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9 sneaky supermarket tricks

Grocery stores have all kinds of ways to get you to spend more than you'd planned when you walked in the store.

By MSN Money Partner Mar 15, 2013 1:02PM

This post comes from Amanda Geronikos at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News logoGrocery list? Check. Coupons? Got 'em. Eat a snack so you won't shop hungry? Done. Mentally prepared to resist impulse buys? Totally.


Now you're properly prepared for your weekly trip to the supermarket. Or are you?


No matter how hard you try, supermarkets often find a way to eat up more of your budget than you bargained for. Don't feel bad. Today’s modern supermarket is less a store than a micro-managed, computerized retail laboratory whose sole purpose is getting you to part with as much cash as possible.

Here are some tricks of the supermarket trade. Knowing what they are can help you shop smarter and save money:


Image: Full Shopping Cart in Grocery Store© Fuse/Getty Images1. Store layout

It's no coincidence that staples like milk, bread and eggs are often placed in vastly different locations within the store, and nowhere near the entrance. Is it possible you can run a gantlet of 10,000 impulse buys on your way to the milk without succumbing? Sure. Is it likely? No.


2. Grouping foods that go together

You spot a bag of some heavily advertised tortilla chips. That's OK; you have a coupon. Too bad you don't have one for those jars of salsa sitting next to them. In the blink of an eye, they're both in your cart. So much for that carefully planned list.


3. Mouth-watering smells

It's a secret real-estate agents have known for years: The smell of freshly baked cookies can help turn an open house into your next home. If the smell of fresh-baked cookies will persuade you to drop $200,000 on a house, how are you supposed to resist dropping $4.95 on fresh-baked cookies?


4. Biggie-sized carts

Grocery store carts are growing. In fact, carts at Whole Foods have almost doubled in size in recent years, marketing consultant Martin Lindstrom told "Today"  in a 2011 interview. Not only does a giant cart allow you to buy more, a half-empty cart makes it appear you're missing something.


5. Shelf placement

The most profitable items are often placed at eye level. If you're looking for mustard, for example, you'll immediately spot the gourmet and spiced mustards, but you may have to look down to find the more budget-friendly house brands.


6. Checkout line items

According to Business Insider, another home for profitable items is the checkout line. While you're waiting for the cashier to ring you up, you might pick up a magazine or a pack of chewing gum, the store hopes.


7. Music

Punk would probably make you want to get through the store as quickly as possible, which is why grocery stores play easy-listening tunes. The more relaxing the experience, the longer you stay. The longer you stay, the more you spend.


8. Mislabeled meats

While we hope stores wouldn't deliberately include the packaging in the weight or add ice to increase it, according to this TLC article, some stores use tricks like that to overstate the weight of packaged meats.


9. Store "deals"

Sometimes promotions help you save a few bucks. Other times, they don't. Ten Greek yogurt cups for $10 may seem like a deal, but will you be able to eat your money's worth before they expire? Also, you may not need to buy 10 to get the $1-a-cup price.


The bottom line

The solution is to be aware you're being played and respond accordingly. Your first line of defense is understanding the rules of engagement. Every business uses tricks of the trade; there's nothing sinister about that. But just as retailers are free to use them, you're free to understand and resist them.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:


Mar 15, 2013 5:01PM
I just shop at Walmart.  The screaming children, disgustingly obese people wearing tight clothes, and the general overall stench makes me shop fast and furious.
Mar 15, 2013 7:27PM
I work at a grocery store, and "Trick No. 1" is not necessarily a trick.  The real reason that Meat, Dairy, and Frozen Departments are set at the back of the store is that their respective refrigerated and freezer storage areas are back there, near the Receiving Dock.  This makes for a short distance between the trucks delivering the products and the places where we store them until there is room on the sales racks, thus keeping those products as cold as possible for the sake of product safety.
Mar 15, 2013 6:17PM
Amost as tricky as MSN thinking you're going to get information off their homepage.
Mar 15, 2013 6:45PM
They reprint these same tips every month or so. I wonder if they pay a writer to rehash these same articles month after month?
Mar 16, 2013 9:56AM
A commonly used meat trick is a big lump of fat hidden on the bottom of the package.
Mar 15, 2013 6:24PM
Shop with a list, know what is on sale, do you have your coupons, read expire dates and don't buy impulse items. Ok, you are ready to shop. I am a part time bagger and you can tell the shoppers who shop from the shoppers who buy. Amazing how many times we hear "I can't believe how much I spent". Food like everything else is expensive. Shop wisely.
Mar 15, 2013 9:58PM

Cheaper store brands aren't always the same quality  as name brands and often do not taste as good.  For instance, Stop and Shop butter can, in no way, compare to Land 'o Lakes.  It is more watery and doesn't have the rich taste that LOL has.  Although S&S butter is cheaper, in my opinion, it is not a good value.  The same goes for a lot of other items.


Mar 16, 2013 12:32PM
My pet peeve is the way stores have downsized the packaging on some of the items they sell. For example, they have downsized ice cream containers from 64 oz. to 59, 52, and finally to the present size of just 48 oz. WTF. And all of this claiming that the price of ice cream has escalated so much the store just had to downsize to a size the customer would buy. What a load of BS that is. Actually the price has stayed pretty much the same. Now I noticed that the store is downsizing the Orange juice containers. They went down to 59 oz. and the dimensions of the containers have almost stayed the same so customers would not notice. I did. Whatever happened to quart, half gallon, and gallon sizes?? I think milk and milk products are next on the list to downsize.
Mar 15, 2013 6:49PM
Classic KROGER trick...15% "chicken broth"  in the chicken!  Really?!  Puff in 15% water, only to match competitors meat, without the water.  Tough to find any real value there.
Mar 16, 2013 1:50AM
My pet peeve is that every week when I go to the store they have changed everything around! One week the coffe is in Isle 5. The next week it won't be there! They want you to have to "hunt" for what you buy regularly so that as you are on your hunt to encounter all their end cap displays and notice something that you've been meaning to try. Also, they want you to be in the store longer because they know the longer you spend there the more you are likely to spend.  It's so annoying! The friggin store is monstrously huge and it takes so long to get through it I always leave the store frustrated and without many of the things I was looking for but couldn't find. I asked a floor clerk stocking shelves once where one of these items was and he sent me on a wild goose chase. It seems he didn't even know where it had been moved to.
Mar 16, 2013 12:10AM
Hate shopping at Kroger.  Wrong store/Wrong price.  
I like Aldi's chain grocery.  Great value there, and the food tastes pretty darn good too. 
Walmart's prices now, aren't worth hiking all over the store, and standing in the one open check out line.
I like the dollar store for soap and greeting cards, but I never buy their food.
I 've had to learn to live on less, and the depression we're in (yes, I said depression) has helped me to be frugal and hunt, hunt, hunt for deals. 
I check my receipt in my car, every time I leave the store.  I will even go back inside if I find I've been overcharged, even one penny. 
I buy my pet's food at Petsmart only.  The prices are much less than the grocery chain stores, and the selection is plentiful. 

Mar 15, 2013 11:20PM
That's the scheme behind everything. Companies hire marketing/psychology experts to tell them how to get you to part with your money.  
Mar 15, 2013 10:45PM
One store places a 6$ price under a large bottle of have to read the fine print that the 6$ price is actually for a smaller bottle......If you take the bargain large bottle to the check get charged 12$ for the larger size......I pointed out that the bottle had the wrong price under it.....4 weeks later the same wrong label was still in place......people will pay the higher price without noticing or will notice but buy the wine anyways......
Mar 18, 2013 6:12AM
If you are a wally world shopper, watch the price on the shelf vs what rings up.  You'll be horrified to see how many ring up higher than the shelf price.  Even when you call them out on it, you may get the right price, but I have never seen them change the shelf price.
Mar 15, 2013 11:14PM
I have been taught a great way to save money at the store.  Get RIF from your job and then you have no money to drive your car; insurance, licensing, gas and maintenance.  Then you are forced to take really bad public transpiration and the grocery stores are two bus transfers away.  Then you can only carry as much as a 56 year old woman can carry.  You would be surprised how much everything weighs and how far you have to carry to the bus stops and to your front door.  Yes!!! I buy far less than I use to, because it is a huge chore to get it from the grocery store to home.  
Mar 16, 2013 8:29AM
another buy a breakfast for $2.99 at let say Eat n' Park...a bargain right?...once you request a beverage,like let say a cup of coffee,which will cost you $2.00...where's the bargain!!!
Mar 18, 2013 9:50AM
I go to the grocery like a radar-guided missile. I know what I need, locked on to that "target" and swiftly launch myself to whatever section they're stocking it. Mission accomplished in just a minute or two...
Mar 16, 2013 1:31AM
I spent 16 years in the grocery business. I quit in 1997. The same things were happening in 1997. I still recall walking into my store for my shift, and smelling the rotisserie chickens, back in the 80's. Same stuff, different year.
Mar 16, 2013 2:03PM
If you buy ground beef from the grocery store, look for the meat that doesn't look like it was cut and packaged by a robot. The beautiful looking package was made far away from the pink-slime infused ground beef then shipped to the store several days later. The package that doesn't look so neat inside is the one that was ground fresh by the store butchers from the scraps of steaks they cut and wasn't processed in any way. That's the one you want to buy.
Mar 15, 2013 10:56PM
Great value has excellent chocolate chip cookies and I have found other good great value products...this surprised me at Walmart because store brands usually don't show that kind of quality.
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