Avoiding Supermarket Pitfalls

The average supermarket is full of marketing tricks to entice you into spending lots of money. Everything from the positioning of the merchandise to the background music is carefully planned! Notice how the music is always slow and mellow sounding...that's so you'll walk around more slowly and be tempted by more stuff!

The more expensive items are most often at eye-level while the cheaper, generic brands are on higher and lower shelves where they are less likely to be noticed and more difficult to reach. We recently learned that big companies like Coca Cola and Frito Lay pay big money to the supermarkets to "buy" these very visible locations and also to have their products displayed at the ends of the aisles. Sometimes your eye will be caught by a brightly colored sign saying "Special This Week". Before assuming that the special is a bargain check the price! We've actually found that sometimes the price is HIGHER than before!

Another pricing trick to watch out for is the Buy 1/Get 1 Free scam (or even buy 1/ get 2 free!). We've noticed that on many items the price of one item is MUCH higher than it was the week before so that you are NOT really getting one free! This is not true of all items so you have to know your prices!

Bridget Rogers warns us to always check your receipts!! She recently bought Buy 1 Get 2 Free Pork Chops. They all rang up so she went back to the service desk. They of course gave me the 2 free, but I thought their policy was that I should get all three free because they rang up wrong. The girl said the policy didn't apply to meat. She was very nice so I didn't argue with her. I went home and e-mailed the main office and they said certainly I should have gotten it free so my next trip back to the store they gave me gave my money back and I got all three packages for free! This happens to me about once a month, so it pays to ask even if you feel embarrassed to do so.

Package size is another area where it's easy to be fooled. Bags of potato chips and other snack foods are often less than half full when you open them. The bag says that they are sold by "weight, not volume" but you can't help thinking that you're getting a lot more chips than you are when you look at that huge bag! Packaged rice mixes are guilty of this trick as well...when you open one up the first thing you notice is that there is only about 1 1/2 inches of rice in the bottom of the box. And on canned goods look at the drained weight not the size of the can to determine whether it's a good buy or not...you don't want to pay for a can full of water!

Also, watch out for shrinking amounts inside the same size package. My first experience with this phenomenon happened many years ago when I prepared a package of Near East Rice Pilaf in my accustomed manner. Imagine my surprise when I took the cover off the pan and discovered rice soup! The company had reduced the amount of rice in the package but left the box the same size! Of course they HAD changed the instructions as well but since I cooked the product frequently I never bothered to look at the instructions. Since then I've noticed many other products quietly shrinking away...coffee cans that used to contain 16 oz. now sometimes contain as little as 10.5 oz., cans of tuna that previously made four reasonable size sandwiches now make two, rolls of toilet paper are all puffed up with air to feel "squeezably soft" and last no time at all in the bathroom! Of course if companies choose to change the size of their products that's their perogative but I have neither seen a sign touting the "NEW SMALLER SIZE!" nor is the price ever lowered accordingly.

We recently heard a consumer report on one of our local TV stations warning about package sizes and unit price. Unit price (in case you don't already know) is the price per ounce (or some other common unit) that is posted on the edge of the shelf, not on the package itself. Looking at the unit price can be a useful tool in determining which product is the best value when package sizes vary. Usually the unit price is less for larger packages. For example, a small jar of boullion containing 25 cubes costs $2.19 or 8.7 cents/cube. The large jar which contains 110 cubes costs $3.99 or 3.6 cents/cube. It may not be obvious how much better a bargain the big jar is unless you pay attention to the unit price! Once you get used to buying things in the larger size to get the best value you might stop comparing the price and just assume that the large size is cheaper. Apparently the supermarkets have figured this out and have started charging the same amount or more for the larger package. So, I guess we'd better all keep our eyes open for that new trick!