7 Tricks Supermarkets Use To Get You To Spend More

Supermarket Tricks

Oh So Pretty… maybe I should buy more stuff!

Besides a mortgage or rent, food shopping is one of the biggest expenses in most households.  The main reason behind this expense is because we have to eat to survive.  And since most of us are too lazy to grow our own food, we love to pay for the convenience of having other people grow our food so we just have to pick it up at the store.

We’ve already covered ways you could save money food shopping, but we should also be aware of some of the tricks supermarkets use to try to get us to spend more.  Reader’s Digest put together a list of 50 supermarket tricks you still fall for, but some of them are not even tricks and the article is a series of slides (51 freaking slides) that keep you clicking around until your hands go numb. I should write about “50 website tricks to keep you on their sites longer”… making you click through 51 slides is one of them.

Here I’ll summarize the most important points in the article and add a few more that I’ve learned along the way.

Supermarket Tricks You Should be Aware Of

1.  Bigger Shopping Carts – Shopping carts keep getting bigger and bigger so we can keep adding more and more stuff to them.  Sure, it’s cool to find a cart big enough that you can put your three kids inside (you know who you are), but supermarkets are not getting bigger carts for your convenience, they just want you to feel bad for walking around with a nearly empty cart.

To avoid filling up your cart with unnecessary things, have a shopping list and determine if you can do your food shopping with just a hand basket.

2.  Colorful Entrance – Ever wondered why the colorful fruits and veggies are usually the first thing you see when entering the store?  It’s because they know colorful things put shoppers in a good mood, which makes them buy more stuff.  Supermarkets also use the water mist on vegetables, which is known to make produce rot faster and add water weight, to make them look shiny and fresh.

Being in a good mood is not bad, just be aware of this trick.  Also shake off some of the excess water if buying produce by weight.  It probably won’t change much, but why pay more?

3.  Slow Tempo Music – Many stores play music with tempo that’s slower than the average heartbeat so that you move a little slower and spend more time in the store.  The longer they keep you in the store, the greater chance you’ll buy more things.  That’s also the reason why most supermarkets don’t utilize all their check out lanes and instead make you wait in line.  The longer you wait, the greater the chance you grab that tabloid magazine, or that pack of gum staring you in the face for the last 47 minutes.

Instead wear headphones and listen to upbeat music if you’re shopping by yourself.  You will look anti-social, but it will make you move faster.  Or you can go food shopping with a fast walker.  Kate gets this “supermarket walk” where she just takes off as soon as she gets into the store leaving me behind all the time.  I usually take my sweet time.  You want to go food shopping with Kate and not with me.

4.  10 for $10 Is Not Always a Good Deal – Sometimes stores raise the prices of certain items and by having a 10 for $10 deal, give you the impression that it is on sale.  The example given in the article is about cans of tuna, which could sell for $0.89 per can, but the store puts them on “sale” at 10 for $10.  Making you not only paying $0.11 extra per can, but making you buy 10 of them.

Be aware of this trick and only buy things when you know they’re really on sale. Most consumers buy the same 80% of items every week.  You can keep your receipt and see how much you paid for them last time.  Also, often times you don’t necessarily have to buy 10 items to get each item for a $1.  Supermarkets only advertise 10 for $10 so you feel like you have to buy 10 items, but if it doesn’t say “Must buy 10” you could just buy one and pay $1 a piece.

5.  Deceptive Placement of Deals – Some sales only apply to a very specific size of a particular item.  For example, some stores would offer 50% off a 10-oz package of deli ham but put the sign between the 10-oz package and the 16-oz package, which is not on sale.  You might just look at the sign and assume that everything next to the sign is on sale and could grab the wrong one.

Pay close attention to the sale signs to ensure that you don’t pick the wrong size.  This applies to coupons as well.

6.  Breads in Paper Bags – Stores give you their fresh bread in paper bags so it goes stale faster and you have to go back for more bread.  Some stores have also been known to use the same dough for their French Bread and Italian Bread, but just shape it differently.

There’s probably nothing you can do about them using the same dough, but to keep your bread from going stale faster, place it in an airtight plastic bag as soon as possible.

7.  Items in the Store Circular – Many people assume that items in the weekly store circular are on sale, but that’s not always the case.  Many of those items are full price, but stores make you believe they’re on sale by saying “Bananas $0.75 THIS WEEK.”  Often times it is the same price it was last week and the same price it will be next week.

As I mentioned before, you could save your receipt or save last week’s circular and compare prices to ensure that you’re getting a deal.

Before You Go Food Shopping

Be aware of these tricks supermarkets use next time you go food shopping and remember to always have a shopping list at hand and stick to it.  Also, try to keep to the outside perimeter of the store where all the essentials are placed.  If you wander into the aisles you might come out with 27 different things that weren’t on your list.

What tricks have you noticed stores use to get you to spend more money?

[Photo Credit: Anthony Albright]


  1. Even Steven says:

    They certainly used to get me on the 10 for 10, I have since wised up. #7 is a double edged sword since they like to put fruits that are in season on sale, but yeah it’s very easy to see something that says BUY ME and realize it’s the regular price.
    Even Steven recently posted…I make $0 writing about my Personal Finance LifeMy Profile

  2. Kipp says:

    Yea some 10 for 10 stuff is a horrible deal while others are actually a good deal. You just need to know the regular price of that merchandise (which is often on the sale tag at my store). Sometimes I can get items over half off and sometimes the 10 for 10 is actually a couple of pennies over the regular price. But I think my store does many of the things you mentioned in your list.
    Kipp recently posted…Frankly Frugal Finance: Weekender Edition #6My Profile

  3. debster says:

    I used to be a sucker for a sale sign and I didn’t remember if something was a good price or not. I would text Hubs from the grocery store to know if it was a good deal or not. Ya, that lame.
    debster recently posted…I Just Paid Off my Cash Advance Credit CardMy Profile

  4. Ooooh. Sketchy, sketchy stuff. I read once that stores like Walmart put their ‘enter’ door on the left side when coming in the store so you get disoriented. Then you’ll spend more apparently.
    Will @firstqfinance recently posted…How to MAKE Money with Back-to-School ShoppingMy Profile

  5. The deal placement has gotten me several times. I hate grocery shopping and try to get in an out as fast as possible, which means barely glancing at signs. Also, I haven’t been able to prove it, but I think our local grocery store hires really annoying people to stand in the way so you don’t have time to find the cheapest item. It happens every time….
    Autumn @ The Barefoot Budgeter recently posted…5 Financial Lessons to be Learned from MonopolyMy Profile

  6. Aldo Rancier says:

    Hhaha they’re probably the same people that our grocery store hires to stand in the way.
    Aldo Rancier recently posted…Is It Better to Buy or Rent?My Profile

  7. I actually make a habit if I know I have a small shopping list to not get a shopping cart. This keeps me under budget and prevents me from overspending because I buy only what I can carry.
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted…Music Mondays I Knew You Were TroubleMy Profile

  8. Kara says:

    I’ve seen deceptive sign placement at my grocery store. They place the sale sign with non-sale items at eye level, and the sale items are below. Tricky, tricky!
    Kara recently posted…How to Be Even More Frugal Than You Already AreMy Profile

  9. Interesting tricks, most of us don’t realize it thinking that grocery stores doing all of these for the customers’ own good, which is not always true. I myself have a bad habit of throwing away my receipt so I’m not usually aware of price discount. Nevertheless, I always try to only use hand basket so I’m not tempted to buy things that are not on my list initially.
    Suburban Finance recently posted…Are Gym Memberships Worth The Cost?My Profile

  10. I always fall for the buy one get one offers. Sometimes I don’t even need that item but it’s a deal so I buy it anyway. Really have to work harder on resisting these.
    Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted…Why Travel Should Be A Must For Every BudgetMy Profile

  11. I totally agree that 10/$10 is not always a good deal. It’s especially not a good deal when you HAVE to buy ten of something to get it.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted…What to Do if You Are Morally Opposed to Tipping ServersMy Profile

  12. Nicola says:

    I am tempted by the buy one get one free offers frequently, even if it’s something we don’t normally buy! I have to try really hard not to buy those.
    Nicola recently posted…The Trap Of More.My Profile

  13. LaTisha says:

    I go for the 10 for 10 deal every time! I’ll have to pay attention to the original price more often.
    LaTisha recently posted…15 Totally Random Facts About People Who Retire With Roth IRA MoneyMy Profile

  14. The money that companies including grocery stores spend on marketing consultants is serious business. All that you listed are tried and true and you offered really good tips on how to counter the tricks of the trade. When it comes to groceries, I am actually able to stick to my grocery list, and quickly go in and out.
    Kassandra @ More Than Just Money recently posted…Financial Fire Drill – Are You Ready?My Profile

  15. I totally agree by using a bigger shopping carts will lead you to buy more and to full your carts. I chose to use a small shopping cart, it’s easier to fill the cart.
    Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way recently posted…Side hustle ideas, part 1My Profile

  16. Tennille F. says:

    I have fallen victim to several of these as well over the years. Creating a price book has really helped me to know when a sale is a sale. Our local stores also to the 10 for $10 deal but then they add “get the 11th” for free. Getting one free still is not always a “good deal”.
    Tennille F. recently posted…SavingStar Grocery App ReviewMy Profile

  17. S says:

    I’ve notice here lately items mysteriously placed in my cart while my back was turned and before I went to check-out!
    It was during check out that the mysterious item was discovered!
    Just today, I myself put a container of strawberries inside of my cart, however, when I was at check-out, another container had mysteriously been placed inside of my cart. I noticed that it was of a different brand.

    This is the 3rd time this has happened at this particular Supermarket Chain!

    Has anyone else experienced this?