Behold: The Secrets of the Grocery Store

A trip to the grocery store may be a hit or a miss, depending on your perspective. Some people love going to the store each week and others detest it with a passion. But there are some things you might not know about your grocery store that can change the results of your trip.

Here are a few of your grocer's dirty little secrets you might not have known:

Pick A Better Day

Hate the long lines at the check out counter? Start heading out to the grocery store before 8 am or after 9 pm, when only 4 percent of shoppers are likely to be cruisin' the aisles. If those hours do not suit you or your local store isn't open during the off-hours, stock up on Wednesdays, which is the least crowded day of the week at the grocery store.

Buying Overload

Ever wonder why when you “just run in for milk” you end up with a cart full of $100 worth of stuff you didn't need? That's because your grocer knows that putting the milk in the back corner of the store means you (the customer) must walk through at least one full aisle to get there. So, by going for a simple trek to get some moo juice, you'll see a ton of products you might not be shopping for but still will pique your interest, leading you to buy impulsively.

How Special is The Special?

Some specials are designed just to make you buy and spend more so be cautious. When it says “Oh what a deal!! 10 items for $10 means you will likely end up buying and spending more than you need. Face it, some specials really aren't that great. Weigh the pros and cons.

Look High, Go Low

If you want the best prices, scan both the top of the shelves and the very bottoms. The top-named brands pay big money to get their products situated at eye-level. Smaller manufacturers can not afford such placement but offer better pricing. So stretch high and bend low to save big bucks.

Missing Merchandise?

Can't find the baby formula, cough syrup, batteries, or razor blades? Ask the customer service desk for assistance as these items are usually locked up in the front of the store to prevent theft. These are some of the key items that are most often stolen and resold on the black market. The more theft from a store, the more money the customer has to pay in cost.

Go Employee-Owned

Shop at employee-owned grocery stores. You'll likely get better deals and tip-top customer service since it is the employees who have an interest, and a stake, in the store's success.

The Big, Bad Marketing Machine

Remember that brand manufacturers and grocery managers are true-blooded marketers. No one is safe from their tactics, even the kids. This is why all the cool, expensive toys, cereals, and junk food featuring Hannah Montana are all featured at kids' eye-levels. Give the kids a shopping list to distract them if you aren't ready to deal with 1,200 “Mommy,/Daddy, can I have...” during your shopping trip.



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Guest's picture

Consider all the marketing and packaging you pay for. I shop the edge of the store for single ingredients and stock up on bulk foods to keep my costs low.

Carrie Kirby's picture

I was SO reminded of that marketing to kids point when in CVS today and my 2-foot-tall toddler was presented with that counter FULL of candy.

Funny to hear that people don't shop on Wednesdays. I often do, because the new sales start the next day and the new flyers are out, so if there are deals about to expire I grab them on Wed. I even start my new grocery budget each week on Wed.

I blog at

Guest's picture

Great tips!

You overlooked the games the supermarkets play with prices-- use unit prices to compare and get the best deals.

The Real Grocery Shopping Secret
Unit Pricing, Unit Pricing, Unit Pricing . . .
Yet Another Unit Pricing Example . . .

Guest's picture

Great tips.

Grocery stores are full of tricks and traps to get you to spend more. One interesting tactic is to get you to spend more time in the store. The more time you spend in the store the more money you'll spend as well.

This is why you'll have a hard time finding a clock on the wall in a supermarket. This would only remind you of how much time you've spent shopping.

Ever notice that the only windows in the store are located at the front? This makes you less aware of the passing of time as well. Much like a casino it becomes difficult to determine how much time has elapsed.

Music has been scientifically selected to slow your shopping pace. Certain music has been shown to actually slow your heartbeat, thus slowing your shopping pace.

As mentioned in the above post, not only are staples like dairy products and sugar placed near the back of the store but they are also places at opposite corners of the store to make you spend even more time in the store.

See more store tricks at

Guest's picture

How then do you explain my local store often playing the radio broadcast of sports events instead of music?
And as far as going to the grocery story just for milk and coming out with $100 worth of items. If this happens to you often, why not just go to a convenience or drug store? A lot of local ones have very competitive prices on milk and if that is truly all you need its easier to go into a much smaller store!

Guest's picture

Not for everything, but for things we always keep on hand. We rotate among stores - our food coop one week, a big-box grocer the next, Aldi the next, and Costco occasionally - so if I notice something I usually buy at Aldi is on sale at one of the more expensive stores, I have the Aldi (per-ounce) price handy, to compare.

This is especially handy at Costco, because their sizes are irregular so it's harder to compare prices.

Guest's picture

I noticed such a difference in my shopping habits when I started bringing my mp3 player grocery shopping. I tend to focus more on my list, don't deal with the influential music, and it just makes for a more pleasurable shopping experience. Try it sometime!

Guest's picture
Debbie M

I usually shop at 10:00 pm on Thursday, right after my dance class which is practically adjacent to the store. While it's true that the store isn't all that crowded with customers, it is often jam-packed with gigantic loads of boxes waiting to be stocked. For some reason instead of pulling out a huge load of stuff from the store room and then stocking it, my store has its staff pull everything in the universe out of the store room and pile it in all the aisles and in front of the end caps before they start putting anything on the shelves.

Plus although the store is officially open, many parts of it are closed. You can't get anything from behind the deli counter or bakery counter and the salad bar is closed.

I used to go at 4:00 am sometimes when I was a student teacher, which was great for the complete lack traffic on the roadways, but even with virtually no customers at all, there was also only a single cashier, so you could still wait in line for some time.

Guest's picture

I have noticed a very intentional directing of people to the most processed (and expensive) options. Our local grocery chain is so over populated with processed food it is like a scavenger hunt to find basic things like rice, beans, vinegar, sugar. Everything is on the bottom shelf. My back ends up tortured by the time I am done stooping to get things from 6 inches off the floor.

Looking only for basics makes you realize how much of the contents of the store you really don't need.

Manufacturers and retailers must be aware that more people are making things from scratch. I have seen an organized effort to market those pre-made products more than usual lately.

Guest's picture

I agree--I can't stand when grocery stores play music or sports games. It's so annoying. I just want to get in and get out.

There are a couple of articles here and here that have some really great tips (more "secrets") to save money at the grocery.

Fred Lee's picture
Fred Lee

The single biggest drag for me are the crowds. I can't take it, so I shop at night or in the AM. Personally, I like the late night best, but it's a pain to get out after a long day, so I've been a morning person. Other than that, I kinda enjoy shopping for food.