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May 11, 2021

Attention shoppers! How grocery stores get you

By Gordon Powers, Sympatico / MSN Finance

People are eating out less, restaurants are hurting, and consumers, rather than frequenting multiple outlets, seem to be going to one-stop places like a Loblaws to buy food. And their bills are climbing as a result, MSN readers tell us.

All of which suggests it’s time for a review of grocery marketing strategies.

Grocery stores know just what to do to make you buy more. And, as far as they’re concerned, they only have two types of customers: Those who don't realize how much money can be saved or those who think they’re saving money already. Either one will do. 

Supermarket planners have long known that the more time you spend in a store, the more you'll buy. In fact, studies suggest that once you hit the half hour mark each additional in-store minute adds as much a dollar to your bill.

That’s why you’re seeing more sampling centres, coffee bars, cooking displays, pre-cut fruit, and in-store bakeries – all designed to get your stomach to rule your wallet and to keep you hanging around.

Have you noticed that your favourite brands seem to be shrinking? Well, you’re on to something. Roughly one-third of items at the grocery store have lost content since 2007, according to the Nielsen Co.

Over at Mouse Print, they've been tracking this downsizing of products on supermarket shelves. And the list is growing. Pretty soon, you’ll open a carton of a dozen eggs and see there are only 11.

To be sure you're getting the best value for your money in an era of shrinkage, check the unit price: it's the number on the shelf tag that says how much the item costs per ounce or pound. That way, it's a no-brainer to calculate whether the larger or smaller item is the better buy.

As long as you're already at the store, might as well pick up laundry detergent, pet food and paper products as well, right? Probably not. Even though there’s more competition than there once was, supermarkets still tend to price non-food household items higher than discount or specialty stores, knowing that shoppers will buy them anyway out of convenience.

Another danger point in the store is a sale that's not really a sale, warns the Greenest Dollar blog. For example, stores will create visual cues by using bargain bins, hanging promotional signs, or filling up endcaps at the corners of each aisle with items that are actually not discounted at all.

How are you doing when it comes to groceries?



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About the Authors

Gordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo), canoe.ca, AOL.ca, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...