Grocery Store Secrets from Industry Experts – Frugal Confessions

Grocery Store Secrets from Industry Experts

I caught a very interesting documentary on CNBC the other day called “Supermarkets Inc.: Inside a $500 Billion Money Machine”. It featured industry experts who offered an insight on some of the tactics retailers are using to get us to come home from the grocery store with more products than we had intended, and having spent more money than we had budgeted.

I have to tell you—I was shocked with what I learned. We’re not talking about the normal strategies that you learn in Home Economics class such as making a list and sticking to it no matter how many impulse items are staged at the cash register, or how to check sizes and unit costs for tricky packaging. We’re talking about a whole new breed of tactics that the average consumer has yet to evolve against. In fact, I have noticed that our own household’s grocery budget has expanded at the waist a bit; I know that this is partly due to food price inflation, but perhaps we are being duped into purchasing more as well?

The Tactics and Technology at Work Against Us

  • Bigger Shopping Carts: An experiment discussed on the segment showed that doubling the size of a shopping cart means you will purchase 40% more.
  • Creating a Mirage: By marking down three staple items to lower-than-normal prices (toilet paper, eggs, and milk), then consumers will think that the entire supermarket is cheaper “and you can increase the price 10% on everything else” in the store.
  • Meandering Walkways and Displays: Instead of straight up and down aisles, stores have created specific layouts that allow one to meander around, almost as if they were following an enchanted path in a forest. This will lead you through as much of the store as possible, even to aisles and sections you were not headed towards.
  • Half-Aisles for the Non-Committal: Long, rectangular aisles are out. If consumers see that they have an escape route midway down the aisle, then you are more likely to go down an aisle.
  • Sensory Environment: As consumers we’ve categorized stores into the ones we go to only occasionally when we have a little extra money and want to enjoy the experience, versus the ones that we run in and out of each week with the lowest prices. At the extremes are warehouse-type Wal-Marts versus Whole Foods/Central Markets. Retailers have figured this out as well, and have come up with ways to keep us lingering in the stores as long as possible—after all, the longer we are in their store, the more opportunities they have to sell us things. Stores have developed a very sensory experience of sights, sounds, textures, and tastes for us. They give enough samples that you can almost call it lunch, play soothing music, have installed lighting to highlight the major stars (green peppers and cucumbers), have social areas (tables around coffee bars), etc.

So what do these same experts suggest we do to not spend more than intended (i.e. not fall for their tactics)? Leave the children at home, as they will always make you spend more (I also find that when Paul and I go shopping together we spend more than if either of us just shops alone). We also should only carry around baskets, not roll around the huge carts. In order to avoid meandering we should stay in the outside aisle. Finally, we should know that milk, eggs, and other staples are almost surely going to be located in the back of the store and should figure out the fastest, closest way to get to them if that is all that we need.

14 comments… add one

  • Recognizing some of these tactics is the first key to being able to avoid them. Once you actually see them for what they are (trying to get you to spend more money) you will actually start getting more angry at the stores for their tactics. Our grocery store is a Wal-mart type store where they sell a lot. They remodeled and they moved the health, beauty, and vitamins section to the opposite side of the store. Why? So you’d have to walk through the entire store to get to it. I’m sure many do but we simply stopped buying those items from that store as a rule.
    Money Beagle recently posted..Jumping On The Re-Finance Bandwagon

  • Wonderful insights. No wonders super stores have fast food joints, to keep us in. A quick look at salt and sugar display vs TV display at WalMart will reveal their strategy.

    I highly recommend you submitting this post at FMF for consumerist round up inclusion. This post is going to be included in this week’s round up on my blog.
    SB (One Cent At A Time) recently posted..Real War Of The Reel World: Netflix vs Blockbuster – The Fight Goes On

  • Hunter @ Financially Consumed

    Supermarkets are strategically laid out to get us all to spend more money. The music, light, temperature, consume consume consume. It’s not always easy to just buy what you need. I find it interesting when expensive supermarkets market themselves as thrifty places to shop. Do they think consumers are not aware? Maybe too many of us are asleep at the shopping cart.
    Hunter @ Financially Consumed recently posted..Twitter 30 Day Challenge

  • Linda

    Lol! That’s somewhat true, their primary aim to get us into the store, where we end up buying a lot more than we have to. That’s marketing! :)
    Linda recently posted..Medical Assistant

  • Like Money Beagle pointed out, one trick I remember reading was that supermarkets will put necessity items like milk and bread in the back of the store so customers have to walk by many other items just to get to those. Walking by them will lead to impulse by which leads to more money spent…you get the drill.

    I never realized the shopping cart trick, though. Interesting how sneaky they are!
    Jana recently posted..Money Tune Tuesday: Simple Man

  • I often take no cart and no basket when I am going in the store for just one thing or a few things, but I always end up with my hands full! lol

    I know they also put the most expensive items at eye level and cheaper ones at the bottom. Sometimes they will ‘remind’ you that you need something but that end cap reminder will be the most expensive one. And if you walk a few feet away you usually see another brand on sale. Sneaky sneaky
    Financial Success for Young Adults recently posted..Totally Money Blog Carnival Celebrity Roast Edition

  • The amount of research that companies do on customer behavior can be surprising to the typical consumer who has no idea any of this his happening! Sticking with a shopping list, buying what we need rather than what we want – these are good ways to avoid succumbing to these marketing tactics.
    Squirrelers recently posted..Squirreling Gone Wild #29: Pet Expenses and The Bird Brain

  • Crafty aren’t they? One thing that I am aware of is the placement of impulse buying items in the isles and at the checkout lines. I try to take a list with me when I shop, it helps to cut down on items we don’t need.
    Paul @ The Frugal Toad recently posted..Time Management Tips – How to Create Value While Saving Time

  • I have been running into different reports that shed light on the psychological ploys that stores use to manipulate consumers. It amazes me – angers me really – to admit how much I am falling into their ‘web’. I am thankful for posts like yours which arms with tools needed to be a conscientious shopper, so I can protect my wallet, as well as my will.
    Sher@FatGuySkinnyWallet recently posted..100 Push Ups – I’ve Been Challenged To A Duel

  • Interesting study on shopping carts. I always go for the really short ones, helps me get in and out quickly. Since I do all the shopping (my wife hates shopping for food), I try to do it quickly. So in a way they are wasting their money trying to research me! I’m not going to fit in their status quo
    Ben – BankAim recently posted..Forgive Student Loans: A Way To Improve The Economy?

  • Interesting points. Can’t really fault the industry for trying to extract as much as possible from the customer. A customer is hard enough to physically attract into a store. Once there, it’s a fine balance between getting as much as possible from that wallet, and keep them coming back.
    I suspect that the aisles get periodically re-arranged to deter list-armed shoppers who know exactly what they want.
    101 Centavos recently posted..Mid Week Reading – Apropos of Nothing in Particular

  • So true! Whole Foods has mastered setting the atmosphere. You are greeted with fresh flowers to give you the sense that you are entering a place where everything is ultra fresh. They put items on crushed ice that don’t need it to continue that impression.

    IKEA has printed the meandering path right on the floor! I’ve tried taking short-cuts but I only end up getting lost and taking more time! The fastest way is to walk quickly on the path!
    Maggie@SquarePennies recently posted..Teach Your Kids to Succeed

    • Hi Maggie!

      Oh boy–those meandering aisle at Ikea get me a little claustrophobic. I have found that you can find exits in odd places–but you do have to ask (it’s always good to preference it with “can you please tell me where the nearest bathroom is” will usually get you there:)).
      Amanda L Grossman recently posted..Grocery Store Secrets from Industry Experts

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