Beating Retailers at Their Own Game

You walk into a store, browse the shelves, pick what you want and pay for it. Shopping seems simple enough, right? But retailers have tricks up their sleeves to make us buy certain things that we consumers don't even know about. That's according to Martin Lindstrom, author of "Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy." The book is based on several years of research and Lindstrom's background as a marketing and advertising advisor to the retail world. I asked him to give Shop To It some tips on how we should shop. Here's what he had to say:

Tip #1: Leave the kids at home when you shop. Retailers will gear more and more of their advertising toward parents with children. Why? Because kids influence 80 percent of their parents' buying habits, say Lindstrom. It's not just candy and toys either. Lindstrom says kids have the power to influence which cars and houses we buy. "We do know today if you bring your kid with you into a retailer, you are likely to buy up to 30 percent more," Lindstrom added. "It's worth it for the retailers but not for the consumer."

Tip #2: Rediscover the forgotten art of shopping lists. Lindstrom says consumers have stopped making lists of the things they need to buy before they leave the house. He says we must get back to making lists and actually sticking to them. You can even give yourself a rule to buy one extra thing off the list but otherwise, stick with it. And while you're at it, buy the cheapest of the categories you've put on the list. "Sticking to a list and buying the cheapest of those categoies will result in 35 to 45 percent in savings," he says.

Tip #3: Don't fall for free, exclusive offers. Lindstrom says retailers, especially those with high-end brands, will increasingly start offering limited edition, free gifts with a certain purchase. We've seen this for years with department store make-up offers but those types of offers will spill into other categories. "Retailers are going to throw in free stuff instead of discounting the brand," he says. A good consumer will ask themselves if they really need the item and its free gift before they buy it.

Tip #4: Don't let retailers scare you. They will increasingly use fear to get you buy their stuff, Lindstrom says. Everything from pharmaceuticals to toothpaste will be advertised as saving your life, playing on fears that tend to be more heightened during a recession. "As long as you're aware of it, you're not that vulnerable," he says.

Tip #5: Make a calculator your best friend, especially when you go to the grocery store. This will help consumers keep track of what they're buying between the time they enter the grocery store and the hour or so later when they leave. Grocery shopping is one of the few shopping excursions where you could easily throw more than 100 items into your cart. Having a calculator keep track of how much you're spending will save you from any surprises at the checkout line.

Tip #6: Change your weekly shopping habits. Try going to a different grocery store or walk the aisles in your current grocery store in a different order. Lindstrom says the change will force consumers to pay closer attention to potentially cheaper brands. "When you walk down the same supermarket aisles, it's a routine. You're not going to question the price," he says. "But if you change your path through the supermarket, you're waking up and starting to evaluate the value of everything you put in your cart."

So how have you beaten retailers at their game? What kinds of retail tricks have you discovered while shopping?

By Tania Anderson |  March 31, 2009; 7:44 AM ET
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Speaking of rediscovering lost arts, paying with CASH instead of a plastic card is my best defense against anything the retailers throw at me.

Posted by: DAKnowles89 | March 31, 2009 8:10 AM

Yes, supermarkets are set up to lure the shopper to buy more expensive products.
That's why they tend to highlight the perimeter.

And the clockwise navigation, most popular in supermarkets, guides the shopper first through produce, then bakery,deli, seafood, fresh meat and/or dairy, then finally frozen.

So it does pay to shop the center store and the endcaps.

For instance, Super Fresh is introducing about 2,500 new private label items to its shelves. To make room for them, they are discontinuing other items, all of them reduced 50 percent. You can find them on the endcaps at the back of their stores. If you have coupons for these items, you can save even more.

And while you are in the center store, check the lower shelves. There you will find great deals on tomato soup, pasta, flour, and other everyday food pantry items.

Posted by: ziggyzippy | March 31, 2009 10:13 AM

ziggyzippy wrote:
So it does pay to shop the center store and the endcaps.
uh..not really...only if you want the pre-made, pre-processed, preservative-filled, unhealthy products that take up shelf space.
It's so much easier to avoid the center altogether and make your own with real ingredients.
e.g., with whole canned tomatoes, an onion, and some broth you can make fantastic tomato soup in about 30 minutes.

and I haven't been in a store yet that "highlights the perimeter" seems that MUCH more geared toward attracting you (or your kids) to the center aisles.

and finally, there's this column/blog that is promoting shopping or "deals"...and the "small change" column/blog promoting frugality. Wouldn't it make sense just to have 1 column/blog?

Posted by: robjdisc | March 31, 2009 10:51 AM

Tip #1: Teach your children to be good shoppers. Who else is going to teach them this life skill?

Tip #2: Foresake quality for price? It's only food for heaven's sake. And given the food safety issues of late, why stick to brands that you trust?

Tip #3: Buy what you need and what gives you pleasure. Don't be a sucker.

Tip #4: Know where your food and personal care products come from (remember the cheap toothpaste from China?) When possible, don't purchase food items that are ready-made (already mixed together, like trail mix).

Tip #5: An hour in the grocery store? Really?

Tip #6: Join a CSA and stop grocery shopping. If your local grocery does right by you, be loyal, because otherwise a Giant will swoop in and you will no longer have your local option. Taste tests can be fun to compare products. STOP BUYING SO MUCH PROCESSED FOOD, even if you do have a coupon. The fewer aisles you walk down, the better off you will be.

Posted by: JustGoAway | March 31, 2009 12:25 PM

Shop from a list and, even better, plan what meals you need to make this week and buy only what you need. Use what you have on hand before you buy other items. Use up leftovers instead of buying something else to cook. Make things from scratch instead of paying somebody else to do the work for you. Don't use a coupon to buy something you wouldn't otherwise buy -- only buy what you will use.

Posted by: margaret6 | March 31, 2009 2:07 PM

Grocery shopping is NOT the place I want to be pinching pennies. I don't want to eat tasteless cheap generic brands and use poor quality paper towels and cleaning brands. Just wait for sales and stock up. And if you're taking an hour to grocery shop, no wonder you're spending too much money! Make a list, get in, get out.

Posted by: 7900rmc | March 31, 2009 9:44 PM

Here are few more shopping tips:
- Retailers will strive to place high profit items at eye level. The same goes for colorful displays in the center of aisles, and for the first items you see upon entering the store (high visibility). Look for the lower visibility items, and scan the tops and bottoms of shelves for the better values.
- Retailers will often shuffle the location of popular items around in the store to force customers to spend more time in the store looking for them, increasing the likelihood of additional purchases. (Isn't that nice of them to seek higher profits at your expense in this manner?) If this happens to you, just ask a store employee where the item is located, it can save you time and money.
- When using coupons, wait until the last week before it expires. Retailers often raise the item price at the start of the coupon promotion period, but will usually lower the price near the end of period, just before the coupon expires. Be aware that low price /low profit items rarely if ever have coupon promotions, keep this in mind if you make the decision to buy an item simply because you possess a coupon for it.
- Items that sell quickly are often placed in the rear of the store. If you are going to a grocery store to just buy a gallon of milk (ever notice that milk is almost always way in the back?), consider visiting a smaller store instead of a large supermarket to save time, provided it doesn't cost more. Weigh the value of your time against the $ price.
- Retailers will sometimes price a larger package size of a product with a higher unit price than for a smaller package, the opposite of what the consumer expects. Those odd-ball sizing schemes like 50.7 fl oz or 1 lb + 6.7 oz are done intentionally to make it more difficult for the consumer to unit price compare, and the printed unit price posted on the shelf is sometimes inaccurate, obscured, or absent. (Hence the need for the consumer to carry a calculator). Always use unit pricing that you yourself calculate(don't trust the store!), to determine which size is the most economical, and never assume the larger size is more economical.

Posted by: toyotawhizguy | April 1, 2009 12:14 AM

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