Home Friday 5 Friday 5: 5 Ways Supermarkets Screw With Your Will Power & Your Money

Friday 5: 5 Ways Supermarkets Screw With Your Will Power & Your Money

by Erika Nicole Kendall

It’s hard to talk about things like self-control without talking about the ways that control can be manipulated. What’s funniest about discussing self-control is that, the people who most loudly proclaim that they have the self-control of Zeus or some other Greek god are often the ones most likely to get played against themselves at the supermarket.

(Hopefully, you know what I mean by “get played.” Swindled. Manipulated. Gently nudged into something unexpected.)

The reality is, lots of corporations with more money than they know what to do with are out here every single day figuring out ways to convince you to do things that might not be too advantageous for you… but who cares? As long as you give them your money and don’t die, they’re happy! Their end goal has been achieved. They got the money.

Manufacturers, brands, and their distributors – the supermarkets and grocery stores – are all guilty of this. Let’s take a look at how supermarkets play you against yourself at the checkout, and any other places in their stores where they can swindle you out of your hard-earned dollars:

1) Supermarkets have a way of causing what I refer to as “Steve Urkel Style ‘I’m Wearin’ You Down!’ Syndrome.” Let’s assume that you don’t walk into the grocery store hungry. You were smart! Point scored.


You likely walked past the bread, past the pastries, past the pretty boxes with the “delicious” pictures of the dishes they create on the front.

What’s the likelihood that you’re going to make it through an understaffed checkout section, waiting forever, staring at candy that you’ll get to eat as soon as you finish checking out? No cooking. No microwaving. No heating up or mixing of any kind in any way. And, if you have a sugar addiction, how hard is it going to be to say no? Can you do it? Are you always successful at it? Grocers are banking on that answer being a “No.”

2) Imagine it’s that time of year. You’ve got to buy new shirts, new slacks, new jumpers, new shoes, and… school supplies. Since most people like to consolidate trips, the likelihood that a supermarket is publicizing its “crazy back to school deals!!!!1111111ONE” is high.

You walk in the aisle with your little angel. (You immediately realize that bringing your little angel was a mistake.) While you’re focused on locating the cheapest pack of pencils… your little angel is lunging for the candy across the aisle.

Why is the candy across from the darn school supplies?

Because grocers are banking on you bringing your little angel (and, remember, children can be the worst when it comes to self-control, and can often be even worse when you tell them “no”), or banking on you to be swayed by the “deliciousness” found within. What’s more, these often aren’t even the regular-sized sweets you find in the checkout lane. It’s the bulk candy. Perhaps you should listen to your supermarketorial overlords and buy the candy to put in your little angel’s lunch every day. Go ahead. You know you wanna.

3) Think about the layout of your grocery store. There are three things I can almost completely guarantee: 1) The eggs are nowhere near the front; 2) the meat is nowhere near the front; and 3) no dairy product is anywhere near the front. But why?

Grocery stores study purchases, and use this to gauge what are considered most essential to its consumer base… then they put it square in the back of the store. My grocery store in Miami Beach, admittedly a very health-conscious neighborhood? Actually had the dairy in one back corner, the meat in the middle back of the store, and the produce in the far back left corner of the store.

The idea is to get you walking through the store. You have to walk through an aisle and see, hopefully, something else that you may want to buy as well as that item that’s got you headed to the back of the store. And, what’s more, since the ends of the aisles are often where the most big-ticket items are often stashed, chances are high that you’ll wind up picking up something you didn’t want… and it’ll be twice as expensive. Go rub your wallet a little… because it probably hurts.

4) When you first walk into your grocery store, what do you do? You grab a cart, not a basket, right? Well, believe it or not, that’s another way you can get “got.” Carts allow you to buy what a basket might compel you to put away. Swap out your cart for a carry basket or two… and just watch. All of a sudden, all of those big boxes, the candy, the so-necessary stuff you’d just throw in because it’s “on sale” all start to become less and less “necessary.”

Grocery carts came out of convenience – stores created them so that shoppers wouldn’t have to keep running back and forth to make purchases… but then, it was clear that grocers benefit from this – carts help people spend more money… and, before you knew it, carts started getting larger.

Me and grocery carts have always had a love-hate relationship. When I first started eating healthier, I started trying to walk anywhere and everywhere… the grocery store included. I limited myself to whatever I could carry home with my daughter and her umbrella-stroller in tow, so I had to limit myself. Once I got to the grocery store, sure, I’d get a cart… but I’d put my stroller in it to ensure that every time I put something in that cart, I remembered that I’d have to carry it home. I had to choose more wisely.

When I upgraded to the jogging stroller, which arguably had much more in terms of space and storage, I gave up the shopping cart altogether. I put one carrying basket up top where the drinks might normally go, and the other in the bottom underneath Mini-me’s seat. Much wiser choices, which gave me a reason to make smarter decisions for my waistline that had little to do with “I want it, but I shouldn’t have it.” Sometimes… that’s just not reason enough. You’ve got to work your way up to that point. Shrinking your cart helps.

5) Suppose you walk into your favorite aisle in the grocery store… the cereal aisle. What’s directly at eye level? Most importantly, what’s directly beneath eye-level, assumedly at eye-level of your child? Furthermore, what’s on “ground level,” a few inches above the ground? The most expensive items are often found at eye-level for the average human being, which is somewhere around 5’4″ or so for women. The most kid-centered/focused items are around a child’s height, and the cheap stuff? Often the absolute bottom shelf, or sometimes not even near the good stuff at all. Don’t fall for it. Do your research! Dig. Don’t buy the brightest, most colorful or prettiest brand you see, or the brand with the “delicious-looking meal on the box.”

Do you know of some other ways supermarkets are messing with you, getting all up in your mental-mind and mudding with your self-control?  Spill ’em!

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JessNYC July 6, 2012 - 5:36 PM

Another sales tactic I’ve noticed of late are those 5 for $5, 4 for $10, etc items. What the stores don’t advertise is that you can just get 1 for $1, 1 for $2.50 and so on. And if you notice in the carts of those around you they tend to buy the advertised amount.

Jame (@jameane) July 6, 2012 - 7:49 PM

I frequent Whole Foods, Trader Joes and a local indie market. WF and the indie market are setup much like a normal market, but they each have produce in planted near the door to draw you in. Both also put the deli/hot bar in view right when you walk in. And the baked goods are right there next to you.

In the indie store, to get to the organic produce, I have to walk past the cheese, the pies, the housemade chocolates, the hot area with burritos, chinese food and the deli, and the refrigerated entrees!

Whole Foods is equally evil. Min id configured in a track, when you follow the track you go from produce, to meat and cheese, to diary. The “aisles” are at the end of the loop. And then you pass the gelato bar and the bakery case. Once you are ready to checkout, the whole buffet of prepared foods surround you. Oh and the DIY granola bar. Conveniently located behind the express checkouts.

Paulette July 7, 2012 - 3:26 PM

This subject is one of the reasons why I continue to read this blog. You break down the foolishness. One way that I deal with not bringing home extras to shop with my recyclable bags. If I can’t carry it in the store, then I don’t need it. And I don’t mind coming back in a few days for fresh fruit and vegetables.

Cassandra July 14, 2012 - 2:52 PM

This is some good stuff. I knew that there had to be some reason why all of the markets seem to be set up the same way. And you’re right, most times they are understaffed, forcing you to wait in line where the candy bars, chips and sodas are right there staring at you sending those subliminal messages. But alas, because of this information, I am very much aware of these tactics and will be making the conscious decision to leave them right where they are.

Jessica April 1, 2013 - 6:34 AM

Pumping the smell of freshly baked bread through the air

Jessica May 20, 2014 - 3:30 PM

Ok, so I am like two years late on this, LOL. I am going through the site reading all of the articles. SO INFORMATIVE!! Anyways, I avoid getting sucked into that type of marketing by only bringing a certain amount of money with me when I shop. My husband and I live on $70 a week for groceries. And that includes toiletries, light bulbs, etc. So if I buy that magical looking box of honey buns that is part of the 3 for $5 deal or whatever hoax they have going, well then there go my strawberries, mangos and avocados. And I need my avocados and mangos for my guacamole or I will not be a happy camper!! I also avoid all processed foods possible and the main items that are part of this marketing schemes are usually processed foods. All of those fake ingredients gross me out so I zoom right past with my $70 in hand and my WALLET and MY BODY remain happy. I win, LOL.

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