Little-Known Secrets From the Supermarket

Do you slip into the supermarket to pick up "just a few essentials" but leave with a cart full of stuff, a long bill, and the urge to get some rest? It's no wonder-they know your weaknesses. With thousands of products in those  slick supermarkets, the retail sector is using more tricks than ever to get you to keep shopping only short of dropping, so you'd just be able to pay up and leave.

Updated: Jan 29, 2019 12:49:00 IST
Little-Known Secrets From the Supermarket

Do you slip into the supermarket to pick up "just a few essentials" but leave with a cart full of stuff, a long bill, and the urge to get some rest? It's no wonder-they know your weaknesses.

With thousands of products in those  slick supermarkets, the retail sector is using more tricks than ever to get you to keep shopping only short of dropping, so you'd just be able to pay up and leave. "Whilst staples such as dairy, baked goods, and oils and fats account for the largest proportion of packaged food sales in India," says an industry report, "the bulk of growth is set to come from impulse/indulgence products, like confectionery, ice cream, and sweet and savoury snacks."

In other words, things you can do without, things that may not be so good for your health or your wallet. But don't blame yourself for being a spendthrift-there's a lot at play here, from the moment you enter a supermarket till you leave. So we asked a mix of salesmen, store owners, managers, retail-industry experts and some of our own Digest-editor shoppers to share their insider strategies and knowledge to save you money, stay healthy, and beat supermarkets at their own game. Here are 38 nuggets of supermarket wisdom you may not have known or thought about:

The Standard Tricks

1. The business model of supermarkets depends on impulse purchases. Products like chocolates, candies, razor blades, batteries, etc, are stocked at check-out tills and, more often than not, trigger impulse buys. A well laid-out, well-stocked store with the right product adjacencies and effective visual merchandising is key to higher impulse purchases.  

R. Sriram, cofounder, Next Practice Retail, a consultancy in Bengaluru and Mumbai

2. Supply of fresh produce is fragmented, and handling them is more difficult and more expensive for supermarkets. On the other hand, processed, packaged food items are more easily managed from the business point of view. So supermarket shelves have a disproportionate representation of processed foods.

Devangshu Dutta, chief executive, Third Eyesight, a consultancy for consumer goods and retail

3. We're very aware of the role that the senses play in marketing. When you walk in the door, you smell bread baking or rotisserie chicken roasting because we know those smells get your salivary glands working. When you're salivating, you're a much less disciplined shopper.

Paco Underhill, consumer expert and author of "What Women Want: The Science of Female Shopping"

4. It's no accident that shopping carts are getting bigger. We doubled their size as a test, and customers bought 19 percent more.

Martin Lindstrom, marketing, consultant and author of  "Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy"

5. When a supermarket promotes discounts on certain products or brands, you may go there only to purchase those items, but undiscounted products may often be placed strategically next to them.   

Alex Leftwich, CEO, Retail Management Consultants, UK

6. Supermarkets keep products like chocolates, candies and stationery on low shelves at kids-eye level so your children may see them and exploit their pester power.

Pritee Shah, chief general manager, Consumer Education and Research Society, Ahmedabad

7 Supermarkets adapt their store format to local customers. While a large, well laid-out store with wide aisles may be appropriate in one location, in another place customers may connect better with a feel of "organized chaos" that may seem closer to the traditional open market environment.     

Devangshu Dutta

8 Some supermarkets now consider Vaastu shastra principles to design their layouts. For instance, certain directions are recommended for a store's warehouse. Keeping the cash registers towards the north-east is believed to keep them ringing.

Krishank Malik, Mumbai-based Vaastu consultant

9. Grocery e-tailing [selling grocery online] is challenging, but it also has the advantage of a high percentage of repeat orders. All you need to do is impress a customer with the first order. Once a customer is satisfied, you can have one more regular in your clientele.

Pritam P. Hans in "Virtual Grocer,"  an article in Money Today magazine

10 The ease of online access to an unlimited array of products available at your fingertips, if not used sensibly, can encourage overspending  or create more shopaholics.     

Manu Manmadhan, Bengaluru-based owner of Wonder Years, a kids' accessories and stationery retail, and a former category manager with the Future Group

11. All uniformed salespersons in a supermarket need not be the store's employees. Some could be from a particular company. So, if I see them promoting one brand over all the others, I straightaway ask who they work for.     

A female shopper

12. Seek and you shall find. The loaves of bread I could see on the supermarket bakery shelves were all made the previous day. It smelled of baking, and surely, they would have baked some today, I thought, and kept searching. I found today's loaves hidden in a row behind yesterday's.

Bread-loving male shopper

We Want You to Know

13. Supermarkets negotiate better discounts and offers from brands because of the economies of scale they command as compared with smaller grocery stores. Yet they face stiff competition from those small competitors. These grocery stores offer consumers personalized service, home deliveries and sometimes credit; supermarkets offer convenience, price incentives and product variety.

Pankaj Gupta, senior practice head, Consumer & Retail, Tata Strategic Management Group

14. Supermarkets aren't out to steal from you. The average supermarket has pitiably low profit margins. To give you some idea of how low it is, the margin for clothing stores can be several times that.

Phil Lempert, grocery industry expert and editor of

15. Even so, innumerable customers are out to steal from supermarkets. In our jargon, we call those losses "shrinkage," because they tend to shrink our businesses. Though supermarkets came late here, India had the world's highest rate of shrinkage for five years in a row till 2011. Shocked? Actually, our own dishonest employees also contribute to a small part of that.

Adapted from "They're Stealing You Blind," Reader's Digest, April 2013

16. Due to the huge rush on weekends, customers were spending close to an hour in billing queues after they shopped in much less time. Many would eventually abandon their shopping carts and leave, and that wasn't helping the store or the customers. To reduce the weekend peak demand, some stores created a mid-week proposition-with good offers and discounts-for those who were willing to change their shopping day.  

Pankaj Gupta 

17. Products from our deli section which can't be sold till the end of the day, but are fit for consumption, are first offered to the store staff at cheaper rates and then sent to an NGO.

Service associate at a Mumbai supermarket

18. Storefronts are the primary billboards of supermarkets as they don't have the big budgets to keep on advertising.       

R. Sriram

Good Deal or Not?

19. People like to purchase their monthly supply of groceries after payday, the first ten days of the month. Hence most good deals and offers are available during this period and don't get revived until the first of the next month.

Harish Somani, Proprietor, Magniram Murlidhar Supermarket, Ujjain, MP

20. In a supermarket, a good sale is anything that's half price. "Buy one, get the second one 50 percent off" discounts are not good sales-that's only 25 percent off each. Almost everything is reduced to 50 percent at some point.

Teri Gault, grocery savings expert and CEO of

21. A marked-down product may be close to its expiry date-something you can easily check on the packaging. Buy it only if you are sure it will be consumed in time.

Alex Leftwich

22. Discount codes from sites like and price comparison plug-ins to your browser, like PriceTree, can help you save money on almost every online purchase you make. The online retailer's aim is to make you use these coupon codes even to buy, impulsively, things you don't need.       

Manu Manmadhan

23. Do not assume that if something is displayed at the end of an aisle, it is a good deal. Often, it's not. Those "endcaps" are sold specifically to companies trying to promote a product.     

Paco Underhill

24. Not all imported products burn a hole in your pocket. I've been buying Anti Bac Plus, a Vietnamese-made washing machine detergent from a big supermarket near my home in Mumbai. The 2.5-kilo Anti Bac Plus (also Active Plus, another version) pack has an MRP of `399 but is always marked down to `299. It's just as good as top Indian brands that cost a lot more. And it's made for all-front- and toploading-machines.      

A regular shopper

25. Successful retailers know that shoppers often aren't looking for the cheapest products, but want value for money.     

R. Sriram

26. Be mindful when buying larger sizes [of soft drinks, cheese, biscuits, etc] to make sure your habits don't change as a result.

Jeff Weidauer, former supermarket executive and vice president of marketing for Vestcom, a retail services company, 

Market Manners, etc

27. Be kind to supermarket staff. I have seen customers berating or yelling at our employees when something isn't right. These young boys and girls are often from low-income families and making a living by working very hard. They've been told not to answer back or react to your unkindness, so you are only revealing your bad breeding and arrogance when you are unkind to them. Your rude behaviour can also create fear and negativity in the minds of these young staff, who may end up trying to avoid customer contact till they feel better-inconveniencing other customers.      

Manu Manmadhan

28. When I'm in a long queue for weighing fruits and vegetables, there are sometimes customers who come and park their carts next to me instead of behind me. I know that he or she is up to no good, so after a while I smile and ask, "Are you behind me or ahead of me?" If they say "Ahead," I know they're lying, but I just say "After you," and step back. It hasn't cost me anything. Regular male Saturday shopper

29 At the supermarket I go to, chocolates used to be stocked along with other snacks until recently. There's a new section now, which requires customers to get chocolates billed and seal-packed separately soon after they are picked up. No wonder-I've seen children eat a chocolate bar and toss the wrapper away before reaching the billing counter. Teach your offspring to be honest.      

A female shopper

30. When they're in season, I see people freely tasting grapes from the heap. Shop assistants don't mind. That's when I wonder what they'd say if I bit off and sampled an alphonso in the mango season.

A fruit shopper

Get More for Your Money

31. There are essentially two kinds of customers: those who use time to save money and those who use money to save time. Supermarkets cater to both. You could belong to either category at different times. Be on your guard when you are in a rush.     

Alex Leftwich

32. Yes, a supermarket reminds me of duty-free, customs and immigration, but without the flying. When I just want to buy a few things, I prefer paying more for those things at the corner store, and flying out.

Senior citizen shopper

33. Most unscheduled purchases take place when there's no shopping list. Make a list and stick to it. 

Alex Leftwich

34. Food and grocery shopping at supermarkets is likely to overshoot the budget when you take the kids with you.

Devangshu Dutta

35. Keep your receipt, which shows the item and the price you last paid, so you can tell when something is cheaper now. That's when you should stock up.

Phil Lempert

36. Products manufactured or procured in-house, often with our own brand-name, are usually cheaper than big brands and of a good quality. You can give these a try and then buy a mix so you don't compromise on quality and yet save money.

Harish Somani 

37. The mist that's sprayed on your fruits and veggies may make them look fresh, but it can make them rot faster. The water also adds to an item's weight, so make sure you shake off leafy greens.

Martin Lindstrom    

38. I tend to buy more vegetables than we need from the supermarket. So there's a lot of wastage. Forgotten at the bottom of the fridge, they often get old and bad. This did not happen in our home before supermarkets arrived.

A male shopper

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