Sunday 17 December 2017

How to shop around and avoid a mad supermarket trolley dash

Many spend more on groceries than on mortgages, with large retailers using clever tricks to keep loyal customers coming back for more. Sinead Ryan separates the wheat from the chaff

Monica Hannigan in her cafe, the Broadway Cafe, in Dunboyne, Co Meath.
Monica Hannigan in her cafe, the Broadway Cafe, in Dunboyne, Co Meath.

The latest grocery market share figures published last week showed the three massive players in the industry grabbing most of the spend: Top (again) was Supervalu at 23pc, showing that it has continued to develop the Superquinn brand it took over in 2013. Just behind is Tesco at 22.2pc, with Dunnes Stores at 21.5pc, recovering from last year.

German discounters Aldi and Lidl come in at around 18pc between them and have proven the real market shaker in this highly-competitive sector. Any reluctance we might have had has worn off as brands and quality improve. Aldi, for instance, sells a higher proportion of Irish meat bearing the Quality Mark (82pc) than any other supermarket.

The average Irish family spends over €6,000 per year on grocery shopping; more when you take in top-up shopping during the week for things like bread and milk, often purchased from petrol stations or convenience stores. As such, it is one of the biggest household expenditures, sometimes more than the mortgage.

So, it's worth shopping around and getting the best value and for years, supermarkets have employed a range of tricks to retain and entice buyers.

The most obvious is the loyalty card. Three supermarkets offer one, where 1 point for every euro spent is given. However that 'point' is only worth 1c, which means you only save €1 for every €100 spend. It's better than nothing, but would hardly encourage you to switch from one to another, especially if another store is further away and the 'saving' gets frittered away on extra petrol. The real savings are to be made in the 'booster' points; for example, Dunnes' current promotion offers €10 off your next shop if you spend €50 or more. It keeps customers returning.

Tesco offers additional money off coupons every few months in its points bulletin, but you'd only want to be buying the specific products to get them. In addition, you can put its points towards days out, or ticket prices to attractions, with the points value quadrupling. Supervalu has occasional offers for a 5pc discount when your points hit a certain level and also has stamp savings towards discounted products like luggage or kitchen utensils. Neither Aldi nor Lidl offer loyalty cards, claiming their everyday prices are lower than competitors.

Supermarkets get a huge amount of data from your shopping habits and will often personalise offers. If you don't want spam coming from 'selected partners' - companies they have sold your data on to, you must un-check or opt out of the box that permits this on the loyalty application.

In 1995 UK giant Tesco asked retail consultants DunnHumby to launch their scheme and found sales were up 50pc within five years, by using data to classify customer profiles and improve product targeting. Using RFV technology (Recency, Frequency, Value), analysts 'score' customers on how they shop, what they purchase and how much they spend, using that to target them for other goods and services.

By law, certain purchases - such as infant formula, lottery tickets, cigarettes and medicines - are excluded from loyalty card points. Some also exclude call credit, but this is not mandatory, while others won't allow you to use your traded in vouchers to buy tobacco products.

All stores have a "minimum" spend (anything from 150 to 400 points) before they'll issue your points statement. The best value supermarket loyalty card is from Tesco simply because it's most versatile. Points can be used for money back vouchers, discounts off day trips and hotels, and it includes petrol and call credit purchases too.

Shopping tips

* Become a ‘card tart’. Don’t be loyal to any supermarket, but carry all the cards. A small purse to hold all the key fobs is a great idea, so you have a loyalty card on hand, irrespective of the shop you’re in.

* Never shop with kids, if you can. They’ll ‘helpfully’ add to your trolley and distract you for expensive branded products.

* Make a list. Have it up on your fridge during the week and add what you need to avoid over-buying.

* End aisles have ‘special offer’ products, but make sure they are. Don’t get distracted by the posters —only buy if they are discounted.

* BOGOF, or buy-one-get-one-free is only a bargain if you will use the second item. Double the apples may get thrown away, but a free box of detergent will get used.

* Label what’s in your freezer; that way you’ll use up what’s there and shop only to supplement.

Irish Independent

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