Eleven Tricks Stores Play To Make You Think You’re Getting a Better Deal Than You Are

grocery store

Last week, I thought I had found a great deal on 12-packs of 7-Up and A & W root beer ($2 each) but my total grocery bill seemed high, and when I checked my receipt at home, I found I had paid $3.99 for each case of soda. When I remembered looking at the price tag, I realized that it must have read, “Save $2.00” (with the $2.00 in the biggest lettering), not just “$2.00.” I never would have considered buying the soda for $3.99, and I would probably have left the store laughing if I had realized they considered $5.99 a regular price. (Around here, I can find a 12-pack of soda for $3.00 almost any time; I consider $2.25 a good sale price.)

I had fallen victim to one of the many tricks stores use to make buyers think they are saving money when they really are paying a typical retail price or even more. In this case, the trick was emphasizing the price off in big letters and minimizing the actual (not so good) “sale” price.

Here are ten more store tricks to watch out for:

Putting some items “on sale” all the time: A sign reading “SALE” draws buyers, but it might really mean “for sale,” not “on sale.” When I lived in a resort area a decade ago, one store always had a “Going Out of Business Sale” banner hanging over its door. I’m sure its owners believed no one would know that the date for the store to close permanently was not actually set, as nearly all its customers were people who were in the area for only a week or two.

Handpicking comparisons to other stores: You probably have seen grocery stores displaying identical full shopping carts of products with signs comparing their total price for the products to a competitor’s price. The message is that you can save more money on an entire trip to that store instead of the other one, but the deception reveals itself when all the stores display these carts and they can’t all have the best prices overall. Stores fill carts with specific items they offer for less than their competitors; each shopper has to figure out which store really has the best prices for the items he or she buys most frequently.

Offering Buy One, Get One Free specials at twice the price: I hate circulars that advertise buy one, get one free items without saying how much customers have to pay for the one they’re buying. They might simply be offering twice as much as I want for double what I want to pay. Incidentally, I also hate to see ads that read, “Buy One, Get One”? I sure hope I will get one if I buy one!

Advertising a “special”? that is special for something other than its price: For example, a restaurant special may be special only because it appears in a separate part of the menu under the word “Special”? We use the word “special”? to mean so many different things that it’s almost meaningless. In some cases, it simply means “featured”?

Charging more per unit for bigger sizes: We have come to expect that bigger sizes are “economy”? sizes and that we pay less per item or per ounce when we buy the bigger box. Though this assumption is often true, stores sometimes take advantage of frugal shoppers’ habits and charge more per unit for the bigger boxes. Be sure to check unit prices when looking for the best bargain.

Comparing different units: Even when you read unit prices on store tags, you have to be careful. A store might give you the per-ounce price on one product and the per-pint price on a similar one. If your store uses this trick, bring along a pocket calculator (and maybe a measurement conversion chart) to calculate the per-unit price.

Charging as much or more for the store brand: Stores also know that buyers assume their store brands will cost less than the national brands. If you want to get the best price, be sure to actually check the prices and not simply grab the store brand out of habit. National brands can sometimes be less expensive, especially when they are on sale or if you have a coupon.

Announcing “lower prices”? for shrunken packages: Bargain shoppers have been reporting more and more instances of manufacturers putting a smaller amount of their products in similar packaging (14 ounces instead of 16, for example). When package sizes change, stores will sometimes advertise the lower price without pointing out that buyers are getting less for their money.

Using fine print: Stores sometimes use a big sign announcing a sale (particularly a percentage off or other non-specific price) on a particular product, but the sale is only good on certain sizes or varieties. Be sure to read all the details before adding a “sale” item to your cart.

Offering a low price guarantee… with a catch: Stores often guarantee that their prices will be the lowest, but in order to get the low price, you have to bring in a printed advertised price from a competing store. As not all prices are advertised in print, you aren’t truly guaranteed the best price on everything in the store. Another way around the guarantee is that the store has all its own models of products so that, even if you find a similar model for a lower price elsewhere, it’s not exactly the same and therefore does not qualify for the low-price guarantee.

Even the savviest shoppers can fall for some of these clever marketing ploys. I’m sure I have been caught more times than I realize. Incidentally, when I discovered that I had paid $7.98 for two 12-packs of soda for which I had expected to pay $4.00, I returned them. I was angry that I had fallen for the store’s trick, angry enough that I won’t be as likely to shop at that store in the future.

Image courtesy of 09traveler

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10 Responses to Eleven Tricks Stores Play To Make You Think You’re Getting a Better Deal Than You Are

  1. Rose says:

    The one that irks me is typically found at stores with Frequent Customer cards, such as CVS and Food Lion. They’ll advertise a sale price that’s only good if you have one of their cards. Some cashiers have a dummy card that they’ll use so that all shoppers can get the discount, but I’ve been to some stores that didn’t, and it feels like a bait and switch.

  2. Debbie M says:

    If prices are given for quantities, such as 5 for $2, you may or many not have to buy the quantity given. At most places, you can get the same per-unit price for buying 1 as for buying 5, so don’t buy 5 unless you want to. However at some places there is a higher per-unit price if you don’t buy 5.

    I have made both mistakes: I have bought too many because I thought I had to when I didn’t, and I have bought only one thinking I’d get a good price when I didn’t. So ask!

  3. Raymond says:

    This sort of reminds me of the common ruse that eateries and lunch cafeterias use. They’ll offer you a reasonable price for the main dish/course but then gouge you by jacking up the price for the extra soda or drink. I think people tend to forget that they are merely shifting part of the price from the meal to the drink.

  4. K says:

    My latest peave is grocery ads where they name a general broad food group (like “General Mills cereal”) for a certain sale price and then put “select varieties”. You can’t tell until you go into the actual store to see what is actually on sale. Sometimes even then it is hard to tell.

  5. Norma Walker says:

    I do’t like grocery stores that will put a sale price in front of an item but when you look at the regulat price it is the same.

  6. Erin says:

    There was a small Wal-Mart in my home town that had a huge cracker jack display in one of their main aisles. The cracker jacks were marked 10 cents a box forever and then I walked in there one day and the price had gone up to 15 cents but the sign said they were marked down from 20 cents! What a lie! I guess it is possible that they were marked at 20 cents for a couple of hours, but this is just another example of how stores dupe you into thinking you’re buying at a reduced price.

  7. Jsahko says:

    My newest peeve is when they place sale tags in front of the wrong items. You have to get down on the floor to see what the little sale sign actually says and then it’s in grocery store code – “JWLBRDCHKBRSTSAND 2pkAc 12pc 15oz 2-3.99lb”. You grab one take it up front and it’s NOT on sale at all. It was actually a sign for the store brand next to it or some such thing.

    Another recent one is the grocery chain’s deli listing prices by the 1/2 lb. rather than the standard pound. Maddening.

  8. askprofit says:

    I have fallen victim to the “buy one get one free” scam. I didn’t get anything for free!

  9. Pingback: 11 Tricks stores use to fool consumers « Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind

  10. Ariel says:

    The supermarket in my neighborhood like to play bait and switch at their deli… You ask for a product by name brand and they give you whatever is open in that brand and then get irritated when you call them on it… For example – you ask for regular cheese and then they slice you up low sodium cheese in the same brand and label and charge you for the regular brand of cheese. You get home and there is no taste of course to the low sodium cheese and most people would not take it back. This has happened to me too many times to count. They used to slice you up another brand and insist it was the brand you asked for. They do it with all of their meats and cheeses. I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten home to open my deli products and they are not the brand I asked and paid for. I even heard a worker behind the deli one day tell a new worker when I asked for the the cheese – “just slice up whatever it there”. When you bring it back they act like you are a pain for wanting what you paid for. They even went so far as to give me the right product upon return and had the nerve to mark it “no charge” when I was doing an exchange. They never wrote up a return slip just threw the wrong one in the garbage. They even re-designed there deli showcases so that all of the cheeses and prime choice meats are only visable on a vertical display – you cannot see the actual block or meat they take out of the case – you have to follow them to the cutter and strain your neck to see over the top of the counter… It’s sad because its a great store except for the bait & switch at the deli and how do you prove it???

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