Food & Nutrition

Shop-smart supermarket tips

We’ve put together this guide to beating the battle of the aisles the next time you’re grocery shopping in a supermarket.

6 shopping tips


Supermarkets, like most businesses, are designed to make you spend as much money as possible. From delicious aromas to irresistible bargains, supermarkets come up with all kinds of ways to seize control of your trolley and what you put in it. Here are six traps to look out for and our tips for overcoming them.


1. Specials that aren't

Supermarkets will often place a large display of, say, cases of soft drink on a highly trafficked aisle corner far from the soft-drink aisle, which makes shoppers think there’s a special on when there’s not. Don’t fall for this ploy; double check the price.


2. Eye-level gouges

To save cash, you’ll have to bend your knees and stretch your neck. A survey of shampoo products in supermarkets showed that in almost all of the 20 stores visited, the higher-priced shampoos were at eye level. Called ‘slotting’, this tactic is used throughout the supermarket. (One exception: the most expensive children’s breakfast cereals are often placed at a kid’s eye level, not yours.) Along with price, a second factor that can determine which products are placed at eye level is whether a manufacturer paid out the most money for product placement. So, remember to look above and below for better buys.


3. 'Identical' store brands

The supermarket will often set its own store brand next to an external brand product and trumpet their lower price, insinuating that their product is identical to the pricier version. However, they’re often made to different specifications and cheaper formulations than the branded product, so it can involve trial and error when it comes to choosing between a home brand and big brand.


4. 'Buy more and save!'

Stores will often sell big packages of cheap products – like a 12-pack of generic toilet paper – to make it seem like it’s an incredible bargain compared to the external brand (which may give them less profit). We’ve long been trained to think buying in bulk is cheaper but you may not actually get any more in the bulk package, for the money you’re spending. Look at sheet count and ply, and the actual square footage. Big supermarkets and online grocery retailers must now display comparison prices per 100g or per 100ml, so don’t forget to read the fine print on the shelf tags. Another trick used by some supermarkets is a ‘buy-two-for-X’ amount of dollars special, but the fine print shows no saving at all – you’re just paying for two instead of one.


5. Sales on the shelf, not at the register

While systems are getting a lot better, errors can still occur at the checkout so that the bargain you’ve been promised when you picked the product up off the shelf, doesn’t get processed at the register. Don’t blame the cashier or scanner – the problem is that the new sale prices haven’t yet been uploaded into the system. Always double check that the register rings up the sale price, especially on the first day of a promotion.


6. Plan ahead to beat the tricks and traps

With a list in hand, you can stay focused on what you need without being tempted by special offers and other supermarket traps. Once you know your store layout well, you can plan out your list aisle by aisle for maximum efficiency and minimum distractions. Map out where the healthiest foods are located and make them your target zones – think fresh foods, grains, nuts and soups. It’s easy to compile a basic list of everyday foods that will stay pretty much the same each week. All you need to do is add in any extras from your weekly meal plan, and any treats, which you can build in and keep track of.