9 dirty tricks supermarkets use to make you spend more money

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By in Food & Drink, Shopping. Updated .

You might like to think supermarkets are your best friends when you’re at uni, but prepare for one hell of a messy break up right about now!supermarketSo, you thought the supermarkets were on your side, helping you save extra pennies whenever they can?

Whilst there are lots of great deals that genuinely could save you a packet, keeping your wits about you should always be top priority in this game, as the priority of supermarkets will always be to make cash – plain and simple!

From dodgy money-saving offers that don’t actually save you cash, to multi-buys that cost the same as buying individual items, supermarkets employ a whole host of sneaky tricks to get their hands on your hard earned.

Arm yourself with the facts below – and don’t be scared to raise hell if you sniff out one of these sneaky tricks being used in your local!

Some major supermarkets are already in big trouble for employing some of the tricks mentioned below – and guess who’s the worst culprit!

9 tricks of the supermarkets

  1. Bogus BOGOFs

    241The classic buy-one-get-one-free offer is a popular one (even universities have started offering it on tuition fees!). But whilst real BOGOF deals can be a steal, too often these offers are extremely deceptive and not actually a good deal at all.

    We’ve even seen situations where supermarkets have hiked the price of the item during the BOGOF deal, meaning it’s cheaper to look for the same item not included in the promotion than going for the deal.

    Take your time, look at individual prices and compare before you put something in your basket.

  2. Multi-buys, shmulti-buys

    multibuy scamJim Champion – Flickr
    Some multi-buy offers – where you’re told that you’ll save by buying in bulk – can’t be considered ‘offers’ at all.

    Whilst they won’t cost you more, they often won’t save you anything either, meaning you’ve just been tricked into buying way more of a product than you intended to.

    For example, you might come across offers such as ‘3 for £3’ when the item is individually priced at £1 each anyway.

    These marketing tricks are designed to psychologically trick your brain into thinking you’ve got a good deal by buying more than you need, or even want.

  3. ‘Top deals’ that aren’t that top

    topcatWhen walking around your supermarket aisles, it’s likely you’ll be inundated with lots of brightly coloured signs for ‘top deals’, ‘lowest prices ever’ or other not-to-be-missed deals.

    Whilst these are supposedly products that have been reduced to a cheaper price than normal, we recommend having a good look at the price label behind the sale label.

    Research found that many of these so-called ‘deals’ had been the same price for six months, while others had actually increased in price!

  4. Outdated promotions still on display

    unimpressedAn recent BBC investigation found that Tesco is particularly terrible at keeping their displays up to date, leaving promotional branding up after deals have already ended.

    The result of their experiment was that they were overcharged for their purchases at 33 out of 50 stores they visited! We’re sure Tesco aren’t the only offenders, either.

    Make sure you always check your promotion has been deducted at the check-out, and if not – show the display to a manager and ask customer services for your money back.

  5. Misleading packaging

    catinaboxThe fancy packaging of that ‘high quality’ bacon can convince you into thinking you really will taste a difference, but will you really?

    Packaging on supermarket premium brands is designed to tempt you into parting with those few extra pennies, but in reality your extra cash is mostly just to cover the cost of said fancy packaging.

    As one STS reader also tipped us, it’s worth noting that express/’to go’ packaged items can often be priced much higher than the same item elsewhere in the store – the only difference being that there’s no fork included!

    Downshifting your weekly shop to value brands where you can can save you up to £520 a year. Imagine what you could buy with that!

  6. Offering bulk that isn’t better value

    lotsofkettlesThanks to wholesale supermarkets, it’s kind of been drilled into us that buying bulk-sized products over smaller items will automatically involve a saving.

    Buying a massive tub of butter rather than a small one can seem like a good deal as you get loads all in one tub (so save on the extra packaging, right?). But some supermarkets take advantage of that assumption, and will price the larger tub higher than two smaller tubs that combined have the same weight.

    They’ll often also make it tricky to work out the weight-to-price ratio by labelling one product in grams and another in ounces in a quest to throw you off. Not cool!

  7. Making comparisons impossible

    supermarket downshiftSimilarly, this might totally go against your best instincts, but whilst packaged goods do normally cost more than loose items, this isn’t always the case.

    Supermarkets rely on the fact you think this way, and will often make comparing items confusing. This is particularly the case with fresh produce like fruit and veg – packaged cucumbers will be priced per item whilst the price for loose ones will be displayed in grams.

    Just make sure you spend a bit of time crunching the numbers before you commit!

  8. Floor layouts that make you spend more

    organic vs supermarket foodIt’s crazy but you would not believe the amount of time and effort that goes into the layout of a supermarket – all with the intention of encouraging you to spend more cash.

    Here’s just a few of the ways they get you:

    •  Playing slow music to make you feel less rushed and happy to spend more time (and money!) in store
    •  Putting healthy fruit and veg at the front so you shop there first then don’t feel guilty about the less healthy foods that go into your basket later
    •  Placing essential items at the back and far away from each other so you have to look for them (and come across a few things you don’t need but want to by along the way)
    •  Keeping eggs in strange places so you end up on an egg hunt (and not the Easter kind)
    •  Stacking more expensive products at eye level and treats, such as tortilla chips and salsa, will be stocked next to each other to encourage you to get both (with cheaper salsa stocked elsewhere in store)
    •  Covering tills with last-minute ‘essentials’ to encourage impulse buying.

    Some supermarkets have even been known to lay smaller floor tiles along the aisles that have more expensive stock so the sound of your trolley wheels speeding up will encourage you to slow down and consider the shelf items more intensely. Who would’ve known, eh!

  9. You’re not safe online, either!

    i'm ready preparedUnfortunately, supermarkets use tricks online too – nowhere is safe!!

    For example, you’ll already be well acquainted with the sidebars they use to bring up similar items they think you might be tempted to part more cash on, but you’ll almost never see value brand items in there.

    Also watch out for the ‘allow substitutes’ box – checking this means that they can change parts of your order if they’ve sold out, and replace it with something else.

    Bit of a mixed bag on this one, as some people report being given more expensive items as replacements but only charged for the cheaper version (neat!) but some have been known to throw in a more pricey replacement and charge you extra.

    The smartest move here would be to contact the supermarket customer service and find out what their policy is on this.

You don’t have to treat food shopping like an SAS mission, of course, but by being savvy to supermarket tricks you can save yourself a pretty penny!

Now you’ve swatted up on the tricks to avoid, here’s some supermarket money-saving tips to try out!

Any sneaky tricks we’ve missed? Be sure to give us a shout down there in the comments.

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5 Responses to “9 dirty tricks supermarkets use to make you spend more money”

  1. lesleyfromkent

    27. Apr, 2016

    Home Delivery: the ‘allow substitutes’ needs to be used judiciously. Sainsburys will substitute and therefore always charge me a higher price because my first choice is always the budget buy. Waitrose however don’t charge you at all for the item if they have to put in a substitute. I don’t use morrisons or tescos delivery so I don’t know about them. And waitrose value range is similar in price to the others . My tip – their frying steak at 3 x 300gms+ packets for £10: a real treat on a budget.
    Clever and savvy shoppers also always use the £1 delivery slots – and do a big shop at the same time.
    Careful of “reduced at 4pm” – my experience is at 4pm its reduced from £3 to £2.60 – not a “reduction” in my book., I’m told the real reductions are much later in the evening.

  2. Jane

    08. Mar, 2016

    A lot of these tricks are just wrong or misleading. There is a fine line between convenience/ value and ‘tricking’ customers but you paint this picture as purely the latter, when a lot of times it may just be the former, e.g. tortilla chips and dips next to each other is convenient not trickery

    • Jake Butler

      09. Mar, 2016

      The title was obviously chosen using a little artistic license. I would like to think the chip/dip scenario is a trick as they tend to have cheaper dips elsewhere in the supermarket but they are leading you to believe that these are the only ones available.

  3. Alison

    24. Feb, 2016

    I went to morrinsons on Monday muller rice on offer £2 for a pack of 6, but then looked at shelf and you can buy 10 muller rice for £2 and you can choose what flavours too.

  4. Kama

    23. Mar, 2015

    Same with ASDA, they will never charge you for a substitute! It often works out so much better for you, as you pay low price for more expensive products if it’s out of stock.
    And generally, under the price, there’s the £ per kg (not on all things, but so much better than not showing this at all).
    Beware of some supermarkets offers NOT being applied at checkout and don’t be afraid to go to Customer desk to apply correct prices for you. Even if it’s not much, it’s them tricking you or not applying the offers correctly so let them do that! 🙂


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