How grocery stores trick you into spending more


Online retailers may be dominating nearly every other purchase you make, but brick and mortar grocery stores still reign supreme in the market for our weekly food dollar.

The supermarkets know you are a captive audience, and there is an entire industry dedicated to not only predicting, but guiding a shopper’s mind to making the purchases the store would like you to make. Every part of your seemingly innocent shopping experience has been cleverly orchestrated, from the placement of products, to the size of your cart, to the music playing as you sail down the cookie aisle. Think you are immune to the psychological games at play? See for yourself how many of these tricks you have fallen prey to.

Larger carts

“But I just came in to buy milk!” How many times have you blurted that phrase as you paid your $114 bill? There are a number of ways supermarkets employ their empty-your-wallet magic at the register, and one of them is the ever-increasing size of your shopping cart. Marketing consultant Martin Lindstrom told Today, “We did an experiment with that, and we actually doubled the size of the shopping cart… and you buy 40 percent more. In Whole Foods, the shopping carts over the last two years have doubled in size almost.”

So how do you outsmart the store? Stick to a list, and if you’re only there for a few items — skip the cart altogether, and carry your purchases in your arms.

High margin items are near the front door

Take a moment to think about the departments of the store you are in as soon as you walk in the front door. Is it the florist? The bakery? The specialty food section with freshly made sushi rolls and those fragrant rotisserie chickens? This is no coincidence, and it’s a two-fold manipulation on the part of the store to get you in a spending kinda mood. Not only are these sections loaded with higher cost, higher margin items, but the sweet smells and colors they dazzle us with transport us to the feel-good space the store wants us to be in for the rest of our shopping experience. Even the location of the produce aisle has been carefully plotted — filling your cart with those gorgeously colored and healthful veggies at the beginning of your shopping trip makes you feel better about the cookies and potato chips you’ll be adding in a few aisles.

Candy and magazines

Ever wonder why there never seems to be enough staff to man all the cash registers of your local supermarket? The scourge of parents throughout the country — the dreaded check out lane, where you are surrounded by a prison of candy, colorful magazines, and a plethora of intriguing, purse-sized impulse buys. Breath spray! Ear buds! Paleo beef jerky! Even a reasonably-minded adult has trouble getting through this booby-trapped lane intact, but with kids in tow, the store knows they’ve got you right where they want you. My local store has even upped the ante with key-chain sized stuffed animals and sticker books. Well played, Shop Rite. Well played.


At least you can unload the stuff you’ve decided you no longer wish to buy somewhere on the checkout line, right? Well, the stores know customers have a tendency to do this, and have made the lanes all the more small to thwart your grocery ditching. With no place to deposit your unwanted items, you’re more likely to buy them.

Precut veggies and fruit