Thursday, January 14, 2010


If you ever leave the grocery store with a slight sense of bewilderment at what you've just bought, you are not alone.

Despite the utilitarian look of most grocers' shelves, careful science goes into deciding how to display the thousands of items each store carries and how to make them appeal to consumers.

Marketers tug shoppers toward items they did not intend to buy (thus the bewilderment) with package design, shelf placement, tie-ins and temporary price cuts.

Here's what to watch for next time you head out for groceries.

1. End of the aisle: Marketers pay grocers dearly to put their wares on the prominent shelves at the end of each aisle because products there can sell 30 percent more than those on other shelves, even when the item is cheaper elsewhere in the store. Shoppers see so-called end-caps more easily and sometimes mistakenly assume they hold hidden deals or clearance items.

2. Eye-level, eyes open: Grocers and marketers know shoppers look straight ahead or, at most, from side to side, as they shop. So products on shelves at eye level often cost more than their lower-shelf siblings (or even items slightly higher).

3. More can be less: One in four times a smaller version of a product was cheaper per ounce or pound or serving or other "unit." So check the unit price instead of assuming that bigger means cheaper.

4. D-I-Y carrot sticks: Cut-up fruits, vegetables and cheese cater to shoppers who want to pry open a plastic bag instead of hunching over a cutting board, but that convenience can be pricey.

5. Don't pick their number: Be wary of suggestions from marketers, especially the buy-five-for-$5 type. You usually don't have to buy all five to get the promotional price, but people often do, either because they think they have to or because they feel like they'll save more.

6. That one last thing: The items in the display by the cash register are always marked up, whether they're toothbrushes, bandages, candy or toys. Avoid them.

7. Remember the tried-and-true: Buy store brands, which can be even more economical than shopping at warehouse clubs.


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