Tips | April 1, 2016

How supermarkets invite spending – and four ways to resist temptation

Have you ever gone to the supermarket for eggs and potatoes and come home with chocolate biscuits, 18 rolls of paper towels and some jelly beans?


It can be easy to overspend. Here are some tips on sticking to the shopping list, based on an article from ING eZonomics sister site EnNaranja.com.

Top tip 1: Only shop with a list Avoid buying extra items – even if they’re on offer. Read more about the shopping list effect here.

Is bigger really better?
Supermarket trolleys, invented in 1938, are very convenient. However, big trolleys may also encourage people to buy more in one trip. And in a bigger supermarket that stocks many products it can be even easier to overspend.

Product placement
Store design can have a real effect, as this research paper shows. Staples such as milk or bread are typically nearer the back, requiring customers to pass many other products before finding what they want. Cheaper deals may be harder to see or reach – perhaps on the lowest shelf, while the products the retailer wants to sell will typically be at eye level. Being aware of these strategies can help shoppers avoid buying unexpected or additional items.

Top tip 2: Calculate the difference Use the calculator function on your mobile phone – or even take a calculator along to the supermarket.

Do all the maths
Some offers are designed to test numerical skills, asking customers to make difficult mental calculations. Sometimes discounts cannot be easily compared with other items or different kinds of packaging. For example , an additional item may be offered with 70% off. An offer may be framed as a good deal – but is it really?

Uneconomical sizes
A bigger packet may look cheaper – but it’s worth thinking twice. Is a larger amount really needed, or is the product perishable? If not, there’s no real saving – especially since larger packets may not actually be cheaper per item or amount offered. Check the shelf tags: look for the price per kilo or other quantity and compare items with similar products, in other stores or online.

Top tip 3: Avoid shopping when emotional When hungry, stressed or otherwise in an emotional or “hot state”, we may not consider purchasing decisions beyond the moment. We may look to satisfy more immediate desires.

Sense and sensibility
Retailers often aim to appeal to senses like sight and smell, encouraging feelings that can make specific purchases more appealing. An example might be locating a bakery where passersby might enjoy the aroma of fresh bread. Research confirms that the use of warm lighting or appropriate music can make shopping more appealing, encouraging customers to browse.

As advertised?
Packaging can also play a role, and not just because items may have pretty, well-designed labels. Pre-packaged items will also often have carefully framed yet vague descriptions – such as “healthy” or “low fat”. This can encourage shoppers to choose items quickly without reading the full product description – a particularly effective strategy if in a hurry and there are too many choices.

Top tip 4: Simply shop less often While buying often and in smaller quantities can be convenient, it is also true that each visit to the supermarket is a new test of resolve. Research shows that making frequent decisions is tiring, sapping the ability to think carefully about choices.

Why buy more, again?
Although loyalty programmes can help save money, purchase points and discounts also tempt shoppers to return to a particular supermarket. When this happens, the principle of inertia can kick in, encouraging shoppers to stick with the default option – missing a chance to find a better deal.
Read even more strategies for better supermarket shopping here, here, here, and here.

eZonomics team
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