10 Grocery Store Tricks to Get You to Buy More


When you walk into a grocery store, whether you realize it or not, everything is designed to make you buy more. From the carts to the smells, from the music to the shelves, very careful research has determined what will best sell. By knowing the tricks of the trade that your grocery store is using, you can become a more disciplined shopper and make sure you only buy what you need. Here are the top 10 tricks that grocery stores use to make you buy more once you’re in their store.

10. Over-sized Grocery Carts

Ever think, “who could possibly use all this grocery cart space?” You’re not alone. In fact, the majority of people don’t even use half of that space. Grocery stores purposely oversize your cart. By making your cart bigger than you need, so that it never looks full, it psychologically makes you feel like you haven’t shopped enough.

We naturally assume that the cart is sized to our needs, so we try to fill it up. Kind of like how bigger plates will make you eat more, bigger shopping carts will make you shop more. According to Martin Lindstrom, marketing consultant, when shopping cart sizes were doubled, customers bought 19 percent more. So next time, use a smaller cart if your grocery store has it, and see if your spending habits change.

9. Aromas

Love the smell of freshly baked bread or fresh rotisserie chicken? You’re not alone, and grocery stores are ready to give you exactly what you want. From the moment you walk in the door you’re assaulted with all of those delicious smells for one reason: to get your salivary glands working. This is why the rotisserie chicken and bakery are usually located near the front. When you’re hungry, you’re much more likely to make impulse buys.

According to Paco Underhill, consumer expert and owner of Envirosell, the grocery store wants you shopping with your stomach, not with your head. If you want to be a truly impartial, disciplined shopper, you have to be aware that those delicious smells are deliberately placed to entice you and ignore them.

8. Free Samples

Average Percentage Increase in Sales After Product Samples in the Past Year, by Product Type

Average Percentage Increase in Sales After Product Samples in the Past Year, by Product Type

When someone is handing free, delicious, bite-sized snacks in a store full of food, it can seem like a totally altruistic gesture, but it isn’t. No, you aren’t being rewarded for being a loyal customer, and the grocery store is not just being polite by offering samples. Offering samples is a great way to push a specific product, but the amount of sales increase varies wildly.

There are some products, like beer, that increase sales by 70% if they are product samples, but there are much more lucrative product samples as well. For example, if wine is the product sample, the sales for that product will increase on average by 300%. In the case of frozen pizza, sales will go up by as much as 600%. Lipstick and other cosmetics are also great sample products and increase sales by 550%. So the next time you take a sample, just remember that those kind people handing it to you just might be a little more devious than you might think.

7. Music

We all know music plays a powerful influence on our mood, but did you know that stores use music to affect how fast we shop? Its true. During peak hours, stores will often play faster music to make you shop fast to get you out of the store, but during off-peak hours, many stores will play music with a rhythm that’s much slower than the average heartbeat.

According to the author of Brandwashed, having slower paced music makes people stay in the store longer and buy up to 29 percent more. If you want to spend less, maybe consider putting on some headphones and shopping to some up-tempo music.

6. Shelf Height

Grocery stores know what you see first is incredibly important. This is why shelf placement has almost become a science in grocery stores in order to make you buy the highest markup items possible. A quick rundown: the stretch level, which is above your head, is one of the worst places for product. Some customers aren’t tall enough to reach this level and even the ones who are don’t want to reach up there. This is where low profit margin, small and light items (for safety reasons) are placed. The eye level shelves are the most important place in the store. Products located at eye level receive 35% greater attention than those at lower shelves.

Because of this, the store will often put the highest profit margin products here. Basically, if you’re a bargain hunter, avoid shopping at this level. At the touch level, which is near the adult torso, is where all the kids items go because this is eye level for the average kid. This is why all of the sweet cereals and candy is located between 3-4 feet high. Candy companies know better than to market to adults. Kids just have bigger sweet tooths so they get all the attention from companies selling sugary products. Finally, the stoop level is a height where you have to bend over to get the item. This is similar to the stretch level and is one of the worst places on the shelf. This is basically product purgatory for everybody except bargain hunters who are willing to stoop over for a deal. So remember, if you’re looking for good prices, don’t look straight ahead. Look up or down for the best deals.

5. Associated Items

There are some products that we subliminally associate with each other, whether we realize it or not. Those two things go together like ____ and _____. There are a lot of things to that might fit this fill-in-the-blank, and all can be called associated items. These are products where, if you buy one, you’re very likely to buy another if you see it.

Grocery stores know this and place these products next to each other because we’re more likely to buy both products as a pair. This is why jelly is right next to the peanut butter, queso next to chips, and the toothbrushes right next to the toothpaste. So even if you’re only there for chips, if the queso is right there, you are much more likely to buy it, even if that wasn’t part of the original shopping list.

4. Scattering the Important Items

One way a grocery store increases sales is by ensuring that the customer travels down each and every aisle. So as important as it is to keep associated items close, it’s equally important to spread the most important products evenly across the aisles to keep you moving throughout the store. There are certain staples in most people’s diets that are predictable: bread, milk, eggs, cereal, coffee, pasta, rice/beans, meat, etc.

These are the reasons that most people go to the store. By making sure that each of these staple items has its own aisle means that the grocery store can essentially “design” your shopping trip and send you down as many aisles as possible. The olives, expensive cheeses, and vitamin supplements, which usually aren’t part of shopping lists, can make it into the grocery cart because you have to pass them while getting the essentials. By doing this, the grocery store maximizes the chance of you making an impulse purchase and filling up that over-sized cart.

3. “Mock” Grocery Stores

By now you might be wondering, “how could stores possibly have all this data on shoppers?” Well, very few people know this, but most major consumer-goods companies, including Unilever, Kraft, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola, among others, have set up cameras within “mock” supermarkets to monitor customer buying habits. They stock the shelves with their own products as well as their competitors’, then watch people as they come shop.

While their “shoppers” shop, cameras record their reactions and discover what makes them reject one brand and choose another. Another popular research tool is focus groups where people are asked to shop in an online grocery store. Based on this data, the company develops what in the business is called a “planogram,” a model showing where each product should be placed on the shelves to generate the highest sales, then buys shelf space in supermarkets and drugstores accordingly.

2. Got Milk?

This is the probably most well-known grocery store trick in the book. The grocery store puts the milk in the farthest corner of the store so that you have to cross the entire store to get to it. And this is undeniably true. But there are actually two reasons for why the milk is in the back of the store. Milk needs to be refrigerated right away, so the fridges are located in the back of the store where the loading occurs. That way the milk can spend the least amount of time in warm conditions.

That being said, it sure doesn’t hurt to have one of the bestselling grocery products be in the back corner of the store to ensure that everyone has to walk by all the other aisles.

1. Perception of Freshness

The number one quality people look for in vegetables and fruit is freshness. Unfortunately due to industrialized farming, oftentimes vegetables or fruits just aren’t as fresh as we want them to be. To get around this, grocery stores have found ways to trick us into thinking they are more fresh than they really are. For example, some supermarkets have been sprinkling their vegetables with a mist of water—a trend that came out of Denmark. Those tiny water droplets are associated in our brain as symbols of freshness and purity.

Another example of this is that Dole and many other banana growers have focused a lot of research into learning what color of yellow best signals ripe and fresh to your brain. The perfect color is Pantone color 12-0752 (also called Buttercup), which we associate with the perfect banana. Even one shade lighter yellow is considered inferior and farmers will aim to hit exactly that Buttercup shade of yellow in order to make your mind think… FRESH.

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1 Comment

  1. Castielle Elorea on

    Regarding your number one comment Perception of Freshness. The little trick with the water sprinkler is also a serious health issue, known to cause Legionnaires Disease. Don’t be fooled by appearance alone. My local Mariano’s store has what appears to be ‘fresh’ vegetables, but don’t wait even one day to eat them. They go bad almost as soon as you refrigerate them.