We use cookies to allow us and selected partners to improve your experience and our advertising. By continuing to browse you consent to our use of cookies. You can understand more and change your cookies preferences here.

Coronavirus Read our latest advice
Reviews based on facts
Our rigorous tests find the facts, and our impartial reviews tell you the truth about how products perform. First month £5, then £9.99 per month, cancel anytime.
Try Which?
19 May 2020

Supermarket special offers

Make the most of your money whenever you shop by avoiding the tricks the supermarkets use.
Vicki Crowe

We’ve spent hours trawling supermarket pricing data and visiting stores to get a sense of how they operate. From dubious discounts to clever 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, learn how to beat them.

Setting an ambiance

Whether it's with the smell of baked bread, the sparkle of fairy lights in winter or the appeal of floral displays in summer, supermarkets want to keep us feeling happy as much as possible. They need us to feel comfortable so that we're willing to spend.

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

How to beat it: Cut through the fog

Go in knowing how long you want to spend there and what you’d like to buy - preferably in a list. Don’t be fooled by the ambience into buying chestnuts you know you're not going to use. Know what they have in store for you and look out for these tricks.

Stopping us in our 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 shops’ best tricks is to place a vertical sign in the middle of the aisle – because our eyes naturally scan from left to right, breaking up that flow encourages us to stop and read an offer.

How to beat it: Think again

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. Buckets of sweets, 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: Take your time

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: Put your blinkers on

Make sure you bring a shopping list with you. 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 right. Some stores like to move their produce around though, so keep your wits about you.