Grocery Shopping Psychology: 7 Ways to Outsmart the Store
According to The New York Times, the average American spends 139 hours, 55 minutes shopping every year. It means that we spend one-and-a-half days a month shopping.
I am not a big fan of shopping, unless you take me to a funky design store or Bed Bath & Beyond.
Another necessary ‘evil’ I cannot escape is grocery shopping. It is not that I mind buying groceries. It is just that I probably spend more time in the supermarket than the average American does.
I like to read the labels and compare different products. Where do the strawberries come from? How much sodium does this bag of pita chips contain? How about saturated fats?
Then there are hundreds of choices to make…
Which eggs to buy? Local? Cage-free? Vegetarian-fed? Organic? Omega-3-enriched?
Sometimes it is simply overwhelming. And on top of all this, there are prices and specials to consider.
About a month ago I made a resolution to cut both my grocery-shopping time and the money I spend on groceries. Looking for tips and tricks I stumbled on a lot of psychological studies that supermarkets and marketers use to convince their customers to fill their shopping carts with groceries they don’t really need.
It turns out, Grocery Shopping Psychology is a real science and that our consumer brain can be manipulated into buying more.
I thought that I would share some of them with you to help you save money, free up more time and make smarter choices when going shopping. Because with the enticements to buy more lurking at every turn, it helps to learn how to outsmart the store.
1. Take a shopping basket instead of a cart.
It might not be as comfortable as pushing a cart, but this is the whole point. Studies show that the bigger the cart, the more we buy, and the more time and money we leave in the supermarkets. In fact, the size of the cart can make us buy an astounding 40 percent more than we usually do. It's not as if we need the extra items, but larger carts trigger our primordial need to hoard food.
Evolutionary speaking, we're hardwired to avoid starvation by storing extra food. So, if our shopping cart looks half-empty, we will fill it.
On the other hand, when you carry a basket with you, you quickly realize that you don’t need to buy more than you can carry.
2. Don’t start your shopping with discounted products or ‘2 for 1 offers’.
Have you ever noticed that the cheaper items are usually placed in the front of the store? That’s because marketers have discovered that if the first product we buy seems cheaper than we initially expected, we let our guard down and purchase more, regardless of subsequent prices. Sneaky isn’t it?
3. Eat, before you go shopping.
This is a common-sense suggestion, but I know I and many of my friends do not always following it. We often buy groceries on our way home after work, when we are usually pretty hungry. However, a scientific fact is that when we are hungry, we tend to buy more, because everything looks good.
Research also demonstrates that when we are hungry, we tend to make decisions with the emotional part of our brain, instead of thinking rationally.
4. Bring a list and STICK to it!
Most supermarkets are designed in a way to make us meander. This is the reason why products like milk, cheese and butter are usually located in the farthest corner of the store. The logic is pretty simple, the more products we are exposed to the more we buy.
One way to avoid needless walking is to prepare a grocery list and actually stick to it, making sure you don’t buy anything else.
5. Get critical when comparing prices.
Since we cannot analyze all the prices we see, what we usually do is compare prices on common products such as milk, eggs, and toilet paper. Marketing experts know this so they decrease the prices of these products and increase the price by 10% on everything else.
We don’t notice this, because we think that if milk is cheap, toilet paper is cheap and bread is cheap, than we are getting a great deal on all our products.
6. Do not bring the kids with you.
Children do not have a ‘skepticism filter’ so they are much more sensitive to bright packages and marketing tactics. You have probably noticed it yourself, when you go grocery shopping with children, you buy more. And they might not even eat everything they asked you to buy.
7. Use cash instead of credit card at checkout.
Subconsciously credit cards mean an unlimited amount of money to our mind. Emotionally, it is much easier to swipe your credit card once than part with a $100 bill. This is why experts suggest that when we pay, be it for groceries or a new outfit, use cash.
Because when you see $50 bills disappear out of your wallet, you instantly become shopping-conscious.
Have you noticed the effects of the Shopping Psychology influence your buying choices?
What are the tips and tricks that help you to save money on groceries?