Grocery Store Tricks And How To Avoid Them

by heather


Ah, the simple life...the way grocery stores used to be.

If you’ve ever been to a grocery store and ended up buying way more than you went in there for, then join the crowd. We’ve all done it. Thanks to subtle marketing tactics, the grocery store is a minefield that’s designed for one thing: making us spend money.

For instance, did you know that the type of music that’s playing while you’re shopping can influence your buying decisions? Did you know that the in-store bakery wafts those delicious fresh-baked bread smells around the store for a reason? Did you know that, statistically, you’re going to buy 40% more food than you planned on?

Yeah, grocery stores are crafty. So, let’s take a look at some common grocery store tricks, and how to avoid them.

Grocery Store Trick #1: Sales on the End Aisle

Most people assume that if products are located on an aisle end-cap, then it’s a bargain. But according to Smart Money Magazine, this is far from the truth.

A product may “look” like it’s on sale, but many times this is all smoke and mirrors. The original price that’s shown is actually an inflated one, making the “sale price” look really good.

Why do grocery stores do this? Well, companies pay big bucks to have their product placed on the end-cap. That’s prime real estate, and grocery stores actually earn more profits off product placement than they do selling food to us minions. So, the products on the end-cap paid a pretty penny to be there. It doesn’t make sense for a company to pay such a high price and then sell their product at rock-bottom prices. So, the price is manipulated to make you think you’re getting a bargain.

Money Saving Solution: You’ve got to put on your investigating hat here. Walk down the aisle and check the price of similar brands. Oftentimes, that “bargain” isn’t much of a bargain at all, and you can even find lower priced alternatives further into the store.

Also, know what you normally pay for the items you buy regularly. It helps to keep a small notebook on hand so you can write down prices. This can help you compare what’s real and what’s inflated when things go on sale.

Grocery Store Trick #2: Slow Music

How many times have you walked into the grocery store and found yourself meandering along the aisles, singing along to John Mayer or Norah Jones?

According to, music in a major chord with a slower beat is statistically proven to sell more groceries. Why? Because we slow down. We spend more time in the store because we’re walking slower and enjoying ourselves. All this means that we end up putting more stuff in the cart.

Money Saving Solution: If you can, do your grocery shopping with your iPod. That’s what I do. I put on the high-energy song list I use for when I go running, and practically dance my way through the store. I get what I need and get out.

If you can’t shop with your own iPod, then do your best to ignore the music being piped in. Remember, it’s there for a reason. The longer you’re in that store, the more money you’re going to spend. Try singing AC/DC to yourself and get the heck out.

Grocery Store Trick #3: The Bakery

Could the smells of fresh bread, cakes, and strudel that are being pulled out of the oven almost hourly have anything to do with the stack of carbs currently sitting in your grocery cart?

Um, how many ways can we say “YES”?

Grocery stores know that people love the smell of fresh baked bread. Which is why so many stores have in-house bakeries. People are far more likely to buy more when they smell baking bread. After all, it’s one of the most comforting scents out there.

I know that I have a serious, serious weakness for baked bread. I fall for this one hook, line and sinker.

They also hook you into to buying more with those “free sample stations” that are strategically located around the store. Get a taste of that spinach dip and you’re far more likely to throw it into your cart.

Money-Saving Solution: Simple. Don’t go the grocery store hungry.

If you’re full from lunch or dinner then you’re far less likely to fall for the impulse buys that the smell of cooking food usually leads to. So the best time to go grocery shopping is after a meal.

This will also eliminate your urge to sample food. Usually the stores put out calorie-ladened, ultra-tasty processed foods anyway. Who needs it?

Grocery Store Trick #4: Coupons, Coupons, Coupons…

If you think that $1 off Folger’s coffee coupon is a good deal, it might be. And, it might not.

According to, when people have a coupon they automatically assume that whatever they’re buying a good deal. But that’s not always the case. interviewed Arun Jain, a marketing research professor at the University of Buffalo. From the article:

“My studies have shown that if people have coupons, they won’t check if it is a bargain,” says Jain. “A lot of people don’t check the unit price.” He explains that coupons and sales are often inspired by a store’s overstock. If the supermarket has a lot of cans of tuna to move or if the product is about to be withdrawn, they’ll “promote” it with a sale or coupon. Basically, we may buy something we wouldn’t normally buy because it’s discounted and, as a consequence, they get their backroom cleaned out.

This also ties in closely with Trick #1. Remember, just because you have a coupon it doesn’t always mean that you’re getting the best deal.

Money-Saving Solution: You’ve probably heard this one before, but don’t use a coupon for something you normally wouldn’t buy.

And again, try using a price notebook. When you know how much your regular purchases usually cost, you can make smarter buying decisions. Knowledge is power.

Grocery Store Trick #5: Crowded Aisles

Ever wonder why the horizontal aisles at the front of the store are so dang crowded? When you’re lining up to check out, it takes all your effort not to trip over tables loaded with rotisserie chickens, fresh baked breads, cut flowers, and containers full of brownies and cupcakes.

That stuff is there for a good reason.


Because by the time we’ve lined up we’re tired and ready to get out of there. And everyone knows when you’re tired and cranky, you’re more likely to buy yourself just a little “something” for a treat to perk up.

That bouquet of fresh flowers? You might have had the strength to resist it when you walked in, but the more you eye it while you stand in line the more you’ll picture it on your dining room table. So, into the cart it goes.

Same goes for those fresh-baked cookies. You might have passed them up initially, but listening to the woman yell at her screaming child ahead of you lowers your ability to resist temptation. Those cookies start to look pretty dang good the longer you stand there. So, you grab a package to eat one now.

Money Saving Strategy: Try to do your grocery shopping late at night, or in the middle of the day. This is when standing in line isn’t an issue, and you’ll be able to breeze by all those temptations.

If shopping during the day or late at night isn’t an option, then just be aware that all these things are there for one reason: to get you to part with an additional $2 or $3. Be strong. Resist.

Last Word…

I’ve fallen for several of these tricks myself, especially the bread trick. I’m a sucker for artesan loaves! But, I’ve also grown more aware of how I’m being roped into spending more money at the grocery store. I keep my iPod in my purse, and am actually spending less now that I’m using it, mostly because I go through the store faster.

Do you have any crafty tips or tricks for saving money at the grocery store? Know of another grocery store marketing ploy that you’d like to share? Send them in!

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Meghan April 27, 2009 at 10:00 am

My best money-saving tip at the grocery store has to do with what I do BEFORE I get there. I plan my menu for the week, and make a list of things I need to make those meals. That way I’m just buying stuff that I’ll need, not random things that smell/look/seem great.
My co-workers things I’m crazy, and ask, “What if you don’t want to eat chicken on Monday?” I’m not tied to eating a specific meal on a specific night, but if those are the ingredients we have for that week, one night we’ll get to that meal!

heather April 27, 2009 at 10:05 am


That’s a great tip; thanks for writing it in!

I’ve definitely gotten better about doing that. I used to waste so much money; I’d plan menus but then not feel like that food later in the week. It would go bad before I ate it.

But I’ve adopted a more laid back cooking style in the past six months. If I don’t feel like fajitas one night, then I can throw those ingredients into a different meal, so nothing gets wasted.

Christy April 27, 2009 at 1:17 pm

I shop as early as the store opens, many times the music has not started and they are going through and discounting the produce and meat depts. You can get many bargains to fill your weekly or monthly menus. I shop at 6 am on Saturday morning, very few people are up then and you don’t have to wait in line very long. I do a months worth of shopping and am back on the road in less than 45 mins. Planning your list for the store and sticking to it saves money.

Ashley April 27, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Loved this posting! It actually ties in with my Food Challenge for May.

My husband and I have food in the house (likely food we got on a whim what we didn’t really need) that hasn’t been used and is wasting space. Our goal is to eat ALL of our food in the freezer and pantry in order to purge this “unpopular” food without throwing it all away. The goal afterwards is to NOT have any unwanted food in the house!

Another trick I personally do is to make sure to have eaten something BEFORE I go shopping. When I’m hungry it’s amazing some of the junk that looks so tasty. I try to at least have a snack, like a granola bar, fruit, or some cheese and crackers. Even just getting a drink and bringing it with me can help fill up my stomach enough to curb the extra buying and thus saves some money.

Ashley April 27, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Oh – check out the Food Challenge if you want to over on my blog!

Imee April 28, 2009 at 6:24 am

I do a couple of those… I play faster music on my iPod or talk to my mom while we’re grocery shopping, and I always check if coupons equate to a good deal or not.

heather May 1, 2009 at 9:38 am


What a great idea! Good luck with that; I’ll definitely check in on your blog to see how you’re doing.

Melissa M. May 3, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Imee, be careful about talking on the phone while you’re at the store.
I actually read recently that if you’re on the phone, you’re distracted so your sub-conscious is more susceptible to giving in to all the gimmicks of the grocery store (bright colors, festive holiday displays, “sale” items, etc.)
I’m with you guys on using the iPod though. I used to do it just out of habit from living in New York where I just had it on all the time while out and about in the city. Now that I live in Miami, I’m getting back into using it while shopping.
Another important thing for me is shopping by myself. I noticed that when I shop with my boyfriend, we wind up buying all kinds of things (usually unhealthy & overpriced) that I’d pretty much never buy while shopping alone.
Lastly, I did start keeping a price journal, from the advice over at I had noticed that prices on the same item varied widely from visit to visit. I didn’t realize that there was a pattern to it. By recording the prices weekly over a 1 month period, I could spot the trends and now I know the lowest prices on items that I buy. This helps get the best deal for when I do have a coupon & avoid that inflation you’re talking about!

erick quintanilla May 12, 2009 at 5:39 pm

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Sandy L. June 26, 2009 at 2:17 pm

I have decided recently to look at what I have in my pantry that I am not using regularly. Example, I had a extra can of cranberry gel suce and so I went to google and looked up recipes that use cranberry sauce as an ingredient….wow! I found cranberry pork chops with peppers and onions, and they were great! Then I has some black eyed peas given to me, but being a northerner I am not one whose eaten them much. So I looked up recipes and found a great turkey sausage and black eyed pea recipe with barbeque and honey sauce…my husband was stunned at how quick healthy and good it was! It is making me try new recipes, clean the pantry of foods taking up spaces, and not spending as much later when I do go shopping.

susan p May 29, 2010 at 9:16 am

what about buy one get one free up the price per pound are you really getting one free something to think about

Barbara April 23, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I like to keep my pantry and freezer stocked. I can check what I’m low on and replace it a little at a time. Also, there are times I don’t want to shop and having enough for a week or more allows me a day off from all that. Just need to get bread and milk on those days. If we have unexpected company no need to panic the pantry or freeze helps me to feed a few people extra. I hate to shop, just want to get in and out as quick as I can.

Doug October 24, 2014 at 12:12 pm

I have found that it is very easy to determine the overall pricing strategy of any grocery store just by looking at the price of a single Cup of Noodles. I primarily shop at a no frills, deep discounter grocery store. Here I will spend 28 cents per unit. Now compare that to what you pay at the major grocery chains. If you are spending 70 cents for the same item, well, now you know how the entire store is priced.

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