How to beat the supermarkets at their own game

Photo: File image / Getty
Photo: File image / Getty
Huge screaming sale signs upon entry, bread and milk buried out the back, the classic allure of product placement and some feel-good music to keep you strolling the aisles longer - customers are getting pretty clever when it comes to the ways supermarkets try and make us ditch our well-made plans and spend more money.

Yet we still bust the budget. Consumer behaviourist and professor of marketing at University of Canterbury Ekant Veer has done lots of work analysing what people buy, and breaks it down in the first episode of new RNZ podcast Thrift.

Ekant Veer. Photo: University of Canterbury
Ekant Veer. Photo: University of Canterbury
How to beat the supermarkets at their own game

Look up and down and, if you can, leave the kids at home

"So if you found the marshmallows, and they're at eye level, look down at the bottom shelf there might be cheaper ones," Veer says.

Product placement also plays around with shorter shoppers.

"In the confectionary aisle, the highest gross profit items are actually at the eye level of a child because they know that kids are more likely to pester mum and dad for something that they can see," Veer says.

So - if you can - come on your own, take the time to compare prices, and don't cave to the pleas of others.

Try to ignore the end-of-aisle displays

"They're usually a quite high price because they want to move that product and so you will find things at the end of the aisle that will grab your attention, you might grab it by impulse and you'll run away with it," Veer says.

Try instead to focus on shopping the perimeters of the supermarket and then just do the aisles that you need.

It's not time for a little treat

It's pretty well known not to take a rumbling belly to the supermarket, but if you're feeling grumpy it will pay to try and shake that before you go in to spend.

"You might find fruit and vegetables are typically first because they [we] feel they need to that and then alcohol, chocolate, sweets, high gross profit items would be further along in the journey because people feel like they can reward themselves."

Don't give in to the compromise option

"If you've been told to purchase a jar of artichoke hearts," Veer explains, "and you've got three in front of you, probably around 70 percent of people compromise and get the middle one" - not the most expensive, not the least expensive, but that average jar.

He warns some retailers will create new products, or juggle price points, to shift demand because they know full well how many of us opt for middle of the road.

Be aware of heuristics

When you don't know much, you will start looking for other triggers that will draw you in - like trendy labels, stickers proclaiming awards and what appears to be the biggest discount.

These heuristics - mental shortcuts for making calls in a quick way - will try and sting you so be mindful.

Gamify your shop

A visit to the supermarket can be fun. Veer suggests adding some playful elements to your visit - maybe a time limit to get in and out so you're not wooed by the sales or sweets. Maybe it would be fun to see how many dollars you can save this week.

Set yourself a goal and it will help keep you mindful and make it more fun.