Grocery Stores Try To Influence Your Spending in 8 Ways — Don’t Fall for Their Tricks

Woman at grocery store reading food labels while holding her shopping basket.
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You may head into the supermarket with every intention of sticking to your list, but those last-minute impulse purchases can quickly put you over your limit. Don’t blame yourself just yet. Grocery stores use tried and tested strategies to get you to spend more money at checkout.

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Here are 8 tactics grocery stores use to influence your spending.

1. They Play Familiar Music

Grocery stores will play familiar tunes to put you at ease while shopping — and the reason for this goes back to a 1982 study. Marketing professor Ronald E. Milliman found that the tempo of the music played in stores can influence a customer’s shopping pace as they walk up and down the aisles, Allrecipes reported. Milliman found that a store saw an increase of 38% in sales on days when slow-tempo music was played.

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2. Strategic Store Layout

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), supermarkets design stores to encourage specific foot traffic patterns. This is done by putting certain foods in your path. FinanceBuzz added that you will typically find staple foods around the store’s perimeter, which prompts shoppers to look around at other aisles.

3. Intentionally Pairing Certain Products Together

Stores will often set up displays and pair specific products together. For example, CSPI said it’s not uncommon for stores to promote shortcakes and whipped cream during berry season.

4. End Caps Get People to Buy More

Customers may think they’re getting a good deal by shopping end caps, but end caps drive increased sales, CSPI reported, even if the price is the same as usual.

5. The Science of Smell

The smell of freshly made bread from the bakery or a bouquet of flowers in the floral section are meant to hit you as soon as you walk through the door. According to FinanceBuzz, these smells are deliberately used to make you feel hungry, which could make you buy more on your shopping trip.

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6. Free Samples

Not only can free samples help someone make a purchasing decision, but more shoppers feel obligated to make a purchase after receiving a free sample. This psychology is called reciprocity, Shopify reported. When there are more people at the sampling station, shoppers may feel a higher level of social pressure to make a purchase after trying a sample.

7. Big Shopping Carts

Grocery carts are three times bigger than they were in 1975, FinanceBuzz reported. Bigger carts allow shoppers to make larger shopping trips.

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8. Loss Leaders

Costco is known for its $4.99 rotisserie chicken and $1.50 hotdog. Grocery stores will keep items that cause them to lose money if it means more shoppers are coming through the doors. FinanceBuzz noted that Costco loses millions of dollars annually by keeping these loss leaders — but how much traffic are these items driving?

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About the Author

Josephine Nesbit is a freelance writer specializing in real estate and personal finance. She grew up in New England but is now based out of Ohio where she attended The Ohio State University and lives with her two toddlers and fiancé. Her work has appeared in print and online publications such as Fox Business and Scotsman Guide.
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