because its attractiveness and bright colors puts you in a good mood. Marketers depend on the benefit of this - if you buy lots of healthy produce, it will make you rationalize the other things you put in your cart afterwards. The pay-off for the store? You’re ultimately buying more.
- Misleading flyers and circulars: Just like with endcaps, not everything advertised in a store’s weekly flyer is actually on sale. Marketers depend on the fact that the majority of consumers can’t remember the regular price of most items other than milk, bread, and eggs. What may seem like a sale price on a circular is actually just that particular item being advertised. Make sure to double check the regular price versus sale price in store.
I often think of my shopping experience as sort of a battle between the marketing specialists and my shopping savvy – and I always like to win. We can’t blame supermarkets for trying their best to make you spend money, but it makes it all the more important that as a consumer, you arm yourself with the knowledge of these strategies so you can be sure to ignore them as much as possible. Being an aware, smart shopper will give you more confidence that you can stick to a budget and be more mindful of what you’re spending. Good luck out there!