A Supermarket Insider Reveals 5 Ways Your Grocer Is Trying to Upsell You

By Carrie Kirby on 22 September 2014 0 comments

Your grocery store is not out to get you, explains Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert. "Their mission is to make you very loyal as a shopper. They want to form a relationship," said Lempert, editor of insider grocery journal The Lempert Report and SupermarketGuru.com.

That said, the grocery industry is a low-margin business, and the more stores can do to encourage customers to spend more, in the most profitable areas, the better. Brands, too, would like to influence your behavior. (See also: The One Tool That Ensures You Never Pay Too Much for Groceries)

So beware of these ways supermarkets and brands attempt to steer your cart — and your wallet.

1. The Fresh 'n' Fruity

"One reason the produce department is in the front of the store is, it's like aromatherapy. Great colors and fragrances put you in a better mood, so when you're going through the store, you're moving more slowly; you might notice more products," Lempert said.

How to Evade It

Sticking to a list can help you avoid being influenced by attempted mood control. To avoid feeling deprived, Lempert advises drawing a limited number of blanks at the bottom of the page, so you can add two or three impulse buys — but no more than you can afford.

2. The Endcap Game

As you turn toward the next aisle, you see a towering display of identical cereal boxes. Beware! This may not be what you think it is. "Most people think everything in that endcap is on sale. Only about half the time is it on sale," Lempert warns.

How to Evade It

"Look carefully at the sign that's there," Lempert said. If it doesn't specifically show a discount, it's full price.

3. The Stock-Up Stickup

Buy one get one free, three for $5, or the per-ounce savings of the jumbo vat of ketchup — these can be traps if they lead you down the path of buying more than you can use before the expiration date.

How to Evade It

"Make sure you buy something in an appropriate size to use," Lempert said. "They might have 64 oz. tomato juice on sale. You have tomato juice occasionally. You might be better off buying the smaller cans, even though they're more expensive (per serving)."

On the other hand, if you are sure you'll use the larger volume in a timely manner, go ahead and grab the deal. BOGOs tend to be the largest discounts you'll see on most products. Lempert has one more caveat for stock-up-and-savers.

"Check the per-unit price. Just because it's in a bigger package doesn't mean it's cheaper. Because of operational efficiencies, you might find a 16 oz. can is cheaper on a per-unit basis than a 40 oz. can." If the factories are configured to pump out more 16 oz. cans, those may be the best deal after all.

4. The Scratch and Dent

"A lot of stores have damaged packaged goods, usually by the meat department. Don't go for that," Lempert warned. "When you have a dented can, you can easily grow bacteria in that can. If it's a damaged package, I don't care how cheap it is, from a food safety standpoint, I won't go near it."

But feel free to pick up kitty litter from the scratch-and-dent bin. "If it's a nonconsumable, sure," Lempert said.

5. Checkout Coupons

Those little coupons that print out next to the register? You may notice that they bear an uncanny resemblance to items you just bought. This is because brands want to target certain customers and encourage them to try their product next time.

"Let's say you're a Coca-Cola drinker. Pepsi wants to steal you, so they'll give you a high-value coupon to encourage you to switch to Pepsi. Or Coke doesn't want you to leave, so they'll give you a Coke coupon," Lempert said.

These aren't necessarily insidious, and may even save you on things you want. But be aware, there's some psychological pressure being attempted here.

Saving Graces

Phil has a few more insider suggestions for saving at the super.

Try the House Specialty

One area where the store and shopper's interests align is the store brand. These products are often identical to name-brand products, sell for less money, and send more profit back to the store. So while the store may try to steer you to its house brand displays, it's not a trap.

"Remember that store brands always have a money back guarantee," Lempert said. "Compare the ingredients and nutritional information on the store brand to the brand you normally buy. If they're identical, it's probably an identical product."

Join the Club

Lempert advises shoppers to tap every tool available to save: coupons, online programs, and store cards. Don't be paranoid about the fact that the cards and apps help the store compile data on your shopping habits.

"There are no secrets in today's world. Everybody knows everything about us," Lempert said.

Well, at least now you also know a little bit more about the supermarket.

Have you fallen for any of these upsell traps? Noticed any others? Please share in comments!

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