Business Personal Finance

Sunday 18 March 2018

How supermarkets get you to spend more

Watch your spending in supermarkets
Watch your spending in supermarkets

Jessica Winch

Most people, when they are out shopping, are susceptible to all sorts of bribes and tricks played on them by wily retailers. Here, we profile some of the most common mistakes that are costing you money. Be on your guard.

Shelf stacking

Supermarkets tend to put the least expensive items on the bottom shelves. This is because most customers tend to grab the first item they see – at eye level – so take an extra second and look down for lower prices.

Because of VAT rules, some items cost more depending on where they are stacked. Nuts, for example, are cheaper on the health food aisle, but are more expensive when sold as a snack.

Habit shopping

A big mistake is to shop for the same brands each week out of habit – you can save a lot of money by being prepared to switch. "People reach for familiar items, which is expensive over time," said Neil Saunders of retail consultancy Conlumino.

Instead, said Jenny Keefe of, try dropping one brand level on everything. If you usually buy luxury hand wash, for example, try the supermarket's own brand version. "If you can tell the difference, then switch back, but the process can save up to a third on your annual shop," she said.

Special offers

A survey for UK magazine The Grocer in May found that two thirds of shoppers were confused by supermarket promotions.

"It's a mistake to assume that all special offers are great," said Ms Keefe. "Just because it's got a red sticker doesn't mean you'll save much money."

Instead, look carefully at price per 100ml or 100g and where possible compare the real price of the options available.

If you do spot a bargain, then apps like BigOven (iPhone and Android) can suggest recipes for the discounted item.

Impulse buying

"Often people go into supermarkets without a list and end up putting a lot of treats in their trolley that come as a shock at the till," said Mr Saunders. "Supermarkets are very good at putting temptations in your path."

Have a budget and stick to it.

Misplaced loyalty

Don't shop at one supermarket just because they have a loyalty scheme.

By using comparison websites, consumers can find out where their shopping is cheapest. If you don't have time to check online before you go to the supermarket (or you don't live near more than one) then ask at the till about their price comparison schemes.

Embarrassed by coupons?

You can save a lot of money by planning your shopping around the coupons available, so don't be embarrassed to use them. "If you have a coupon, remember you don't have to spend it straight away – if you can wait until a product is on sale, you can buy it for pennies," said Ms Keefe.

Waste: the 'sell by' trick

Households throw away more than seven million tons of food and drink every year, which could have been safely consumed. "Use-by" means that it can be dangerous to eat the product after the specified date. "Best before" just means that the food could begin to lose its flavour and texture after this date. Ignore date marks such as "display until" or "sell by", which often appear on packaging.

They are used by shops to help with stock control and are not instructions for shoppers.

"Be sensible about what you can consume," said Mr Saunders. "People often buy too much milk, bread, and especially fruit."

He said many supermarkets have dramatically improved their frozen food section, which can be a more cost-effective option because shoppers use what they need and keep the rest on ice.

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