4 Tricks Supermarkets Use to Get You to Spend More Money

A young adult looks at a grocery store shelf concerned.

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There’s a reason your grocery bills may be getting out of hand.


Key points

  • Groceries are a big part of many people’s budgets.
  • There are tactics grocery stores employ to get consumers to buy more products.
  • Don’t let digital coupons and end caps make products seem more special than they really are.

As someone who takes budgeting and saving money seriously, I usually consider myself a pretty disciplined shopper. I can walk into my local retail store and come out with socks alone if that was the only thing on my list, and I don’t tend to splurge online or shop out of boredom.

But when it comes to buying groceries, I have a strong tendency to go overboard. In fact, recently, I took a look at my credit card statement and was shocked to see how much my supermarket tab came to for the month given that I was actively making an effort to spend less.

Now to some degree, that overspending is my fault. I like to eat, and I like to buy a variety of products to keep things interesting – and also, keep my kids from complaining.

But let’s also be clear – supermarkets are very good at getting consumers like me to spend extra money. Here are four tricks they tend to employ.

1. Stashing staple items at the back of the store

At pretty much every supermarket I’ve been to, staple items like milk and eggs are commonly found at the back of the store. Granted, that may be a strategic refrigeration play more so than a grand conspiracy to get me to walk the aisles and spend more money. But it tends to work to my local store’s advantage.

2. Offering digital coupons

At first glance, coupons may seem like supermarkets’ way of throwing customers a bone. After all, coupons make your purchases cheaper, right?

That may be true. But coupons also encourage you to buy items you may not have otherwise been interested in.

And these days, digital marketing makes it easier than ever for supermarkets to encourage extra spending. After all, you don’t even have to clip an actual coupon anymore. If you have a store card, you can load a digital coupon onto it – and use it to buy an item that sounds tempting but wasn’t on your radar.

3. Using end caps to make products seem special

Walk through your supermarket, and you’ll commonly see specific items put out on display at the end of certain aisles. These end caps are strategically designed to appeal to consumers and get them to buy items they don’t need.

Just the other week, I was walking through my supermarket and noticed a massive display of Oreo cookies. And you know what happened? I bought a few packages – not because I love Oreos (I think they’re just okay), but because the marketing gurus who work for my local store made those rows of cookies look so darn enticing.

4. Not having clocks

Ever notice how supermarkets don’t have clocks on the walls? That’s intentional. Grocery stores don’t want you to feel pressed for time. Instead, they want you to take your time roaming the aisles in search of new products to add to your cart.

Granted, most of us have watches or cell phones to combat that strategy. But let’s be real – how often do you pull out your phone while you’re loading your cart with goods? Mine tends to stay in my pocket or bag so it doesn’t get dropped accidentally, which means I commonly lose track of time in the course of buying food.

How to fight back

If you’ve been known to go overboard at the supermarket, there are a few things you can do to limit your spending. First, make lists before you shop and stick to them. That way, you’ll be less likely to venture into different aisles and get tempted by products you weren’t originally looking for.

Secondly, shop the sales – but only in the context of products you commonly buy. If pastry shells go on sale so they’re half off but you can’t remember the last time you baked, don’t buy them. But if your favorite yogurt brand is discounted, load up to the extent your fridge can handle it.

Finally, if push comes to shove, stop shopping with credit cards and pay for your groceries in cash. If you go that route, you’ll be more likely to limit yourself to the items on your list. Granted, this solution isn’t perfect, as it means giving up perks like cash back on grocery purchases. But if you feel it’s necessary, go for it.

On my end, I’m sort of resigned to spending a huge chunk of my income on groceries. The consolation is that I am buying a lot of healthy items for my family to enjoy. And if I end up impulse-buying some Oreos on occasion, it’s really not going to hurt my budget all that much (though my waistline is a different story).

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