Watch Out for These Grocery Store Sales Tricks

Have you ever run into a grocery store to pick up a few ingredients for dinner and come out with an armful of impulse buys? If so, you might be one of the many people who fall prey to grocery store sales tricks. To make sure you stick to your list, be on the lookout for these seven tricks the next time you head to the grocery store.

1. An entrance that sparks spending

As soon as you enter a grocery store, several sales tricks bombard your senses to put you in a spending mood. Many supermarkets have a coffee shop or bakery (or both) located near the entrance, wafting delicious scents toward shoppers. “According to behavioral psychologists, these tantalizing aromas subconsciously put shoppers at ease, allowing them to ‘decompress’ and fully immerse themselves in their shopping adventure,” according to Butler University article Grocery Shopping for Your Health. And the florist might be nearby, as well, inviting you inside with colorful, fresh flowers that uplift your mood.

Plus, often there’s a seasonal display up front, aimed to spark cheer — and impulse buys — in shoppers. Products in these displays usually are promoted as “limited time only,” making them seem necessary to scoop up right then and there, even if they weren’t on your list. So before you’ve even taken 10 steps into the grocery store, you might already have succumbed to a few of its sales tricks.

2. That healthy-looking produce section

grocery store produce displayCredit: YinYang/Getty Images

After you’ve gotten over the initial sensory overload of the grocery store entrance, you’ll probably find yourself looking at the produce section. That’s intentional. Here, shoppers can pick through crates of fruits and veggies (or overspend on pre-cut produce), artfully arranged and misted as though they’re fresh from the farm. “In order to increase sales, some stores utilize sprinklers to lightly mist the fruits and vegetables, lending a fresh-look appeal, while simultaneously causing the produce to rot faster,” according to the Butler article.

Supermarkets go above and beyond to make their produce sections appear as healthy as possible. This strategy not only helps to increase produce sales, but it also makes shoppers feel good about what they put in their carts. And in turn, that leads some shoppers to impulse buy unhealthy items as a “reward” for their nutritious choices. Sometimes this happens all within the produce section itself. “Nicknamed ‘vignetting,’ marketers advertise healthy and unhealthy items to be sold in pairs; it is no coincidence that crisp apples are placed right next to a shelf of caramel dipping sauce,” the Butler article says.

3. Strategic product placement

As you move about the grocery store, be aware that many strategic decisions have gone into its layout and product placement, all aimed at acquiring your money. A trick that many people know about — but nonetheless still works — is putting commonly purchased products, such as milk and eggs, toward the back of the store. That way, customers have a ways to walk to reach them, ideally grabbing a few unplanned items along the way. (It’s also often the most convenient place for trucks to unload the refrigerated items, so it does have a logistical intent, as well.)

Likewise, some grocery stores put popular products in the middle of aisles, so shoppers see more of the store’s selection. And often shoppers must look high and low on shelves to find the best options for their health and their wallets. “Grocery stores work hard for your business, but they don’t want their customers to work too hard to find the healthiest products or best deals,” according to Food Network. “So they will line up whatever they want you to buy most right at eye level.”

4. Can’t-miss endcaps

Speaking of product placement, the endcaps are prime real estate. “Food displays at the end of aisles are highly coveted by food manufacturers, costing up to $1 million to display their products at that desirable location,” according to the Butler article. But for them, it’s worth the cost.

Even if you’re trying to make healthy choices by shopping the perimeter of the grocery store where there’s less processed food, you probably can’t help but to glance at the endcaps. And sometimes the apparent deal — or the appeal of the food — is hard to ignore. “Catchy phrases such as ‘Smart Savings’ or bribing strategies such as ‘Buy one get one free’ are often employed,” the Butler article says. But frequently, those “sale” signs aren’t advertising a good deal at all if you crunch the numbers. Remember, it’s all just a ploy to get that product in front of your eyes and persuade you to buy it.

5. Free samples

It’s hard to pass up something free — and such is the case with grocery store samples. “Sample stations are commonly placed in crowded areas, which require customers to slowly maneuver around them,” according to the Butler article. “This ultimately increases the chance that the customer will indulge in that item.”

A study on in-store product sampling found samples are an effective way to build long-term sales — even better than other marketing tactics, such as special product displays. The study saw both short-term and long-term jumps in product sales from sampling events. And highlighting one sample product even led to increased sales for the product’s entire category (e.g., salty snacks). So that one free sample might actually end up costing you.

6. Larger shopping carts

a mother and daughter walk down a grocery store aisle pushing a shopping cartCredit: bowdenimages/Getty Images

It’s not just your imagination that shopping carts have increased in their measurements over the years. According to a Slate article, the size of today’s average cart has almost tripled since 1975. And though the updated carts do make it easier to buy bulky items, many shoppers are tricked into unintentionally filling that extra space. After all, a half-full cart today might make it seem like you’re being prudent about your purchases — though they would have overflowed a cart from decades past.

So should you give up carts altogether and pick up a basket? Not so fast. A study published in the Journal of Marketing Research found shoppers using baskets were more likely to pick up “vice products,” such as candy bars. The research suggests that flexing one’s arm muscles causes a person to want an immediate reward — and thus they impulsively grab a treat. Still, you’d have to have some pretty impressive muscles to carry as much in a basket as you could in one of those giant carts.

7. Influential background music

Most grocery stores have some sort of music playing in the background. And regardless of whether you’re listening, it might have an effect on your purchases. Vibenomics, a company that helps businesses with marketing using audio and music, cites a landmark 1982 study that found the tempo of music influenced sales. “The study found, in general, that fast or uptempo music means people move quickly,” according to Vibenomics. “Slow or downtempo movement means that shoppers tend to move more slowly.”

Slowing down shoppers means they have more time to look around — and potentially spot items they hadn’t intended to buy. Likewise, softer music tends to have the same effect in calming shoppers, so they leisurely move about the store. But another study published in the Journal of Retailing found that when stores are crowded, it’s the fast-paced music that boosts sales. So as you’re bobbing your head to the music and going about your shopping, remember to glance at your grocery list to stay on target.

Main image credit: nonnie192/Getty Images


Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson2 months ago

Thank you.

Kathy K
Kathy K2 months ago

Interesting. Thanks.

Carl R
Carl R2 months ago


Alexandra Richards
Alexandra Richards2 months ago

Thank you.

Ruth S
Ruth S2 months ago


Ruth S
Ruth S2 months ago


Danuta W
Danuta Watola2 months ago

thank you for posting

Shae Lee
Shae Lee2 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Lesa D
Lesa D2 months ago

thank you Mary...

Dennis H
Dennis Hall2 months ago

Thank you