Tricks of the Trade

Or How Grocery Stores Get You to Buy More Than You Came For

With the newest unemployment figures higher, with more people on food stamps, and with food costs rising we all have to be very careful how much we spend at the grocery store. None of us can afford to waste money on frills. We need every cent to feed our families.

That is why it is so important to know the tricks grocery stores use to get us to spend more than we should at the store.

From the aroma of fresh baking bread, to the flowers, to the music, to the displays, everything; and I mean EVERYTHING in a grocery store is designed to make us spend more money and to make impulse purchases.

Grocery stores spend billions a dollars a year to understand the psychology of our shopping habits. They do a lot of research. Store design and layout is not random; it is a science. A science designed to get us to spend more money on items we do not need and to make impulse buys. Did you know they actually have psychologists and marketers follow shoppers around the store to discover how we shop? And they build their stores around what they learn.

And a large part of what they learn we willingly hand over to them with a smile. I am talking about the grocery discount cards, value cards, frequent customer cards. They go by different names. You know what I am talking about; that little plastic card that looks like a credit card that allows you to get items at a sale price.

Does anyone besides me remember when grocery stores gave you a sale price WITHOUT those darned cards? Sometimes I don’t even have all my items out of the cart and onto the conveyor belt before the cashier is badgering me for that stupid card.

Trick # 1 Discount Cards

In the grocery store business many times those two words are a contradiction in terms.

These cards can sometimes give you some savings. But as mother always used to say, “Ain’t nothing for free.” Use of this card comes at a huge price. I am sure everyone knows by now these cards are just a tracking device. YOU ARE BEING WATCHED. And the information on our spending habits (buy a little too much wine this week, dearie?) is being sold to the highest bidder – from marketers to insurance companies. Is the government next? You didn’t know? Yes. Stores SELL that information. They make money off of that little plastic rectangle.

But more importantly these cards may not be saving us all that much money. In fact, they may be causing us to spend more.

As reported by a television station in Philadelphia did a study on these discount cards and this is what they found:

They compared prices of six different supermarkets in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, three of which had discount cards and three that did not. They purchased mostly brand name products from each store. After adding the plus and minus of the test they found that they came out cheaper in the non-discount card stores by $22.14. [Emphasis mine.]

This is what I do. I have some cards. But I use them sparingly. And I shop at several stores that do not have cards at all. Those kinds of stores do exist. When I do use cards, I use the cards for sale items I really need or want. Sometimes when I shop at stores where I have a card I do not use it at all. Drives the cashier nuts. I get my fun these days anyway I can!!!!!!  I’m telling you. You really ought to try it some time. It really plays with their minds.

Trick #2 Music, Music, Music

“I’d do anything for you. Anything you’d want me to,” went the words to the hit song Music, Music, Music sung by Teresa Brewer in 1949.

And so it is with the music playing in grocery stores.  The music gets us to spend more money. That’s right. We spend more money when we hear a certain type of music.

Psychologists and marketers have discovered that we buy more when we hear music in a major chord than when we hear music in a minor chord. Music with a tempo lower than the human heartbeat has statistically been proven to cause us to slow down and thus to spend more time in the store. We walk slower when we hear that tempo.

More time in store = more money forked over to the store.

Music is not the only sense they use against us either.

Trick # 3 The Bakery

Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Who can resist the aroma of fresh bread baking in the oven? Stores have learned and  research studies confirm consumers tend to buy more bakery products when they can smell them fresh from the oven. That heavenly aroma  makes us hungry. And when we are hungry we buy more according to industry studies.

WATCH FOR THIS NEW TREND. Many stores now also have an aroma therapy department where you can purchase candles, perfumes, and the like. I wonder how much money they will make with this department?

Trick # 4 Free Samples Do More Than Tickle Our Taste Buds

Free samples make us want more of what we just tasted. Many people taste the sample, like it, and without even checking how much the product costs, simply put it in the grocery cart. And some of us feel indebted after we partake of the free sample. And grocery stores know this and use it against us.

And the research also shows that when we sample something in the store we not only want that item, but we want more of everything else.

A research study at the University of Arizona found, “that food samples, beverage samples and even just good-smelling samples made people consume more.”

Many an impulse purchase is made at the Free Sample display.

Trick #5  Time

It is a simple equation:

Time In Store = More Money Spent

Today’s grocery store tries to get us to spend as much time in the store as possible. And they are doing this by expanding the things they sell and the services they offer. Once upon a time grocery stores sold groceries. That’s all. Just groceries. How old fashioned.

Today we can get gasoline, furniture, kitchen ware, clothes, make-up, books, lottery tickets, postage stamps, videos/DVD’s, to name a few. Many grocery stores now offer services to, such as; banking, dry cleaning, optometry services, car insurance.

And believe me. These grocery stores are NOT offering you these things out of the kindness of their little ‘ole hearts. Nor is it convenience. Nosirreee!! They make big bucks off these items and you may be paying more for all of that “convenience!”

And there are many, many more tricks. I don’t have enough time or space to share them all in this one post.

So Next Time………..

There are more tricks grocery stores employ to help us fork over our money to them. I will share those with you next time. Tricks like end of aisle displays, bigger is not always cheaper, pre-cut vegetables, and why the long wait at the cash register. The long wait is planned and part of grocery store’s marketing ploy. I will also deal with the sense of sight. How stores use our eyes to make us buy more. It is not random. It is not poor planning. It is all thought out and done on purpose.

And then post after next one I will wrap it all up by sharing some tips to help you avoid these grocery store tricks and use your hard earned money to feed your family!

Just being aware of these tricks will help us all save some money. Knowledge is power!!!

Featured Recipe:   Mixed Tomato Salad

I am having left-overs for dinner tonight. So I needed something to jazz the left-overs up a bit. This salad clearly fits the bill. This is a Summer Bounty recipe since it uses the best of summer tomatoes. It also showcases the newer colors of tomatoes that are available in stores today.

The recipe is a Martha Stewart recipe from her book Great Food Fast. You could say that tomato salads have been around since early European explorers discovered this fruit in Mexico and brought it back to Europe, so no one really owns the concept. But as usual Martha adds her unique take on the tomato salad. The presentation is wonderful!!!

Nevertheless, I have made a few minor adjustments to meet my tastes.

Martha’s version uses arugula. I don’t care that much for arugula so I substituted Romaine lettuce. She uses red wine vinegar in the dressing. I use lemon juice. I have made the salad both ways and it is excellent either way. So have some fun with this and make it your own.

Here is what you will need for 4 people:

2 pounds mixed tomatoes (red, yellow, orange, dark red, beefsteak, cherry, grape, pear)

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar [or lemon juice]

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste

1 bunch arugula [or lettuce of your choice]

This is what you do.

NOTE: I am giving the directions exactly as they are in the book, Great Food Fast. Underneath in purple I tell you what I do and/or how I changed the directions from Martha’s recipe.

Core the beefsteak tomatoes; cut each into 8 wedges. Halve the grape and cherry tomatoes; leave the pear tomatoes whole.

*I had no beefsteak and no pear tomatoes. So I quartered or halved the tomatoes I had.

And since I do not use arugula, I slice the Romaine into strips.

Make the dressing: In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar and oil; season with salt and pepper.

*This I do with lemon juice in place of the wine vinegar.

In a large bowl, toss the arugula with half the dressing.

*I do not toss the lettuce with the dressing. This puts more oil on the lettuce than I like. I just place the lettuce directly on the serving plate sans any dressing at this point.

Divide the arugula and tomatoes evenly among 4 serving plate, or arrange on a platter; drizzle the tomatoes with the remaining dressing.

*I place the tomatoes in a bowl and pour about half the dressing on them and mix gently. Then I place the tomatoes next to the salad.

Arrange the lettuce on the side of each plate. Divide the tomatoes between the  plates.

*Drizzle the some of the remaining dressing on top of the lettuce.

Serve immediately.


The tomatoes are so sweet it is like eating candy. This is one GREAT salad!!

If you would like to see a picture of Martha Stewart’s finished salad and compare it to mine,  you can click here.


Mixed tomatoes                                $5.98

3 tbspns lemon juice                         $0.17

3 tbspns olive oil                               $0.52

1 Romaine lettuce                             $0.86

Salt & pepper to taste

Total cost for 4 = $7.53
Cost per person = $1.88

Bon Appetit!!!!!

Quote of the Day:     I went down the street to the 24-hour grocery. When I got there, the guy was locking the front door. I said, “Hey, the sign says you’re open 24 hours.” He said, “Yes, but not in a row.     Steven Wright

Print Friendly

6 comments to Tricks of the Trade