17 Ways Grocery Stores Get You to Spend More Money

Which of their strategies have you given in to?

Woman paying for groceries at a plexiglass protected grocery store checkout
Photo: Getty Images / Goodboy Picture Company

If you've ever held in a gasp at the sight of your grocery bill, you've come to the right place. Sure, you enter the grocery store with every intention to stick to a budget. And yet, your cart can easily ring up to an alarming total when you stray from your shopping list. But you can't blame yourself, not entirely.

Grocery stores use tried and tested tactics to entice you to spend more money without you even noticing it (until, of course, you're checking out). Learning to recognize these strategies will help you lower your grocery bill and make you a savvier shopper all around.

1. Large carts

Consider this: the larger the shopping cart, the more items you can fit into it. More items in your cart can easily add up to a higher grocery bill.

2. Long aisles

Strolling down a long supermarket aisle to find the right item gives you time to spot items you didn't know you needed, and to load them into your cart.

3. Popular foods in the middle of the aisle

The reason for long aisles applies here, too: If you're halfway down the aisle before you find what you're looking for, you've already passed plenty of potential distractions.

4. Eggs and dairy at the back of the store

Why put essentials like milk and eggs at the back of the store? Because shoppers will pass much more inventory than if these items were at the front of the store. In other words, good luck to shoppers who think they're just going in to buy milk or eggs!

5. Produce at the entrance

In addition to being pricier than processed food on average, colorful fresh produce simply looks enticing. Some say the sight of it's enough to put shoppers in a good mood, making them want to buy more.

6. Freshly baked goods near the front of the store

A store bakery with its bread, muffins, croissants, and cookies will strike chords of comfort and nostalgia with shoppers, lifting their spirits. Its placement near the store's entrance is no coincidence, as it sets the tone for a positive shopping experience.

7. Expensive items at eye level

Again, it's all about what shoppers can see. Placing pricier items right in the average shopper's line of vision helps them stand out, while generic and less expensive items tend to sit lower on shelves.

8. Displays at the end of aisles

Companies will pay to have their products featured on the shelves at the end of aisles, known as end caps, as shoppers will take note of this prime real estate. Plus, end caps are designed to prompt shoppers to purchase multiple items.

9. Foods paired together

As with end caps, stores will set up other displays to get shoppers to buy more by grouping similar items together, such as chips and salsa or all the components of a charcuterie board.

10. Impulse purchases near the registers

The checkout line is your last chance to raise your bill, so stores take advantage of the area near the registers to sell you all the little things you didn't think you needed: gum, mints, magazines, chocolate, drinks, and so on.

11. Prices ending in .99 or .95

Ending a price tag with .99 or .95 convinces shoppers that the item costs considerably less than if it were rounded up, as we read prices from left to right.

12. Marketing sales as bundles

If you see a sign that advertises a "two for $5" or "three for $10" kind of sale, read the fine print. Often, you can buy just one item and still get the sale price.

13. Many deals aren't drastic

A sale sign will inevitably get your attention, but do a quick price check before you purchase something just because it's on sale. These discounts aren't as drastic as you may think, so notice the original price to decide whether buying something on sale actually behooves you.

14. Pricy prepared foods

When a store takes the time to prepare foods to sell in the deli section, you can guarantee these items will cost more than if you would prepare them yourself.

15. Music to set the mood

Soothing music slows you down, so you can stroll through the store at your leisure. In theory, more time in the store should result in more sales, and research from the American Marketing Association suggests that grocery stores do in fact generate more dollars when they play music with a slower tempo.

16. Seasonal items

Stores have to get rid of seasonal items like holiday candy or decor, which is why you'll often find them displayed where shoppers will notice them.

17. Free samples

Tasting a free sample at the grocery store certainly comes at no cost to you, but it can entice you to buy a product that you may not have even noticed otherwise.


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