6 Big Grocery Shopping Traps
Beware of the sneaky ways grocery stores spur spending, and follow our tips to outsmart the system.
1. ENTRANCE AREA
The trap: Stores internally refer to this as the "chill zone." And with good reason: This spot primes shoppers with impulse buys like DVDs, bulk goods and holiday products that appeal to them emotionally, says Kit Yarrow, a psychology and marketing professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. It's designed to make you consider buying, say, a carton of soda for an impromptu barbecue.
What to do: You might think your best bet is to put on blinders here, but that'll come back to bite you later on in your shopping trip. Instead, let yourself linger and see these products for what they are: filler items that aren't on your list. "If you pause now, you're less likely to impulse-buy the item in the store later on," says Art Markman, a cognitive science professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
2. PRODUCE DEPARTMENT
The trap: Some experts believe fruits and veggies are placed in the front of the store because shopping for healthy food makes you feel less guilty indulging elsewhere. But Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy, reveals a more straightforward reason: "Produce has the highest profit margin, and you're less disciplined at the beginning of your shop."
What to do: Save produce for last; this will prevent overbuying. Plus, produce is less likely to bruise with less time in your cart.
The trap: Too many sales can encourage more spending. "They fire up emotions that override reasoning skills," explains Yarrow. "We think 'bargain' without considering value."
What to do: Consider the item's real value. "If you would pay full price for it, getting it on sale is a good deal. If not, it's just the sale talking, so skip it."
4. BURIED PRODUCTS
The trap: Stores place popular items in the middles of aisles so you have to pass lots of other items to get to what you need. "Research has shown that people buy what's in front of them," says retail science expert Herb Sorensen, author of Inside the Mind of the Shopper.
What to do: Keep moving. If it isn't on your list, skip it. If you still want it before checking out, go back and get it, but chances are "you'll either forget or find that it's not worth it to make the trek," says Markman.
5. PRIVATE LABELS
The trap: Shocker: They aren't always the best deals."Many brand names are fighting to stay relevant by offering sales so that they're cheaper than the private label," says Yarrow. As a result, stores are placing their private-label goods in more prominent spots so "they're easier to find, making shoppers less likely to notice sales," she adds.
What to do: Comparing prices every single time is a must if you want to be sure you're getting the best deal.
The trap: "Even if you're not hungry, a bite of food physically signals your body to get ready for a meal," says Markman. Research shows that these physiological changes make you a less disciplined shopper.
What to do: Hold off on samples until the end, "right before checkout, so the insulin rush won't affect your bottom line," says Markman.