Supermarkets are carefully laid out to part consumers with as much cash as possible. We explain the common tricks of the trade.
Ever walked out of the supermarket wondering how a quick trip for a few basics ended with you pushing an almost laden trolley? Don’t beat yourself up. Supermarkets are masters at making us spend and not much is left to chance.
Stores are laid out so you spend as much time as possible in the aisles before you hit the checkout. That’s why you’ll often find household staples located aisles apart. If you’ve just popped in for bread and milk, you may have to tramp the length and breadth of the store to find them.
The more time you spend in the store, the greater the odds you’ll be tempted by the subtle – and not-so-subtle – cues steering you towards particular products or prompting you to throw something extra in the trolley.
It’s easier for products to catch our eye when they’re at eye level. It’s no accident items commanding pride of place on supermarket shelves will also be good earners for the stores.
Manufacturers want their brands in the best positions and can pay big bucks to ensure this happens. (If a product isn’t delivering good returns for the store, you can be sure it won’t keep its place for long.)
That’s why you won’t find budget buys in prime position. You’ll usually have to stoop to the lower shelves for products that offer better bang for your buck.
“Special” signs have become the new normal in supermarket aisles. These bargains also feature prominently in the stores’ advertising.
Multi-buy discounts – buy two loafs of bread and get a $1 discount – are another common lure. Who doesn’t want to save a buck, right? But while you’re paying less for each loaf, you’re buying more than you intended.
We’ve also found products can be on promotion so often that the “special” price isn’t really all that special. The same product may be “discounted” for weeks.
Along with “special” offers, you’re likely to see other promotional flags in stores with phrases such as Countdown’s “Great Price” or New World’s “Everyday Value”.
These signs entice you to buy but don’t assume the product is any cheaper than it was the week before.
Countdown’s “Great Price” and New World’s “Everyday Value” signs are used to highlight products that have been at the same price for months.
Souped-up displays at the ends of the aisles are another lure to get you to buy a little something extra.
They’re the perfect spot for product promotions. They give brands a prominent location to promote their wares and increase the odds shoppers will pick up an item as they wander by. To help seal the deal, products in these displays are often marked as “specials”.
Temptation can also be waiting at the checkout.
Chocolate and other sugary snacks have long been staples at checkout displays. After coming under fire for this practice, stores have diversified their checkout spreads. There are snack-free checkouts but you may have to make an effort to find one.
In June, Pak’nSave Mangere pleaded guilty to six charges of breaching the Fair Trading Act. The charges were laid by the Commerce Commission after its investigation found the store was charging higher prices at the till than those advertised in promotional offers.
The commission claimed the supermarket’s promotional prices – advertised in-store or online – didn’t match the checkout price on six occasions between June and October 2018.
The price discrepancies were picked up after the commission sent mystery shoppers to the store. The supermarket was told about the pricing problems but the commission found the discrepancies were still occurring when mystery shoppers returned. The store is due to be sentenced in August.
Supermarkets are no strangers to complaints. In 2019, the commission received 151 fair trading complaints about them. The stores have also featured high on the commission’s list of the most complained-about traders in previous years. Pricing practices dominate complaints.
If you think a supermarket has misled you about a product price, report it to the commission. Let us know too.