15 Sneaky Ways Grocery Stores Trick You Into Spending More Money

It’s Friday night at 6pm. You’re hungry. You walk into the grocery store to get four items. Your goals are to stick to your shopping list and feed your family on a budget, even though inflation and prices continue to rise.

Yet, you walk out 30 minutes later with 5 bags of groceries and a 50- pound bag of dog food.

 If this sounds familiar, take heart. It’s a very common scenario. You are not alone. You see, grocery stores are using tricky tactics to try to get you to spend more money. But, there is hope.

Most consumers don’t fully understand the amount of deliberate, decisive marketing that goes into planning your local grocery stores. Statistically, each additional minute you are in the store, translates into more money being spent.

The truth is, shoppers need to know how to shop and save money, now more than ever.

The average grocery shopping trip lasts 41 minutes. Every detail in the store – from the layout to the way products are arranged on the shelves, is scientifically designed to encourage you to spend far more time and far more money than you every intended.

By becoming aware of how the supermarket is actually marketing to you while you are pushing a shopping cart through their store, you can learn to dodge their strategies and walk out with your wallet still full and your budget in tact.

 Watch this video where I take you shopping at my local grocery store and reveal more about supermarket marketing secrets.

Trick #1: Promoting “One Stop Shopping”

The larger the square footage of the store, the more time (and money) you will spend on every visit. Since the mid-1970’s, grocery stores have consistently gotten larger.

Furthermore, if the store offers to fill your prescription, service your car, replace your mattress, and feed your family in one location, customers line up waiting for the doors to open. We like the opportunity to check off all the boxes on our “to-do” list in a couple of hours, without running to four different stores.

Interestingly, although store footprints continue to increase an average of 2.1% every year, there is a new, emerging prevalence of larger, well-known grocery chains placing “community” stores in larger cities. These locations are designed to evoke the idea of old-fashioned neighborhood grocer. Only time will tell if this appeal to traditional values will translate into higher profits for large food-oriented corporations.

Trick #2: Large Carts

Costco and SAMS have not cornered the market when it comes to large carts. Increasingly, stores like Walmart and Target are upsizing their carts, encouraging the customer to fill it to the brim.

Interestingly, although you probably don’t even realize it, the size of the average grocery cart has tripled since the mid-70’s. So, even at Kroger or Aldi, you are pushing a much larger than the cart your mother or grandmother pushed around forty years ago at the very same store.

Trick #3: Giving You Samples

Yes, it’s true. Stores know that they can increase sales of specialty, deli, or convenience foods by simply cooking up a batch and serving it to you in little cups while you shop. If you take your kids shopping, the temptation to buy that product only increases.

Statistically, you are far more likely to purchase something you have had the opportunity to try – even if it was just a couple of spoonfuls.

Related Posts: I feed my family of four for $50 a week.

Trick #4: Selling More Local Products

According to surveys, buying locally sourced products is important to 25% of shoppers. This has led to an increase in options which have large signs placed near them, informing customers that this item was grown or produced nearby. In response, you’ll find more options on the grocery store shelves, along with signage that lets you know that it is from a local vendor.

Grocery chains of all sizes are appealing to the desire of the consumer to help support their “neighbor”, by placing products on the shelves that have been sourced from farms and businesses within a small radius from various store locations.

Trick #5: Selling Shelf Space

It’s also a little-known fact that manufacturers often pay for shelf space. This “slot fee” has resulted in name-brand products sitting on the much coveted center shelf of store aisles.

To combat the inclination to purchase the, perhaps more expensive, item right in front of your eyes, savvy shoppers have developed a “look high and look low” rule. You’ll often find the better deals on the top or bottom shelves.

Trick #6: P.O.P. – Point of Purchase Selling

We’ve all seen the soda, magazines, gum, and candy which line the precious few square feet approaching the checkout. Let’s fact it, this marketing makes sense. You stop here, longer than any other place in the store.

These are known as impulse items and they sell well.

In fact, the space nearest the checkout lance his is the most expensive shelf space in the store. It is sold by the inch, while shelf space is the rest of the store is sold per foot.

Trick #7: Cross-selling

This marketing technique is prevalent on end caps and special displays. End caps are the small, short shelves which abut the regular shelves at a ninety degree angle. In other words, they are the items you see just before you enter each aisle of the grocery store.

This prime area is perfect for stores to display sale items from that week’s flyer. However, many customers mistakenly think that every item on that shelving unit is “on sale”. While they are all “for sale”, they are definitely not all “on sale”.

Savvy marketers will place boxes of ice cream cones, bottles of chocolate syrup, and even glass parfait glasses on the shelf right next to the marshmallow topping. Yet, the only item which is on sale is the marshmallow ice cream topping. The rest are being offered at full price.

The goal of this display is to trick the consumer into purchasing everything they need for dinner or dessert that night. But, shoppers will be paying a premium price for every item, except one or two which are really being offered at a discounted price.

Related Posts: Read more about my shopping strategies.

Trick #8: Limited Time Offers

When you see words like: “3-Day Sale”, “Memorial Day Weekend Sale”, or “Thursday, Friday, Saturday Only”, these all mean that you are looking at a limited time offer.

These offers create a sense of scarcity. It’s telling your brain, “Get it now while it’s available”. Although very effective, shoppers also need to consider whether the prices actually represent true bargains and whether that price is likely to actually come around again. It never pays to panic buy.

Trick #9: “10 for $10” Deals

The message that stores convey in signage is powerful. When the consumer sees the words, “10 for $10”, they automatically assume that they must buy increments of ten to get the special price.

For the most part, this is not true. Although some stores, stridently insist on following the exact wording of the ad, most will allow you to buy less than ten and still receive the sale price on each unit.

Check with your store before you purchase a quantity that you maybe don’t need or won’t really use.

Trick #10: Store Layouts Which Encourage Browsing

Modern stores are designed with wider aisles, which means that you walk through them more slowly, stopping to look at items which catch your attention.

In the refrigerated and frozen section, grocers have figured out a new way to draw your eye to look and see what is for sale in that department. The lights inside the display cases turn off when no one is near them.

Yet, when you push your cart down that aisle, each unit lights up as you pass. Stores know that your peripheral vision sees the movement – and you are sure to look that way to see the contents of that case.

While shopping, you’ll notice that you can’t get straight through aisles, because large displays block one side or the middle of the aisle. Sometimes these items are on sale, but they are often high-priced snack or convenience foods.

Even if you think you know the location of your favorite product, the store layout is periodically changed, meaning that you will need to ask for assistance or choose to wander the aisles to find the new home of your favorite brand.

Finally, some of the most often shopped for products: milk, eggs, and meat, are positioned at the far end of the store. This means an opportunity for you to see products that you may not have noticed. The path you’ll take to reach the far end of the store is also not straightforward. Layouts are designed to take you in a zig-zag or circular motion to maximize the amount of square footage of products that you see on your way to the milk and eggs.

Trick #11: Appealing to Your Senses

The bakery and the deli not only represent some of the highest profit margins in the store, they also feature the wafting smells of comfort and childhood. It’s a hard-to-resist temptation.

That’s why the bakery is baking bread or donuts throughout the day, but especially first thing in the morning and at mealtimes. For just a few dollars, we can purchase the idea of “homemade” without all the work, time, and effort.

Likewise, the deli features fried chicken or pizza. Stores deliberately focus on items which have distinctive smells and are comfort foods, but are also ready-to-serve. Don’t forget, you’ll also always find high-priced side dishes right next to the main dishes in the deli.

Trick #12: Signage with Big Letters and Distinctive Shapes

Short, simple slogans get our attention. When this abbreviated, to-the-point messaging is paired with the colors, red, yellow, and orange, the shopper is left wanting to be “pulled into the action”. Simply put, our brain figures that it must be important and we need to stop, stand still, and figure out what the store is asking us to do.

One of the ways our brain is imprinted with information through repetition. No one has to think twice when they see the Adidas or Coke logo. They know exactly what brand is in front of them. It’s because we have seen those brand trademarks again, and again, and again.

In the year 2022, the average customer must see or hear information fourteen times before they will take any action. That’s why store and brand marketing always includes distinctive, memorable, simple shapes, letters, and logos. Tall, thin signs with a downward arrow allows us to instinctively that the prices are dropping wherever that sign appears in the store.

A store’s two or three word catchphrase will be placed on signage throughout the store, displayed at various eye levels and in multiple departments. When you leave, that store wants you to remember where you got that great deal on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

Trick #13: Ending Prices with the Digit “7” or “9”

Your brain imprints with the first digit you see. In the US, we read from left to right. That means your brain sees the first, large number in the price tag and “drops” the rest of the digits from your consciousness.

Thus, we end up spending more money than we believe we are.

Trick #14: Playing Music

Marketing research has discovered that when up-tempo music is played, people are happy. They are also more likely to buy more if they are in a good mood.

Another, lesser known, tactic is to periodically interrupt the music to play a commercial, letting you know about an item which is on sale or why you should join their rewards program. When the music stops and is replaced by another stimulus, your brains takes notice and you are more likely to pay attention to what is being said over the speaker.

Trick #15: Data Mining

If you’ve signed up for a “Rewards Card”, “Fuel Points Card”, or “Loyalty Club”, you’ve entered the world of data tracking, sometimes referred to as data mining, because corporations are digging for information about you.

Known by various names, these programs all add up to one thing: The store wants to know what you shop for and why you are buying. They are offering you special discounts, cheaper gas, and exclusive coupons for mining your purchases and learning your shopping habits.

They aren’t wrong or immoral. However, the consumer needs to be aware of what the store is doing with their information before they sign up.

Your Turn

What tricks have you noticed at your local supermarket – and, maybe more importantly, how do you feel about them?

9 thoughts on “15 Sneaky Ways Grocery Stores Trick You Into Spending More Money”

  1. Just thought I’d mention I have only been buying loss leaders lately. Then my needs if I see them on sale. I haven’t bought potatoes for quite a while. They went from 10 lbs for $3.00 to $8.00! so rice or noodles it is . from my pantry. Fresh produce is coming in and the items that are in season usually have the lowest price. Like corn for a couple of weeks at 27 cents an ear. So those weeks were corn weeks. This week is Watermelon for $3.97 each. Notice the “7” endings? I also have a tiny 4 ft, garden ( our apartment has them , we just sign up for 1 each spring. So far I have had lettuce, the rest of my plot is herbs. I share the herbs with other friends here, and they pick fresh for their meals. In return I have had garden fresh chard, and two batches of rhubarb. We all benefit. Increased variety, and enough for one person .
    I also like real coffee cream in my tea. Often on Wednesday or Sunday I can buy a pint for 57 cents, marked down with one day left on the package. I buy a couple and freeze till I need it. When my hairdresser has eggs I buy them from her they are $5.00 a dozen but lovely and fresh. Lately I haven’t been able to get them from her, so bought sale eggs for $3.50 , was listed as 1 for $7, but like you mentioned I got the sale price for 1. Here eggs are running anywhere from 4 to 7 dollars a dozen.
    Love watching you on tv, you tube channel. Thanks for all the great advice.

    • Pat, thanks for your wonderful comment. Great bartering with your neighbor and an apartment building with square foot gardens! I haven’t seen that in any apartment buildings around here. What a great idea.

    • Those 15 tricks listed don’t bother me. I can see right through them. However, what DOES bother me is having to buy more to get a lower price.

      I wanted to buy one bag of pretzels, but to get a lower price I would have had to buy THREE. Of course I should not be eating any of that junk, but an occasional bag won’t hurt me. But THREE bags? The result was that I bought none. I will not buy anything priced like that. However, that may encourage others to buy and eat more junk food to their detriment.

      The checkout line was quite long, mainly because of gimmicks such as coupons, digital coupons, having to key in phone numbers, etc. I was furious! They don’t pay us for having to wait longer in a line just because of those gimmicks. Moreover, the gimmicks cost money; the store needs to hire more personnel to process the gimmicks and the costs are passed onto us.

      It does no good to complain in the store because the store is run from a distant office. Those making the decisions are well insulated from customers’ wrath.

      Is there an organization to force stores to stop doing this sort of thing?

    • I leave the kids at home😉 And keep a running tally of money spent. I round everything up or down according to the cents. It is shocking how accurate and simple it is, and it really stops me from overspending because I have a good idea what I’m spending. A lot of the “junk” has really gone up in price, and I find adding the $10 bag of chocolates to my tally isn’t happening. I instead stocked up on clearance chocolate chips for .50 a bag. The kids are happy and I can stretch them a lot farther than the candy bars.

      • Yes! I totally agree. Often all kids need is a small handful of cheap chocolate chips instead of a full-sized candy bar and the takes care of their sweet tooth. Works for my sweet tooth, too. LOL!

  2. Hi Larry and Hope
    Here in the UK, we don’t have any impulse buys near the self service check outs which is helpful. The other thing the shops do is on the price ticket, they also include the price per 100g, which makes comparisons easy. Oddly, I have sometimes found the larger packages work out more expensive than the smaller ones. Also, prices can vary depending on location. I bought a vegan mayo from the regular shelf for mayo for almost a pound cheaper than a similar product on the ‘Free From’ aisle.
    Many thanks for your good work.

    • Fi, gosh I love your insights. I was astounded to see that lately I, too, have been doing the math on the larger sizes and they are not always the best deal a far greater percentage of the time than it used to be. Your idea of making sure you check for the items on your list in various departments is important, too. The “specialty” sections aren’t always more expensive. Thanks for the comment.


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