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How often does a quick trip to the grocery store turn into a full shop? You pop in for one or two items, but somehow find yourself leaving with a full trolley worth of food! Even the most savvy shoppers can find themselves sucked in by crafty pricing, product placement and other retail tricks.

But knowing the tactics retailers use to get you to open your wallet can help you fight back. Here are five ways grocery stores get you to spend more, and simple ways you can counteract their methods. 

1. Playing slower music

Shopping in silence might feel strange, so retailers play tunes to add ambiance to their shop. But the playlist you hear is more than just a friendly touch.

Hearing slow-tempo music also tends to make shoppers move at a slower pace.1 This extra time in store provides plenty of opportunity for you to add more items to your cart, and ultimately spend more money.

Quick fix: Pop in a pair of headphones and shop to your own up-tempo playlist.

2. Offering reusable bags

Reusable shopping bags are better for the environment than the paper or plastic single use varieties. Consumers often look favourably on shops that are seen as being environmentally conscious, but that’s not the only reason grocery stores now stock them.

Research published in 20152 showed that using reusable bags can prompt shoppers to spend more money. People sporting eco-friendly shopping bags tend to buy more organic goods, which typically cost more than standard varieties. They also reward themselves for these good choices by buying unhealthy “treat” foods.

Quick fix: Don’t dump your eco-friendly bags! Making a list—and actually sticking to it—is the easiest way to combat this problem.

3. Providing educational information

You may have noticed recipe cards, free store-branded magazines or nutritional benefit signage around your local market. These helpful displays are all designed to get you to add more items to your cart.

Recipe ideas are often written to encourage you to buy a particular item, such as a cut of meat or seasonal vegetable. But, chances are you’ll need to add a few other things to your basket in order to recreate the meal. Signs touting the health benefits of certain foods may persuade shoppers who are on the fence.

Quick fix: Meal planning, as well as making and sticking to a shopping list, can help you stay on track as you shop.

4. A strategic layout 

The entire grocery store layout is designed to get shoppers to spend more, but one of the biggest tricks is set up right when you walk in.

The bakery and produce sections are typically the first ones you’ll see in most groceries. This is done to grab you through two powerful senses, sight and smell. Colourful fruits and vegetables catch the eye and bring to mind freshness, whilst baked goods give off enticing smells. Both of these can stimulate appetite, and people tend to buy more when they’re hungry.

Quick fix: Don’t shop on an empty stomach. Have a snack before heading out or plan your shop for after mealtime.

5. Shelf placement

Where certain items are placed on shelves can also make a difference in how much you ultimately spend.

Expensive brand name items are often placed at eye level, so they’re the first thing you see. This can also include placing sugary breakfast cereals at a lower height to catch children’s eyes.3 The idea is to discourage bargain hunting by showing you something familiar right away.

Quick fix: Scan the shelves immediately above and below for less-expensive and generic options. These are often the same quality as the name brand item, you’re just not paying for the name.

If your grocery bills are getting out of hand, try these simple tips for slashing your food bill.


1. Freakonomics, AMA: Using Background Music to Affect the Behavior of Supermarket Shoppers
2. CheatSheet, 15 Tricks Grocery Stores Use to Get You to Spend More Money
3. Real Simple, The Secrets Behind Your Grocery Store’s Layout



About Author: Momentum Life is a leading provider of Life insurance, Funeral insurance and Accident insurance in New Zealand.

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