7 things you didn't know about going to the supermarket

Supermarket facts

This originally appeared on the MySupermarket blog.

1. If someone’s cleared the shelves of a special offer, you don’t need to worry

If you go to a store and it’s sold out of something on a special offer, you might be able to get a ‘raincheck voucher’ to buy the same item at the reduced price on another day. This is an unpublished policy at most supermarkets, and it’s at the discretion of the member of staff you ask whether they offer you one or not, but I’ve had one given to me at Tesco before.

For more tips like this check out the Student Money Saver extreme couponing guide.

2. Supermarkets want you to walk round as much as possible

Ever noticed how all the ‘essentials’ you need to buy in every shop are located in the far corners of the supermarket? They couldn’t put the bread and the toilet rolls further away from each other if they tried. Apart from racking up steps on your pedometer, what this achieves is forcing you to walk through aisles and aisles of possible impulse purchases, and makes it difficult to only buy what you need. You’ll also see the things you need next to pricy items that are nice to have, like milk is often placed next to expensive smoothies, rather than the cheese.

That’s why it’s important to make a list before you go and ensure you stick to it, either go old school with a pen and paper, or the MySupermarket app is really good.

3. You’re easily fooled by doorbusters

Not sure what a doorbuster is? It’s an old tactic American shops have been employing on Black Friday for years - it’s basically one low priced item that is advertised everywhere to entice people to come to that specific shop. Usually the ‘catch’ with the Black Friday deals is that the really good offers sell out in minutes, but in supermarkets the hope is that you come in for the super cheap Ben & Jerry’s, and end up spending £50 on your weekly shop in there.

It really works, people go crazy for better than half price offers on wine, spirits, ice cream and frozen pizza, and are easily enticed into the store after hearing a radio ad or having a flyer posted through their door. These deals are usually genuinely worth getting, but be careful not to be tricked into buying the stuff you don’t really need when you’re picking up a doorbuster.

4. Before a bank holiday is the best time for deals

We all love a yellow sticker reduction, where supermarkets slash the prices of goods that are either seasonal or close to their sell by date. On a normal day items are only reduced on the day of their sell by date, but before a bank holiday when the store is closed, you’ll get the reductions for today’s date, as well as all the ones for tomorrow. This is especially true for Christmas, as larger stores are often closed for both Christmas Day and Boxing Day (which means triple the amount of reductions). Dedicated money savers leave buying their turkey to Christmas Eve, because not only do they have sell by dates approaching, it’s also unlikely anyone will buy a turkey after Christmas Day, so even birds with sell by dates for the 27th onwards will be reduced. This is a risky strategy and you could be left with a vegetarian Christmas lunch, because there’s no guarantee the supermarket won’t sell out of turkeys completely.

5. The eye-line is the buy-line

This is a well known mantra in the supermarket world, and it essentially means that whatever is placed on the shelf at eye level is what a customer is most likely to pick up. Supermarkets use this to their advantage and place items with the highest profit margins on the eye level shelf, so the chances are that the better value options will either be up high or close to the floor. Don’t just grab what’s easiest to see.

6. You can choose the shortest queue if you know how

Once you’ve got your shopping and want to pay, you ideally want to go to the shortest queue, do you go to the self checkout, the ten items or less, or behind the family with about £200 worth of food on the conveyor belt?

If you’ve only got one or two things, the self service checkouts are probably going to be quickest, but if you’re dealing with more than one bag worth of shopping then getting a staff member to come over and sort out the inevitable ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’ issue, is going to take longer than queueing for a normal checkout. If you’ve got a significant amount of shopping then it’s best to get behind one large shop rather than a lot of small shops, because it only takes a second to scan an extra item, most of the time is spent on packing and paying with each customer. Ideally the big shop you queue behind will have at least two people buying it, one for paying and one for packing.

7. The average shopper can only remember the price of four items

Apparently we can only remember the price of eggs, milk, bread and bananas, and everything else we can only guess at. This means you might not notice when something goes up in price significantly, and your weekly shopping bill might go up each week and you’d have no idea why.

One way to tackle this is to research prices beforehand, or take last week’s receipt with you to the shop, 80% of the stuff we buy is the same each week, so it’s a good way to keep track of price rises.