I have a great guest post for you today from Saver in the City.  She’s got a great blog.  She describes it as imperfect, personal and hopefully entertaining. It’s the thoughts and adventures of a 29-year-old girl trying to save money while still living the high life.  So make sure you head over and check it out and if you like what you see, make sure you subscribe to her feed.


Quick, think back to your last trip to the grocery store. Did you stick to your list and buy only the items you’d planned? Now be honest…

If you did, congratulations, you’re practically a shopping saint because according to studies as much as 60 to 70 percent of all purchases at the grocery store are unplanned.

While it’s easy to beat ourselves up for buying that $3.79 box of organic, sugar-free, trans-glutenate (not a real word so don’t even bother looking it up) granola bars, the little-known truth is that the produce is stacked against us when it comes to saving at the grocery store.

Most of us consider a visit to the supermarket a simple, mindless task, but the grocery store is anything but simple or mindless. In fact, entire professions revolve around tracking and predicting our behavior and then using the findings to influence what and how much we buy.

Where do supermarkets get this information? From the moment we enter the store to the moment we leave, we provide tidbits about our buying habits, sometimes with our active consent – for example, joining a club savings program – and other times without our knowledge through video cameras or radio frequency identification tags located on shopping carts (talk about Big Brother!).

But fore-warned is fore-armed, so below are some of the ways marketers influence our behavior, arranged in order of a typical visit to the grocery store.

Obviously marketers know you never get a second chance to make a first impression because usually the first thing we see upon entering the store is a display of promotional sale items or discounted seasonal products such as Halloween candy and Superbowl snacks. This immediately triggers our “need” for certain items while creating the perception that value can be found inside

Next we move onto produce. How did I know that? Well, in most stores the produce section is placed near the front door since people are attracted to bright, colorful displays. I know this is true when I think about it objectively, although I can’t help feeling this makes us sound like big dumb dogs (Ooohhh, bright shiny object, must have…)

After making our way through the produce section, we generally continue on in a counter-clockwise direction Studies have shown shoppers are more comfortable moving counter-clockwise through the store and as a result, we spend $2 more per trip on average than those who go the opposite direction.

So far this fits me to a T…

Back of the Store
Now we’re moving into dangerous territory. We’ve traveled all the way to the back of the store because we needed milk and butter and some genius put these common items all the way at the back of the store.

If you’re the shopper, you mean that sarcastically; if you’re a marketer, that person is quite literally considered a genius because by placing commonly-purchased items in the back of the store, we have to pass a veritable minefield of temptation along the way.

End-of-Aisle Displays
Which brings us to the end-of-aisle displays. This prime real estate tends to hold high-profit items or groupings – such as marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers – that distract us from our mission.

Even if these products aren’t on sale, we’ve been conditioned to think that they’re a better deal so we’re as much as 30 percent more likely to buy end-of-aisle items versus those in the middle.

What’s that up ahead? Oh crap, the most tempting promotion of them all: the free sample. Studies show that people who try free food samples in grocery stores are 68% more likely to buy the product. Stay away, your waistline and your wallet will thank you.

Middle Aisle
Once we finally make it to the center of the aisle, there’s even more mind games afoot. Products designed to attract kids’ greedy eyes and sticky fingers are placed within eye-level and reach of a typical toddler. For example, sugary cereals and those with cartoons are on the lower two shelves while the healthier, adult-oriented options are usually on the highest shelves.

Similarly, higher-priced brand name foods are prominently placed to encourage you to pick them over lower-priced generic or discount options. Marketers know deep down we’re lazy and that we’re less likely to choose a product if we have to bend over, lean down or reach high to get to it.

Phew, we made it and now all we have to do is wait in line to checkout. Hmm, while I wait I might as well pass the time reading this story about Brangelina in Us Weekly. Crap, I’m only halfway through and the person in front of me is signing the credit slip!! Guess I’ll read it at home. Hmm, maybe with some of this nice gum in case my breath stinks after all those free samples… Sound familiar?

And those are just the tactics related to store layout and design. What we buy is also affected by our other senses such as the music we hear and the scents we smell.

For example, music with beats slower than the human heartbeat encourage shoppers to slow down and dawdle in front of store displays. As a hospitality professional, I know we’ve used different paces of music to influence restaurant-goers’ timing and dining preferences. Even the colors of our restaurant – orange and red – are designed to stimulate appetite.

The style of music can also make a difference. In one experiment recently mentioned in PARADE magazine, British researchers played either accordion-heavy French music or a German brass band over the speakers of the wine section inside a large supermarket for a two-week period.

On French music days, 77 percent of consumers bought French wine; on German music days, a large majority of consumers picked a German wine. Most interesting of all? Only one out of 44 customers later surveyed mentioned the music as among the reasons they bought the wine they did.

Then there’s our treacherous sense of smell. I know personally it’s hard for me to turn down a warm loaf of bread once I get a whiff of all that freshly baked goodness. Stores know this and they exploit our weakness by offering “Fresh-baked bread at 5pm” guarantees.

Think the grocery store introduced such promotions for our convenience? Think again, they know most people drop by the supermarket after work…right around 5:30pm, which leaves just enough time for the smell of fresh-baked bread to waft throughout the store.

So, now that you know what’s working against you, how can you combat such marketing maneuvers? A few Saver in the City tips:

*Know what you want to buy before you get to the store – plan out your meals for the entire week if possible (less visits = less opportunity to overspend) and make a grocery list. Then stick to it.

*Make use of coupons…BUT only those for products you really will use – don’t buy something just because you have a coupon. Also, be sure to read the fine print. Even better, print out the coupon policy for the grocery store and take it with you in case there’s a problem.

*Pick the smallest carrier possible – Assess your purchases and pick the smallest cart or basket that can hold everything you need. If buying that unplanned gallon of ice cream means a heavy, over-flowing basket or a cold, frozen hand at checkout, most of us will skip it.

*Cost compare – When comparing items, be sure to look at the lowest and highest shelves to see if a similar product is available for less. Also, some of the more helpful grocery stores will list the cost per unit (ounce, pound, etc.) on the price label – granted in tiny, tiny print – so check to see if you’re really getting the most for your money.

*Experiment by shopping in a clock-wise direction – according to the study mentioned above, shoppers spend less if they buck the norm of moving counter-clockwise. No clue if this will work, but it’s worth a try!

*If you can swing it, don’t bring your kids (or spouse) to the store – Saying no to your screaming child after a long day at work or when you have somewhere else to go can be tough. Even more difficult is saying no to a spendy spouse who insists you need more Cheesy Puffs.

*Grocery shop in the morning – It’s been proven that morning shoppers buy less than late afternoon or evening customers, which according to focus groups is because we’re less hungry in the morning and therefore not as susceptible to impulse buys.

*Which brings us back to mom’s good-old-fashioned advice: never shop on an empty stomach.

Pics by:
Joyful Reverie

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