When it comes to luring you into spending a lot of money, supermarkets have been sharpening their tactics ever since the first food aisle was created.
Probably one of the first maneuvers came in the form of a candy and magazine rack, placed right by the register to entice those in line to buy something at the last minute.
The overall logic is, why not squeeze a little more money out of the consumer, after they’ve probably already spent a ton.
It's a tactic stores use against our two most common reactions when we’re waiting on line: boredom and impulsiveness.
Being bored while waiting for that technically-challenged person to figure out the self-check-out machine, can allow you to pick up all sorts of trash in the form of gossip magazines and tabloid newspapers, which are filled with stories of zombie sightings, cheating celebrities and grainy photos of Tupac and Elvis having lunch together.
And if you’re going to read a little trash, you’ll also need to eat a little trash, right? Which is why stores fill racks with all kinds of chocolates, gums and candies to ruin any chance of your staying away from the sweet stuff.
And just think, you thought you scored a victory after successfully passing the bakery department without grabbing anything. Darn those tricky supermarkets, with their four-foot racks of last minute temptation.
Apparently, when you're shopping, having the right amount of self-control is just as important as having the right amount of funds to make your purchases.
You’ll need self-control if you’re a parent too, because every red-blooded child on earth will utilize every scheme in their arsenal to get you to buy something.
And because of all this, consumers have been trapped within walls made of trash magazines, candies and begging children, and many times people will buy something just to escape.
But not anymore, experts say.
Between the combination of low magazines sales and consumers being more aware of today’s supermarket tactics, sales of items near the cash register have been going down dramatically.
And the primary reason for these low sales is that consumers are now armed with smartphones, to not only occupy their time while on line, but also to draw their attention away from these last-minute purchases.
Hearst, which has historically sold many of its magazines near cash registers, says it has begun to re-think the way its publications are displayed in stores; by placing cardboard shelves in various locations, the company hopes to entice people while they’re still in shopping mode and away from their handheld devices.
Of course this means that consumers should be alert to this new ploy, and raise their level of discipline by sticking to a shopping list and not randomly grabbing something from a cardboard display.
John Loughlin, general manager of the magazine unit at Hearst, told Bloomberg that smartphones have put a permanent black eye on its magazine sales in supermarkets.
“We avoid the dreaded cell phone at checkout,” he said. “Magazines are an impulse purchase, so we have more than one opportunity to capture the consumer’s attention.”
Nick Jones, of the retail firm Leo Burnett, told Bloomberg that consumers should continue to be on the lookout for store-front items being displayed in seemingly random departments, as companies are starting to place magazines according to their subject matter—so food magazines may go in the deli department and home and garden publications may go in the housewares aisle.
In addition, be on the watch for candies and individually packaged snack cakes that are strategically placed all around the store, because, again, companies are hoping to catch you while you’re still whisking around your shopping cart, vulnerable to impulse buys.
And speaking of shopping carts, they seem to be getting bigger, huh? Another tactic by grocery stores to lure you into buying a bunch of things that you probably don't need or want.
What to do
Money saving expert Andrea Worwoch says consumers shouldn’t even use a shopping cart if they can help it.
“If you use a hand basket, you’ll realize when you’re throwing in unnecessary goods or impulse buys, because it’s becoming heavier, so if you’re making those quick trips with a shorter list, use a hand basket instead, and you’ll be less likely to buy on impulse,” said Worwoch in a TV interview.
In addition, she says to avoid buying anything that’s pre-cut. If you do, you’ll be paying a price markup between 30% and 60%, so it’s best to buy things like meats, fruits and cheeses whole, and then make the time at home to do all of the cutting and chopping on your own.
Not only will this save you money, but items like vegetables will maintain their nutrients longer, since most lose a little when they’re pre-cut and bagged, says Worwoch.
And you’ve probably heard this piece of advice before, but be sure to shop “high and low” as Worwoch puts it, because stores put the most expensive items and the worst deals at eye level on shelves, so be sure to look at both the top and bottom rows for less expensive brands, that many times have the same level of quality.
It’s always extremely important to look at the price per unit to figure out what the best overall deals are as well, says Worwoch.