All The Shadiest Ways Grocery Stores Make You Spend More Money

May 09, 2019

Target has the worst reputation for making people spend unnecessary money. You go in for one thing, like dishwasher detergent, and come out with a bathing suit, sunglasses, lip balm, a book, and a ton of holiday decorations despite the fact that you’ve never decorated your apartment before. It happens. Target, however, is not the only store engaging in grocery store tricks to make you spend more.

Even the standard shopping marts have mastered some methods of trickery.

It’s almost impossible to avoid grocery shopping. Yes, you can sign up for a delivery service like Peapod, InstaCart, or FreshDirect. But, sometimes, the extra costs just aren’t worth it, especially if your local store is right up the street. Accordingly, almost everyone ends up going to a physical storefront.

So, imagine this. You’re in the store with only three items on your list, but that’s when you see it — an endcap featuring a brand new cereal. “I shouldn’t,” you tell yourself, before putting it in the cart. That impulse buy often leads to more. It’s almost like what happens when you’re dieting. One cupcake leads to three; it’s unavoidable.

Here are a few grocery store tricks that encourage you to perpetuate that same behavior and spend way more than you bargained for.

1. The grocery store layout is purposeful.

You never see the seafood section in the front of a store, right?

That’s intentional. And while every grocery store isn’t designed the same, most of them have the same type of flow. For example, flowers are often in front because they add a pop of color and smell great. The sensory stimulation entices shoppers.

Produce also stays in the front to create a feeling of freshness. Plus, you’re more likely to believe you’ll eat a bag of apples early on in the shopping trip. It’s all been figured out.

2. The products are arranged according to date.

When I get milk, I reach for the cartons at the back of the shelf. That’s a trick I learned from my mom.

We do this because stores put items that are going to expire soonest at the front of the shelves or aisle. The milk cartons and other perishable foods with the best dates won’t be easy to grab, but they’ll last you longer. And if your foods don’t expire quickly, you won’t have to make additional, tempting trips to the store. Even better, you won’t have to worry about as many people touching your food beforehand.

3. Stores occasionally put the wrong labels on meats.

If it seems shady, that’s because it definitely is.

Reports note that some grocery stores purposefully mark up the weight on their meats, so shoppers pay more. So, what does that mean for you? It means you might not be getting as much meat as you think. Especially if the grocers find a way to add excess water weight to the package as well. The difference may not be too extreme, but it’s enough to cost you a little extra.

4. They bury rotten produce in the bottom of the package.

How many times have you bought a bag of grapes just to find that the bottom half of the bad is filled with gross-looking fruit?

You end up throwing the produce out, and there goes your money. Some stores even practice this trickery with meats and cheeses. The good news? Sometimes you can cut off the moldy parts of the cheese and keep eating. After all, cheese is technically spoiled already, so…

5. Some food is falsely labeled organic.

It’s nice to buy organic food, but it can cost a lot.

Moreover, Forbes states that certain stores claim food is organic even when it’s not. Apparently, everything from olive oil to seafood can be deceptively packaged. You don’t have to stop buying organic, but locally produced organic food items are usually more trustworthy. They have to meet stricter food requirements, so you won’t be wasting money.

6. The sushi might not be totally legit.

A ton of grocery stores sell sushi, which often makes for a delicious grab-and-go lunch.

But even though the prices are high, the sushi might not be legit. It could contain fake fish. Sushi fraud is an actual thing. Here’s a way to avoid the fake stuff so you don’t lose money: Look out for “white tuna” in the ingredient list. Purportedly, white tuna isn’t tuna at all, which is pretty scary to think about.

7. The expensive cage-free eggs aren’t always worth it.

Obviously, we want the best for our animals, and factory farming is detrimental to everyone’s wellbeing.

Accordingly, many people spend extra money to buy cage-free eggs and other similar products. Free range chickens didn’t necessarily lay those eggs, though. Sometimes the cage-free label just means the birds had slightly bigger cages. So not only are the animals still mistreated, but you’re also spending more money on a mislabeled product.

8. The slow music makes you take your time.

Think about it.

When you’re relaxed, you tend to walk a little slower. And when you walk a little slower, you tend to pay more attention to what’s in the aisles, carefully going over each and every item you may potentially want to buy. If grocery stores played more upbeat music, customers would be more likely to move a little faster.

9. Candy is right next to the registers to encourage impulse buying.

You probably know this one by now.

And unless it’s a major holiday, you probably don’t have Snickers bars on your grocery list. But boy, that candy looks good while you’re waiting to pay, especially if the person in front of you takes forever. In fact, marketers know shoppers are more likely to grab a treat if it’s right in front of them. Plus, because grocery shopping wears you out, you might be tempted to snag some sugar for extra energy.

10. Pre-chopped veggies cost way more than the whole versions.

Have you ever compared the costs of a head of broccoli and pre-chopped broccoli?

Pre-sliced veggies might save you the tiniest bit of time in the kitchen, but according to Moneyversed, the convenience kills your wallet. Plus, their shelf lives aren’t always as long as they normally would be. Think about it. Pre-chopped veggies often have their own little section of the produce section and cute packaging. It’s so tempting to just buy them as-is, and grocery stores know that.

11. The shopping carts are huge.

This one is pretty subtle.

And the bigger the cart, the more space you have for filling it with things you don’t necessarily need. Pretty genius, huh? Grocery store carts, however, weren’t always so large. Now many of them even come equipped with beverage holders. They’re tempting you to grab a coffee and stay awhile. And you don’t even know it.

12. Promotions aren’t always what they seem.

It’s always great when grocery stores have sales or those “10 for 10” promotions.

It seems like they help you save a few bucks. You probably didn’t go to the store to buy 10 cans of soup, though. You probably only wanted to buy one or two items, but sales often encourage you to spend more money on more items. How many times have you grabbed multiples of a product you didn’t need because the bulk option seemed cheaper?

13. Products move around all the time.

Your mind isn’t playing tricks on you!

Everybody has had that awful, “Where are the pickles?!” moment during a grocery trip. And, apparently, many stores relocate items intentionally. By switching a few products around, or moving certain things to different aisles, stores make sure that you’re looking at multiple different products.

14. Loyalty cards can track your purchases.

They can score you a few discounts, but loyalty cards also track what you buy.

You even give the store personal information when you sign up for one, so they know exactly how to market to you. Some grocery stores use these findings to offer you personalized discounts on what you buy most; they incentivize you to shop more frequently. Plus, in order to earn certain rewards, you may end up spending more than you intended on any given trip.