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Updated: 7 Jul 2021

How to spend less at the supermarket

Avoid spending more than you need to on groceries by knowing the tricks to look out for when you're at the supermarket.
Ellie Simmonds

We at Which? have spent hours trawling supermarket pricing data and visiting stores in order to become experts in how they operate, so that we can help shoppers like you save money. 

From dubious discounts to sneaky signage, there are plenty of ways that supermarkets encourage us to spend more than we need to in store. 

Read on to find out some of their sneakiest tricks and, more importantly, how to beat them.

Setting an ambiance

Whether it's through the smell of freshly baked bread, the sparkle of fairy lights in winter or the aroma of floral displays in summer, supermarkets want to keep shoppers feeling happy as much as possible. Why? The more comfortable someone is, the more they're likely to spend.

Every supermarket tries to build up a subconscious image in shoppers' minds to reinforce its brand. It's particularly clear at Christmas time, when they create festive displays and use warm colours and merry jingles to encourage us to spend more than usual, but it happens all year round.

How to beat it

Go in knowing how long you want to spend in store and what you’d like to buy: write a list in advance and stick to it. Don’t be persuaded by the Christmas soundtrack into buying chestnuts you're not going to use. 

See which is the cheapest supermarket every month with our supermarket price comparison.

Stopping you in your tracks

Ever had to step around a special offer display before you've even got into the shop? Anything that forces us to change direction makes us pay attention, as do signs that move or flash. 

One of the supermarkets’ best tricks is to place a vertical sign in the middle of the aisle. Our eyes naturally scan from left to right, so breaking up that flow encourages us to stop and read an offer.

How to beat it

When you stop and look at an offer, think about what made you stop. Is it really something you need with a good discount? Or have you just been sucked in by clever positioning? 

Take your time, weigh up your options and try to calculate the true saving the offer provides, then consider whether it’s something you actually need.

Creating a sense of urgency

Supermarkets play into our fear of missing out by pressuring us into making snap decisions. 

Depleting piles of beer crates and dwindling stacks of cereal boxes create a feeling of urgency that makes us want to grab before it’s too late.

How to beat it

It may be easier said than done, but the best way to combat this is to try to shop when you’re feeling relaxed and have plenty of time to make decisions. 

Piles and buckets at the ends of aisles won’t always offer a better price than usual, so treat them cautiously. 

Keeping the essentials at the back of the store

Ever noticed that the milk is at the very back of the shop, the bread at the other end and the washing-up liquid somewhere in the middle? Supermarkets do this on purpose to make sure you walk past every shelf, even when you're only there for a few basic essentials. 

How to beat it

Find out where the things you need are in the shop and head straight for them, trying not to be distracted by other things. It's an easy habit to get into in your local supermarket, but more difficult when you're somewhere unfamiliar. 

Remember that in most stores dairy products and bread can be found at the back, fruit and vegetables are at the front and drinks and frozen items are at the far end. Some stores like to move their produce around though, so keep your wits about you.

Find out more: best and worst supermarkets