Industry Secrets That Grocery Stores Use To Make You Pay More

One of the biggest hallmarks of #adulting is grocery shopping. It seems like a never-ending task.

There’s no food in the fridge. You go buy more food. Some of it you eat. Some of it goes bad. There’s no food in the fridge, again.

Mastering the navigation of the grocery store is a level we all hope to achieve. And we’ve all heard the basic advice of grocery shopping and I will reiterate them here for your convenience (cause this is a grocery store article, kind of like convenience store, GET IT? HAHAHA) Okay just me. Moving on, let’s review the holy trinity rules of grocery shopping:

1. Make A List – If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it. It’s impulse. If it was really important it would be on the list. I use Google Keep for my grocery lists because I like the handy feature of ticking off things as I go. I live by myself, however, if you grocery shop with a partner, the  Our Groceries App is super helpful because it can be shared across different devices and is updated in real time.

2. Don’t Go Shopping Hungry – Always a bad idea. How did all these specialty-flavoured crackers get into my basket? Just me? Okay. Honestly doing anything hungry is probably a bad idea. But especially shopping for food because it will only entice you to buy unnecessary items even more.

3. Make A Meal Plan & Keep A Budget – Don’t splurge on items you don’t need. This is the easiest way to have food go bad when you’re over ambitious and realize that unless you have raw produce every night, your vegetables will go bad.


Now, let’s get to the tricks use to trick you into buying more and how to counteract them.

They purposely place the warm, great-smelling deli food at the store front.

One of the wonderful things about walking into the supermarket is the smell and this is no coincidence. Most people walk into to tempt you when you’re hungry.

Instead: Eat a snack before grocery shopping and walk past the area without stopping.

Bigger baskets to make it look like you haven’t “finished” your grocery shopping.

Gradually, supermarkets have begun using larger baskets to trick your subconscious into feeling like you need to buy larger amounts of food to fill up the basket.

Instead: Use your own reusable bags if possible. If not, place your reusable bags in the basket to remind yourself you have them at check out (happens to me all the time) and to take up space in your basket.

Purposefully getting you lost

This is actually an effect called the Gruen Affect named after Victor Gruen (the architect behind malls) Ever feel like you’re in a crazy maze when entering a mall or store? It’s because it’s intentional so that you wander to find products you didn’t need.

Instead: Have a list and stick to it. But also study your local grocery stores and stick to those stores so you know which items are in which aisles.

Creating Scarcity

Ever see an item and you were only semi-interested in, and then it’s on sale but you need to buy a certain quantity? Stores intentionally do this to draw you buying more of something you don’t need. Depending on what it is, it can go bad.

Instead: Again this is the importance of a list. However, instead of just putting down the item, also put down the quantity. If lettuce is on sale 2 for $3 or $2 for one and you only need, just buy one. Let’s be honest, no one loves lettuce that much, the spare yourself from letting another vegetable rot (I’m SO guilty of this).

Using Attractive Colours

There’s a reason that yellow and red are the colours most used for sale signs. They are the colours your subconscious mind automatically process first and stores use this to draw you into sale items. If it’s an item you want, great! If not, it’s money you did not need to spend.

Instead: Create an “Anti-Grocery” list of items you should not buy because you

  1. won’t use it
  2. don’t actually enjoy it.

For me it’s pesto. There are two brands sold at my grocery store and one brand usually goes on sale. I’m always tempted to buy it because it’s on sale and then I remember I do not like that brand. It’s horrible compared to the other and I never use the whole thing. Anti-Groceries.

Slowing Down The Music

Stores intentionally put on relaxing, slow, background music because they want you to spend as much time as possible in the store and therefore buy more.

Instead: Put in headphones with upbeat music. Also create a time-frame in your schedule and stick with it (not including checkout times because who knows how long that could take).

While we all know excessive consumerism shopping is bad, most of only think about it the sense of fashion or home/electronic goods. And while you may not be spending $100 on a singular item like you would to buy a new outfit or thousands on a new phone, it’s still a large portion of your budget. For a more in-depth look and the video that inspired this post, check out CBC Marketplace where they go undercover in grocery stores.
Like all stores, grocery stores want you to buy more and tempt you in different ways. The grocery store is actually my favourite place to be because I love cooking and I’ve quickly learned it has become my shopping vice.

I hope these tips were helpful. Happy eating! (Cause really, that’s the best activity ever).

K