Grocery stores are no longer the innocent corner markets set up by mom and pop. They are now highly complicated marketing machines designed to maximize profitability by drawing shoppers to the highest-profit items and hypnotizing them into reaching for products they don’t really need.
Here’s the top ten ways to improve your odds of overcoming the house advantage created
by sophisticated contemporary grocery store design:
10. Leave the Kids Home –No matter how stern you want to be, it’s naturally difficult to say no to your child, especially if they start causing a scene. Avoid the drama by leaving them home, if possible. If you must bring them, give them something inexpensive right away – such as a box animal crackers or a juice box – to distract them until you can make your way the checkout counter. But be careful, you will still have to run the gauntlet of the checkout line, where the most colorfully packaged, overpriced impulse items are right at kid grab level.
9. Use a Hand Basket – If you’re planning to buy only a few items, reach for the hand basket rather than a shopping cart. You’ll force yourself to carry your purchases throughout the store, discouraging you from adding items you don’t need. Big, empty shopping carts subconsciously trigger an impulse in shoppers to want to fill them up – which is why shopping carts seem to get bigger every year. If a store doesn’t offer hand baskets, let the manager know you’ll stop shopping there until they get them.
8. Watch Out for Bells and Whistles – Are there flat screen TVs at the checkouts showing “cooking shows” that are really ads in disguise? Is the wine section elaborately decorated to look like a vineyard? All those extravagant extras are built into the price of your groceries. Odds are, another store without the glitz will be less expensive.
7. Read the Signs – Most stores have “circulars”, or paper ad sheets, at the entrance. These are great for identifying sale items before you start shopping. While walking from your car to the door, make a point of reading any sale signs posted on the store’s windows. Usually, these are the store’s best values, loss leaders designed to lure passers by in from the street.
6. Compare price/ounce – When comparing different brands of the same item, ignore any “sale” pricing and compare cost per ounce. Stores are legally required to post these below the sale price. You may need a calculator to figure this out and many stores discourage this comparison by making the print very small, so bring your reading glasses. You’ll be surprised how often a sale is no bargain.
5. Look for the generic – When it comes to canned or dry items, there’s usually a generic, or “packer brand”, alternative. In many cases, these come from the exact same production line as the name brand, but are less expensive because there are no marketing
and advertising expenses built into the cost of the item.
4. Don’t shop hungry – It’s a physiological fact: People who have not eaten before going to the store are more likely to load up on unnecessary items. Make sure to eat a little
something so you are not at the mercy of low blood sugar or hunger pangs. Be strong! Your family is depending on you.
3. Use Store Card – Many big chain stores now offer deep discounts on certain items to customers who use their loyalty cards, which also allow store owners to track your purchases and market directly to your preferences. But the costs of these discounts are
simply added to all the other items that are not discounted. Sign up for these free cards at the big chains, but try to buy only the discounted items. You usually will be able to find the non-discounted items on your list for less somewhere else.
2. Zone Your List – Grocery stores are like casinos: The more time you spend in them, the more money you’ll spend. Remember, marketing experts work hard to convince you to buy their products. Minimize your exposure by zoning your grocery list for maximum efficiency – group produce with produce, canned goods with canned goods, etc. Also, spend less time shopping by going during the least busy hours — after dinner or early in the morning, if possible. If you only shop weekend afternoons, odds are you’ll be stuck in an aisle longer and end up buying more items.
1. Stick to your list – This is the most important rule: If it isn’t on the list, don’t buy it. Carefully create your shopping list before you set out, listing every item you need for the menus you have planned. Before you leave, double check to make sure you don’t already have any of these items. While shopping, if you are tempted to reach for an item not on your list, resist this temptation and make a note to come back for it another time. You’ll be surprised when you get home how much you really didn’t need that item.