Want grocery store bargains? It's easy: Look high and low

Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear New Frugal You,
I've been told that when you go to a supermarket you should look up or down on the shelves for the best priced items. The more expensive goods (i.e., brand name) pay to be right at eye level so you're more likely to purchase them. But if you take a minute and look above and below eye level, you will usually find a cheaper, less advertising-dependent item. Is that true? --Heidi


Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Heidi,
Yes, Heidi, those crafty folks at the grocery store study us. They're looking for ways that they can increase their profits. That's not a surprise. But some of the ways that they do it probably aren't obvious to many shoppers. And you're absolutely right: Product location is a key element to their strategy.

It's common for manufacturers to pay grocery stores for better shelf placement. They believe that it's money well spent.

The truth is that when we shop, we're only aware of a fraction of the choices available to us. Many products, especially those on the lower shelves, are not even noticed by the average shopper. If they're not noticed, they can't be bought.

It's hard to believe that marketers think that we're too lazy or too rushed to bend over. But, as it turns out, studies show that products at eye level sell 20 percent more than similar items lower on the shelf. It may not just be laziness or that we're racing through the store, however. Shoppers assume, incorrectly, that items on higher shelves are of better quality than those on the lower shelves.

What can we learn from this? That your best deals will often be found on the lower shelves or in less convenient locations. Before you toss the brand-named product that's displayed at eye level into your cart, look around for less expensive alternatives.

Be aware of how grocers display their products. Avoid displays that have everything you need for a meal in one place. None of the items in the display will be on sale. Nor with they be the best value for that particular item. You'll have to walk all over the store to pick out the best buys, but it's worth the effort.

Watch the "end caps." Those are the shelves at the end of the aisles. They're high visibility and high profit locations, and they're designed to catch your attention (and your dollars).

Stores also make it hard to just run in for one or two items. You'll notice that the milk and deli sections are in the back. You can't help but walk by all of those enticing displays encouraging you to add a few extra items to your basket.

The average grocery store has tens of thousands of items. And most shoppers will spend three seconds or less finding something. Marketers know this, and take advantage of it.

The good news is that it is easy to defeat their tactics. By simply spending an extra two seconds, you can cut your grocery bill. And, in this time of rising food prices, that's a real help to the New Frugal You. 

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Updated: 03-26-2019