It’s no secret that supermarkets are in a cut-throat business. That’s why managers are always looking for ways to separate you from your money.
With competition fierce, global food prices rising and a slump in consumer spending, the supermarkets have become cannier about shaking people down. Here are five tactics to watch out for.
1. Supermarkets keep staples far apart (and hide the eggs)
No supermarket in its right mind puts all the staples in the same place (these are meat and vegetables,bread, dairy and cleaning products). Oh no, they figure out what most people put in a basket and place all these items as far away from each other as possible, to encourage people to walk up and down each aisle. Many supermarkets hide the eggs away from the bread or dairy sections (ask where they are instead of playing aisle hunting game).
Take a good look at the layout of your local supermarket, and figure out what you need to go in advance. Now go directly from one area to the next skipping all the sections you don’t need.
2. They prey on the hungry
No, really! Never, ever go to the supermarket on an empty stomach. Eat before you go to the supermarket. If you haven’t got any food in the house, buy a snack first and eat it as you walk around.
Research from Cornell University’s Food & Brand lab has shown that people who haven’t eaten all afternoon purchase higher calorie food without even realising it. When you are hungry you buy more food, and worse food. “Even short-term fasts can lead people to make unhealthy food choices,” said Amy Yaroch, head of the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition in Omaha, Nebraska.
3. You should look down, not up
The most profitable (and, therefore, expensive) products are always placed at eye level. Many supermarkets charge distributors and manufacturers a fee for product placement, and this fee is added to the price of the product. The best deals are either up high or especially stacked down low. So when you go to the supermarket it pays to shoegaze.
4. Treats are purposely near the end of the supermarket
You’re tired; you’re bored and you have just had to choose between two-dozen different types of secretly identical washing powder. All this decision-making has sapped your will and destroyed your common sense. Just after the cleaning products often marks the start of all the treats: crisps, cakes, biscuits and soft drinks. These hit you when your willpower is at its lowest, depleted from making all the other decisions at the shop.
If you’re going to buy cola, biscuits or crisps head to these aisles before returning to the vegetable patch near the entrance. Buy your treats first.
5. Wake up and smell the coffee
Many people believe that supermarkets pipe the smell of bread into their stores. This artificial bread story isn’t strictly true; most supermarkets have now installed actual bakeries in store to create the smell and make the bread.
It’s certainly true in other stores: Cinemas routinely pipe the smell of popcorn into the foyer, and M&M’s World in London famously injects a powerful aroma of chocolate into the store. But the fake aroma scam isn’t in the store, it’s in the products themselves. Many branded products have fake aroma injected into the packaging.
Instant coffee is probably the biggest culprit here. That amazing smell you get when you open a jar of premium instant coffee for the first time. Sorry to break this to you: it’s fake. It doesn’t mean the coffee is better quality, just that they’ve spent your money on some fake aromas. Once you realise this, you’ll notice that many instant coffees taste the same.
Tips to save money and beat supermarkets at their own game
There are some great hacks for supermarket shopping. From getting the best deals, to finding identical food at a lower price, or just knowing how to tell when you’re being played.
Every little trick helps. Here’s what to look out for…
Compare prices online
Now that supermarkets are putting all their information online it’s getting a lot easier to compare prices. You usually buy more or less the same things from each store, but they all price different ranges to attract different shoppers. It’s well worth taking the time to crank a typical shopping list through a site like Frugl to find out which supermarket offers the best deal. Most of us buy similar sorts of products every time we go to the supermarket, and different supermarkets markup and down different products. Then get over your innate bias and head to the supermarket that’s right for you.
Successful shoppers have a list or budget (but not both)
Most people go to the supermarket with a mental list of products and no idea how much they are going to spend. If you are looking to cut costs, you should make either a list of products and stick to it; or decide on a budget and stick to it. If the list approach is tough, you can have one or two empty ‘treat’ slots on your list. But don’t buy anything that isn’t on the list or isn’t in a treat slot. A better approach is often to set a budget and count up your products as you go. Stick to the budget. If you are finding it hard to stick to a budget consider leaving the card at home and taking the exact amount of cash you have budgeted for.
Basics cleaning products are perfectly good enough
You should take your toiletries and cleaning products right down to the home brand level as a matter of course. The products don’t need tasting, are just as effective at cleaning, and the savings are huge. The only thing that separates cleaning products is branding and advertising. Don’t even pay attention to any marketing, advertising or packaging. A cloth is a cloth. Buy the cheapest one in the store.
This article has been updated since its original publication.