17 Supermarket Tricks, Tips And Insider Secrets You’re Probably Clueless About

We’ve always known the supermarket is a veritable jungle, set with snares and traps designed to lure even the most observant shopper into buying whatever that heavenly smelling thing is, or lulling us into a contented stupor so we linger longer in the aisles. And now thanks to the combined effort of experts, analysts and grocery store employees, we know even more. Prepare yourselves.

Reader’s Digest went all out with its 50 Supermarket Tricks You Still Fall For. Some of those aren’t so much tricks as valuable insight the average shopper can use to better navigate those daunting aisles. We’ve culled 18 of our favorites capable of cracking your brain open to a new way of viewing the supermarket jungle. Get cracking!

1. Shopping carts are getting bigger so you’ll put more in them: “We doubled their size as a test, and customers bought 19% more,” explained Martin Lindstrom, marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.

2. You probably only know the price of four items: Your brain can only hold so much. So while you know the approximate price of milk, bread, banana and eggs, 95% of shoppers have no clue what other things cost. The clueless shopper then doesn’t know if you’re getting a good deal on whatever you buy outside those four things, so it might be good to study up.

3. More than half of shoppers decide not to buy stuff in the checkout line: That’s why supermarkets have started making checkout lanes narrower with less space to off-load those items. If you can’t dump it, you might be more likely to buy it. Dump early, folks. Dump early.

4. Wear headphones and listen to upbeat music while you shop: Many stores plant earworms by way of slow music, slower than the average heartbeat. That lulls you into spending more time at the store, which then leads to spending about 29% more, Lindstrom says.

5. Because grocery stores can’t compete with Walmart on price, they’re classing things up to bring you in: To compete with the low prices elsewhere, many stores are bringing in butchers who are skilled with the knife and produce managers who are pros on fruits and vegetables, along with dietitians who give seminars on healthy eating habits, according to Jeff Weidauer, a former supermarket executive and vice president of marketing for Vestcom, a retail services company.

6. That myth about milk being in the back of the store so you have to walk aisle to get to it? Not quite the real reason: It’s even simpler than tempting you with stuff on the way in, explains Weidauer. “Milk needs to be refrigerated right away; the trucks unload in the back, so the fridges are there so that we can fill the cases as quickly and easily as possible.”

7. If you need a cake, don’t buy it the day you need it: “We’ll have to give you one from the display case, and those cakes have often been sitting out for a while. If you order in advance, we’ll make the cake for you that day or the night before, and it will be a lot fresher.” — a former cake decorator and bakery worker at a grocery store near Birmingham, Alabama.

8. Sure, that mist on your fruits and vegetables looks nice: But really it can make them rot faster, Lindstrom says. Also make sure you shake off your leafy greens before you get to the checkout — the mist can add to an item’s weight.

9. Ask and ye shall receive: “The butcher will tenderize meat for you, the baker will slice a loaf of bread, and the florist will usually give you free greenery to go with your loose flowers,” says Teri Gault, grocery savings expert and CEO of thegrocerygame.com. “At some stores owned by Kroger, the seafood department worker will even coat your fish in flour or Cajun seasoning and fry it up for free.”

10. If something is about to expire the next day, ask about getting a discount early: If you see something in the bakery or meat department that’s probably going to get marked down tomorrow, say “Hey, this is expiring tomorrow. Are you going to mark it down?” Sometimes they’ll do it for you right then. They’ll have to sell it later anyway, so you’re helping them out, says Gault.

11. We’re all fools for the ten-for$10 promotion: “We’ll take an 89-cent can of tuna and mark it ‘ten for $10,’ 
and instead of buying six cans for 89 cents, people will buy ten for $10,” explains Weidauer. Who else feels like a sucker?

12. Just because you saw it in your grocery store circular doesn’t mean it’s necessarily on sale: Some of those products are just advertised so you’ll buy them. Make sure there’s an actual sale on an item before you set your heart on buying it.

13. There’s a reason that bread is in a brown paper bag: The faster the bread goes stale, the sooner you’ll be back at the store to buy more, a former worker says. Put loaves in airtight plastic bags as soon as you get home.

14. Avoid the herd mentality: Shop when the store isn’t as crowded or you could be in danger of buying more so you can be part of the group. Mondays and Tuesdays are the best — skip weekends if you can.

15. USDA quality grade means more than the cut’s name: Angus? So what — that’s no guarantee it’ll be a good steak, says Kari Underly, former grocery store meat cutter and author of The Art of Beef Cutting: A Meat Professional’s Guide to Butchering and Merchandising. “Prime is the best, then choice (usually the highest grade available in grocery stores), followed by select, and finally standard.”

16. You aren’t that apple’s first customer: Shoppers are constantly picking up produce, dropping it, and putting it back, explains another former grocery worker, so beware. “I’ve seen kids take a bite and put the item back. It took me a long time to start eating fresh fruits and vegetables again after working in a store,” she says.

17. The carts never get cleaned: Babies will do their business on carts, chicken juice will leak and who knows if anyone cleaned up after that? If you’re worried about germs, give carts a quick swipe with sanitizing wipes.

For 33 other tips and tricks, check out the Reader’s Digest complete roundup in the source link below.

50 Supermarket Tricks You Still Fall For [Reader's Digest]

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  1. ShadyTrust says:

    “Mondays and Tuesdays are the best ..” — Not at my local store. Every time I’ve gone early in the week, the shelves are almost always empty of the things I often buy. I’m assuming they hadn’t restocked from the weekend rush yet.

    • MarthaGaill says:

      I like to shop late, late at night while they’re restocking. Sometimes I’ll even pick stuff up out of the produce boxes before they’re on the shelf.

  2. Thorzdad2 says:

    “Put loaves in airtight plastic bags as soon as you get home.”

    Careful. Sealing-up a fresh loaf in an airtight bag can cause a lot of moisture to build-up inside the bag, promoting mold on the bread.

  3. CommonC3nts says:

    “3. More than half of shoppers decide not to buy stuff in the checkout line:”
    It takes a complete jerk to take a cart full of items to the register than pulling out a few items saying they dont want them anymore.
    Why take them up there if you dont want them??? How stupid can people be?

  4. SirJanes says:

    The Mon-Tue advice doesn’t work at any store in my neighborhood. Afternoon on Thursdays is best here.

    BTW, Readers Digest once used other published ideas without scrutiny. Is that still the case?

    Consumerist might do well to evaluate Readers Digest rather than just quote it.