6 Sneaky Ways Grocery Stores and Retailers Get You to Spend More Money

Author’s Note: This is the first article of a two part series this week on teaching you the skills to become a better shopper, for non-couponers and couponers alike. Tune back in on Wednesday for the second part of this series.

It’s happened to us all: we go to a store, or an online store, with a specific list in mind of the things that we need, and we come out of the store with a boatload more. Sometimes it’s only one more item, but it turns out that we didn’t even need to go to that store anyway. So how did we end up getting in our car, driving several miles away, and spending money?
As it turns out, a “sale” is not always a good deal. There are people who sit behind desks all day, thinking of the next best way to make you spend your money. It’s true; I used to work on this myself as a marketer! Also as it turns out, when you pay people a decent amount of money to figure out how to get a consumer to buy more things, the results can be lethal…and effective.

Here are some of their strategies:

1. Bait and Reel You In: Grocery stores have been doing this for years—advertising an insanely great deal so that you will make an extra trip to their store. But retailers have recently revved up this idea (as Budgeting in the Fun Stuff recently found out). Sneaky!

How to Combat: This is actually a great opportunity for you, as long as you have ultra financial discipline in order to go to a store, purchase the special only, and leave. I have the financial warrior in me…do you? Several grocery stores are now putting in fine print “with $10 purchase” in order to get these great deals. For us financial warriors, it is good to know that most stores include the purchase of the special item as part of the $10 that you spend. So, perhaps instead of purchasing just one of the special items, purchase enough to get to that $10 threshold, and now you’ve made yourself a cheap stockpile!

2. Switchamaroo: If you haven’t noticed yet, ever since gas prices shot up and the recession hit, many products have decreased their size without decreasing their price. Essentially, you are now paying more money per ounce, per pack, or per any weight than you were before on some of the following products (thanks to MousePrint.org): Lucerne yogurt went from 8 oz. to 6 oz., Haagen Dazs ice cream went from 16 ounces to 14 ounces, Bounty paper towels went from 138 sheets per roll to 128 sheets, Purina dog food went from 20 pounds to 18 pounds, and Kleenex tissues went from 8.4 inches to 8.2 inches. Ice-Cream is also sold now at the half gallon price…but for a 1.5 quart container, and the way they make you think that it is still a half gallon is by tapering the base of the packaging, but keeping the top of the packaging the same size. Sneaky!

How to Combat: Instead of purchasing the smaller container and smaller sized products, purchase in bulk. You can always read the required tags below the product that tell you how much you are paying per ounce/weight/size, etc. Using this tag, you will see that you are getting a better deal by purchasing the larger product (and saving packaging waste). Be careful, though. If you do not need the larger product, and will not use it up before it expires, than this is just not a good deal for you. Perhaps you are on a diet, and the smaller portion size is better for you anyway? Try to look on the bright side of everything.

3. Buy 10 Items for $10: If a store can sell ten items instead of just one, then why not? This deal makes most people think that they need to purchase ten items in order to get the $1.00 a piece. But that is simply not true; you can also just purchase 1, or 2. In fact, you can purchase as many as you’d like; the 10/10 has no real bearing on reality, except to tell you that the product is on sale for $1.00 (this does not ring true for ever x/$x sale; if it specifically says in fine print that you must purchase x number of products in order to get the sales price, then listen to the fine print). Another sneaky move here is that typically you will see one or two items on “sale” for $1.00…that during normal times cost $1.00 anyway, or even less than $1.00! This helps stores to recoup some of the costs of the sales promotion. Some examples of this are a recent 10/$10 sale at Kroger’s that had such items as gum, single containers of yogurt, and cans of tuna. Sneaky!

How to Combat: The best way to take advantage of these types of sales is to purchase only the amount that you want, and to purchase the most high-end products available for $1.00. Just as there are low-end products in these types of promotions, there will also always be more expensive products so that the store can lure you in. If you enjoy using coupons, even if they hike up the price to $1.00 on some of the smaller items, chances are you can then get these items for free with $0.35 coupons (if they double and triple coupons like Kroger and Randall’s do here in Houston).

4. Dollar Store Sales: One would think that products at the Dollar Store are the cheapest around, right? Well, it’s just not always true. Oftentimes, products are cheaper at Dollar Stores. But Dollar Stores need to make money as well, and so they will also charge more on products that you can go to a grocery store, or discount store, or any store and find for cheaper. Some of these products include the $1 can of tunafish, or $6 50-count Advil, or $3.50 dial hair/bodywash. Sneaky!

How to Combat: Be picky with what you purchase at Dollar Stores. Dollar Stores have some great assets, but when it comes to name brand, newer products, do not assume you are getting a good deal. Name brand, older products you can get good deals on, such as $0.75 2 liter cokes or Clorox bleach. Some other safe bets are some sturdy household items, such as glasses/wine glasses, aluminum drip pans for your oven, flip flops (college/gym shower shoes), and gardening tools. Kids and baby clothes are a safe bet because even though they may not be of the highest value, your child will most likely grow out of them before they deteriorate. If you are a couponer, you know that you most likely get cheaper, name brand products using coupons during sales at name brand stores than searching the aisles of dollar stores.

5. Buy One Get One Free and 1 Cent Sales: Buy one get one free sales have been around for years, but a new type of sale which is the same premise is the one cent sale (a favorite of JCPenny’s). Basically, if you purchase one item, you can get a second of that same item for one penny (customers are actually paying more for the same sale idea—one penny more!). The trick that most retailers play is they up the price from the normal shelf price on the product to recoup some of their cost on the “free” product to you. For example, this week Walgreens (who is notorious for doing this), has a 1.5 quart of Breyer’s ice cream on sale, buy one get one free. The cost of the one you purchase is $6.29. Essentially you are getting 3 quarts, or ¾ of a gallon of ice-cream for $6.29. This may still be a decent deal for you, but if you purchase ice-cream on sale at the grocery store, then you will pay about $6.00 for a gallon (for the premium ice-cream, and less for other brands). Sneaky!

How to Combat: If you are a couponer, then most times you can beat the retailers at their own game. It turns out that you can use two coupons for the buy one get one free sale; one coupon per product, which should bring the cost down to lower than normal. Also, pay attention to the pricing at JCPenny’s buy one get one for one cent sales, and at other companies that do the same. If it seems like a good deal, then go for it; but if you aren’t sure, then do a little price comparison online before making the trip.

6. Pricing Products so that You Overspend for the Sake of a Promotion: Let’s say there is a promotion, where if you purchase $20 worth of products, you get $10 in catalinas/register rewards/ExtraCare Bucks/or other store credit. Seems like an incredible deal, right? It is…except when the retailer marks the promotional items at odd prices so that you are forced to purchase an extra one in order to get over that $20 threshold. For example, at Walgreens (again, notorious for doing this) this week if you purchase $20 worth of Zyrtec products, you get a register reward (store credit good on your next purchase) of $10. The only problem is that the product is priced at $18.99 for 25 or 30 count of Zyrtec. In other words, you are forced to purchase two of these products, totaling $37.98 in order to get that $10 store credit. For the current Swiffer rebate deal, where you purchase $20 worth of Swiffer refills and get $10 as a rebate (great deal!), I was faced with this same issue, but on a smaller scale. The refills were all priced at $4.86 or so, meaning I would have to purchase 5 of them to meet the $20 threshold, instead of only 4 (which would only get me to $19.44). Sneaky!

How to Combat: Lots of store promotions that are run side by side with manufacturer rebates and such work out beautifully. But some are concocted in order to squeeze your wallets. Many promotions from manufacturers (where rebates are involved) do not force you to hand in just one receipt. In other words, you can purchase products here or there as they go on sale at various stores instead of purchasing at lackluster store promotions. This may be a better deal for you. Also, for couponers, you can typically get enough coupons in order to make up for the odd pricing. For example, Zyrtec typically issues $5+ coupons in the Sunday circulars, so you could use two $5 coupons, and end up paying $27.98 for two Zyrtecs, plus getting a $10 store credit back on the above promotion example. This brings your purchase price down to $13.99 (check with normal pricing on Zyrtec to make sure this is a good price; if it’s not, then stay away from this promotion all together).

6 comments… add one

  • BluSky

    Honestly, they have no need to be sneaky with me. I’m the single guy that goes to the store everyday to buy what he’s going to eat that day. It’s not exactly economical.

    Btw, love the new photos :)

  • jan

    another great post….
    i have been following your posts for a few months now and have to say that i while i have greatly enjoyed reading them i have also learned a few things in the process…thank you for that.

    another way the stores are getting you is with the store ‘Big Lots’…back in the day you knew whatever you bought in there was going to be a ‘superdeal’…it was big lots after all…items that were bought for pennies on the dollar by the company and they passed the savings on to you…

    if you haven’t ventured into a Big Lots lately alot has changed. The store has become just another ‘market’ with prices that are sometimes not even competitive. If one does not know their prices they are just assuming that everything in there is a great deal…no so…. i used to purchase quite a few grocery items there regularly, but the pricing has me now shopping where i can get better deals…(in the regular grocery stores)… it’s a shame to lose such a ‘fun’ store but those days are over i suppose.

  • Hello BluSky! Hahahahaha–I am glad you are enjoying the photos.

    Hello Jan! Thank you for leaving a comment, and I am glad you are enjoying and finding use from my posts. Also, thanks for the great information.

  • ADRealty

    Hi Amanda – I loved this post. I have a question for you and not sure if I was in the wrong or not.

    Walgreens had a sale. Buy 3 Fructis shampoos for $7, and get $1.00 back. Well, I bought 3 bottles and tried to use 3 coupons and they wouldn’t let me.

    While I was at the register, the manager called the cashier and told her only one coupon can be used. He must have been watching me with my coupons. Let me know if I was wrong because I am still not sure about this. Thanks!

  • Hello ADRealty!

    I am glad you enjoyed the post. Walgreens can be VERY complicated (which is why I prefer to shop at CVS). I have found (but have not confirmed) that with Walgreens, it is up to the individual managers as to whether or not they allow certain things. Across the board, you can not use more coupons than you have items (at Walgreens only–this does not apply to other stores). For instance, if you have three shampoos, and used 3 manufacturer coupons, plus a walgreens coupon, that transaction would not be allowed. You could only use 3 coupons…which leads me to question why this guy didn’t let you use the three coupons?

    I would say he is in the wrong…except that I know Walgreens can be finicky. Sorry this did not work out for you! The store gets reimbursed from the manufacturer for coupons, so it’s not like the store would hurt with you doing this. And for the manufacturer, they print a certain number of coupons to be used (and most are not redeemed).

  • Thanks for the mention! And yes, I did limit myself to the special only, lol.

    Good tips! I personally love it when Kroger’s does their 10 for $10 sale and I can stock up on things that are normally $1.79 like chips and some convenience foods. But I think I’ll pass on the $1 yogurts, lol.

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