The Supermarket Trap

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Any money-wise shopper will tell you that it’s much cheaper to buy your groceries from a supermarket as opposed to your local convenience store. But is it? To the unwary, or undisciplined, supermarkets can be a real drain on your wallet – without you even realizing it. Sometimes it can be, in fact, cheaper to get the odd purchase or two from a convenience store.

Consider this: if you needed to go out and buy a loaf of bread and some milk, which would be the cheaper option: to go to your local convenience store, or your local supermarket?



Most people would answer ‘supermarket’ and most people would be right – supermarkets offer lower prices on most products. But just because the products are cheaper doesn’t mean that you’ll spend less money. Supermarkets, for all their benefits, are absolute masters of extracting money from your pockets. When you step through the main doors of a supermarket you’re entering a world of manipulation and temptation. So if you want to keep more money in your wallet, mindset is everything.

When you walk into a convenience store you go in knowing the price of everything is much higher. Therefore you have a built-in reluctance to buy more than you have to. You only grab the things you need and, at worse, one or two impulse buys. In a supermarket however, you enter assuming that prices are going to be cheap and competitive. So the chances are great then that, if you go in for milk and bread, you’re likely to come out with a whole lot more. Your mindset going in to a supermarket is vastly different from your mindset going into a convenience store.

But with a bit of discipline and some knowledge of the things that supermarkets do to extract money from your wallet, you can do your convenience store shop at your supermarket – and keep more money in your pocket. Here are the things you should keep in mind next time you shop, especially if you’re just going in for a few items:

  • Supermarkets offer a variety of baskets and trolleys that you can use to store your purchases while you browse the shelves. They want you to use these so you’ll be more likely to add more items. If you had to carry your items as you went along, you’d buy fewer items. So if you’re just going in for milk and bread, don’t take a basket.

  • Where is your milk going to be in the supermarket? Why, right down the very back of the shop. You’ll have to negotiate your way through a maze of offers on your way to the milk, and again on the way back. Be determined to only purchase what you came in the store to purchase.

  • Where’s your bread? If it too isn’t down the back, it’ll be right near the entrance – along with that freshly baked bread smell that will activate some primal hunger gene in you and put you into a shopping trance.

  • Before you’ve even entered the supermarket, you’re bombarded with billboard-sizes ads outside tempting you with special offers, and when you get inside it’s even worse. Don’t be tempted. Just one extra purchase probably offsets any savings you would have made by forgoing the convenience store.

  • Be aware of your visual ‘sweet spot’. The middle shelves are where you focus your most attention, and this is where the most tempting offers are placed. This is not for your benefit, but the supermarkets. Their most high-profit items will be placed right in your visual sweet spot.

  • The checkout – an impulse purchaser’s nightmare. The supermarket crowds the checkout area with small, inexpensive items such as newspapers, chocolate bars, etc. knowing that as customers wait in line their will power and determination will be, slowly but surely, ground down. Shoppers with children in tow are particularly susceptible.

  • Pairings – supermarkets often display items that go together rather well, such as sauces near the meat section, dip sauces near the snacks and so on. This is where the impulse buying gene gets activated.

  • Supersize – everybody wants a bargain, and what better way to save money than by buying the bigger packet of something, right? After all, a bigger bag of nacho chips is cheaper ‘per chip’ than the small bag, so it must be good value. Supersizing, or buying in bulk, is a good strategy if the price is right and it’s a commodity that you can use (like toothpaste, toilet paper etc.). But if it’s a consumable like snacks, drinks etc. perhaps it’s not such a good idea. Do you really the bigger bag of nacho chips just because they were on special?

  • Shopper ignorance – supermarkets rely on the fact that most shoppers don’t have a clue about the prices of the items that they buy. At best, shoppers will know just a handful of prices – items such as milk, bread, cigarettes etc. But for the bulk of their shop customers will just assume that they are getting a good deal and be none-the-wiser (for more info on this, see our article 'know your prices’).

  • Shopper haste – mathematics on-the-fly is an increasingly rare skill and supermarkets aren’t shy about exploiting that. Whereas buying in bulk is supposed to be cheaper, in many cases buying individual items is the cheaper option. Always compare unit/weight price of bulk items to individual items before purchasing, especially on special offers like ‘5 for $5’ – if the individual price on such an offer is $0.90, it makes no sense to buy the bulk offer.

You work hard for your money, so don’t throw it away needlessly.