Supermarket Tricks of the Trade

Supermarket Tricks of the Trade

So you’re going shopping.  You’ve worked out a food budget, made a meal plan and wrote up a shopping list.  You confidently go through the store, pick out the items you need and proceed to the checkout.

As the cashier rings up your order, you become increasingly horrified as you watch the total go up and up…and up.  Sure, you picked up an extra thing or two.  Those cookies were on sale (a bargain, really).  The canned anchovies were a threefer…so you got 3.  Ok, six.  Because you’re sure you can come up with a great way to use them.  They don’t go bad, right?  And that cake on the clearance rack was too good of a deal to pass up.  Someone will eat it.

You leave the store wondering what went wrong.  Where did you lose control?  How could this possibly have happened?

Don’t beat yourself up.  It’s not your fault.  You’ve just been marketeered. 

Supermarket Tricks of the Trade

Supermarket Tricks of the Trade

It’s a fact.  Supermarkets literally pay people to figure out how to get you to buy things you don’t need and never intended to purchase using money that should have gone towards the light bill.  Just like any other business, they are out to make as much profit as they possibly can.

Sound devious?  Sure, but here’s the problem.  You still have to shop there.  You’re gonna need to eat. The only way to avoid the pitfalls is to learn how to spot these supermarket tricks of the trade so you can steer clear.

The More You Know

The More You Know

Celebrity endorsements. Food manufacturers will often court celebrities to endorse a certain product with the hope that, if you like that person, you’ll buy the product  Sometimes the celebrity simply endorses it, or sometimes it’s a line of products with their name on it  The one thing you need to remember is this:  Most endorsements are simply a way for celebrities to make a quick buck.  It doesn’t mean that they use those products and it’s more likely that they don’t.

Background music.  Music affects what or how much consumers buy.  Slower and nostalgic music is relaxing and tends to make people linger longer in the grocery store.  And the longer you linger, the more you buy.

Clearance Tags. The definition of clearance sale is, “A sale of goods at reduced prices to get rid of superfluous stock or because the shop is closing down” so check the actual discount before you fill up your basket.  You may be surprised to find the “clearance price” is often a very small percentage off the regular price.

10 for $10.  As luck would have it, these are usually shelf-stable products with a long life like canned tomatoes or tuna so why not save some $$$ and get 10, right?  But how much are you really saving? Often not much.  Sometimes nothing at all.  Take a minute and see how much they cost at full price.

Samples.  That tiny sample is not going to fill you up…instead, it’s going to trigger your hunger response and actually make you buy more.  It’s the store’s way of making sure you go shopping while you’re hungry.

The Smell of Bread Baking.  For the same reasons as above.

All Staples to the Back, Please.  Notice that the last time you dashed into the store for a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, you felt like you’d run a marathon by the time you got to the register?  Staples are routinely scattered about in the far corners of your favorite market.  That’s so you can walk by and be tempted by all those things you don’t need to get to the few things you do.

And those lines!! When was the last time you left a store because the line was too long?  Probably never.  Stores walk a fine line between losing a customer and having you wait long enough to be tempted by all the impulse items they have laid out for you.  Magazines, gum, candy bars, tables full of cookies and cakes.  The longer you have to look at it, the more likely you are to buy it.

Limit 3 Per Customer.  This has taken on more meaning during the Pandemic but it’s a tool that’s been used for a long time.  When you’re limited, it automatically makes you want more.  And if it does sell out?  You’re more likely to come back later to get the item you missed.  Oh, and you’re also likely to buy more groceries on that trip too.

BOGO.  If this was on your list, by all means, take advantage.  But “Buy One, Get One” is intended to be a hook to get you to purchase something you hadn’t intended to buy and probably don’t need.

Buy One, Get One Half Off.  BOGOs less popular cousin is still a downfall for many.  Again, if you were going to buy two anyway, go for it but if not, steer clear.  Keep in mind that it’s only a 25% discount.  If that item was $4 then the second is $2, which means that you only saved $2.  This also means you just spent $2 (or $6) more than you intended to.

Shopping carts at the Entrance.  And those carts get larger all the time so it‘s easy to throw that extra thing in.  And then another.  Before you know it you have to leave because you can’t fit anything else in there without crushing your eggs.  Next time you only need a thing or two, just grab a basket.  Better yet, leave the basket and then you’ll be limited by how much you can carry in your hands.

There’s a Reason That Stores Keep Getting Bigger.  Yes, they can carry more items but it’s also because people don’t like to be crowded.  It makes us uncomfortable.  We’re more relaxed and will stay longer if we feel that we are being given enough personal space.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!  Whatever time of year that is for you, it’s a period when people are in a good mood, often have time off and are looking forward to spending time with family and friends. Your favorite supermarket is here to help you celebrate with seasonally themed foods, decorations and music in an effort to encourage you to overspend.

Eat Well and Spend Less

Eat Well and Spend Less

These are just a few of the supermarket tricks of the trade that entice you to spend more than you wanted to.  I hope it helps the next time you have to shop. Remember,  the more you know, the easier it is to eat well and spend less.  And if you do have buyer regret once you get home?  Just return the items for a credit or refund.   After all, the store is the one who fooled you into buying it in the first place.

What about you?  Has this opened your eyes to any strategies that have caused you to buy something you hadn’t intended to buy?  Let me know in the comments below!

All my best,


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4 Replies to “Supermarket Tricks of the Trade”

  1. Good information for me, Cynthia. These days I am having trouble trying to stay within my budget. I will head out to the store for 2 items and end up with six. I agree. There are many things and signs tempting you to buy, and at my grocery store the music makes shopping so enjoyable. I think I need to cut out stopping for one or two things because I always end up spending more than when I make a list on the weekend, shop and don’t return until the following weekend. Some things I’ll just have to do without. NIce article

    1. I have come to the same conclusion about my shopping.  I go to the grocery store as little as possible.  With this Pandemic making us rethink our actions, I’ve found that I can scale back my grocery shopping to every 2 weeks.  When I want that one thing, I ask myself if I can cook my meal using some other ingredient that I have on hand?  Usually the answer is yes.

  2. hello, This is a well-written article. You are right on point when you say that the supermarketing is trying to get us to spend more of our hard-earned money. One hack to add to your repertoire is to leave your kids at home if possible. Every time I take my grandson to the store with me it usually cost me an extra $20. I guess I’m a sucker for “can I have”. Great article thank you

    1. Oh, Chuck…so right you are!  I have the pleasure of caring for my granddaughter while her parents work and I have the same problem.  I guess we’re all suckers for “can I have” 😉 

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