Understand Grocery Store Psychology to Save Money

Learn to Go Beyond Being a Couponing Guru; Supermarket Product Placement Maximizes Store Profit

Copyright © ; All rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile Posted June 26, 2011

League City, TX Kroger Signature store; photo courtesy Kelly Smith


Grandmothers did their shopping with an eye on collecting S&H Green Saving Stamps to redeem for catalog items. This program was discontinued in the late 1980s. The shift to saving money via coupons took over then.

Although savvy coupon snippers still save money, that’s only one part of the jigsaw picture in mastering the fine art of frugal shopping, something we champion here at The Green Frugal.

Of course, answers.com coupons are wonderful for saving money on various items. Going one step further, understanding how grocery store psychology is used for display layout can keep more cash in your pocket.

Shop the Supermarket Perimeter

You might have noticed that all the fresh essentials are located on the store perimeters. For example, at the local Kroger I studied as research for this article I made the rounds in a clockwise fashion from one of the two entry/exit doors.

First up we have the Starbucks kiosk. Overpriced latte while you shop, anyone? Next up is the floral department. There’s nothing like a bouquet of red roses or an exotic bird of paradise bloom to take away the anxiety of a low bank account. Did I mention this department is flanked by an authentic Japanese sushi chef cranking out California rolls? Complete with samples?

Next up is the cold cut section featuring the Boar’s Head brand of meat and bulk cheeses. Don’t forget the freshly-fried chicken odors wafting out into the aisle. Moving on we find the bakery filling the air with the smell of freshly baked bread. Hungry yet? I thought so.

Proceed around to the vegetables and fruit featuring organic produce. Next we find all kinds of meat followed by fresh and frozen seafood. We finish up our tour of the perimeter reviewing bacon, eggs, juice, cheese, cookie dough, and the ubiquitous selection of Oscar Mayer Lunchables. Talk about a profit margin!

Of course this circuitous route ends with the ice cream and frozen pizza department. If you are still patting yourself on the back because you successfully overruled the kids at the Lunchables, this section is about to really test your frugal mettle.

Enter and Behold the Psychological Magic

What does all this have to do with saving money? Just this; most shoppers don't take this route when they enter the store. They go down one of the rows instead to pick up, say, coffee or tea. This puts them in the position to pass many tempting non-essentials on their way. And yes, there's a reason they hang those little coupon dispensers along the aisles.

The store designers, having made a study and science of American shopping patterns and habits, have virtually ensured that most folks will navigate the store in a zigzag pattern, forcing eye contact with many non-essential food stuffs and “as seen on TV” cooking doo-dads and gizmos. Holy Sham-Wow, Batman!

The shopping tour de force ends with a marketing crescendo, a wait in line at the checkout counter staring down racks of diet-busting candy bars and things you just happened to remember you needed, like AA batteries.

So how can you use this information to save money? By shopping the perimeters only for things on your list and making foraging trips to the claustrophobic aisles only for what you need, and do this with your blinders on.

Find the Best Prices and Expiration Dates

These two goals will require a little inside knowledge of why shelf items are placed where they are. Consider the shelf layout zones:

  • The top shelf. This area is generally reserved for gourmet and local brands. This stuff is a bit pricier, but for an item you allow yourself to indulge in, check this area out.

  • The next couple of shelves down. The average shopper will be eye-to-eye with the goods here. These shelves hold the big brand names and best selling merchandise. This is potential coupon territory.

  • Kid’s eyeball level. Obviously, this area is targeting and tempting your little ones. Consider breakfast cereals. Whole grain fare that we adults value, being at that “more roughage and regularity” stage of life, are located on the mid-high shelves.

    But the kid’s level? Bring on all that sugar-frosted cartoony fare. I bet Justin Beiber endorses this shelf.

  • The bottom shelf. This is where bulk packages and store brands live. These are often your best deals. Beware though of the old adage that bulk prices are cheaper by weight than smaller packages of the same product.

    This used to be true because of factory packaging economics, but today? Not so much. I suspect they are hip to our tricks. Always work out the price per ounce.

When it comes to shelf goods, and especially with dairy products like milk, containers with the best expiration dates are located at the back. Dig for gold. We’ll finish with a little shopping joke. Dad comes home in the afternoon and has the following conversation with Junior.
Dad: “Hey, Junior, where's your mom?”
Junior: “She went to the store, Dad.”
Dad: “Well, did she go marketing or shopping?”
Junior: “What's the difference?”
Dad: “Oh, about $600.”

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