By Mary Hunt

I’ve always thought of myself as pretty sharp when it comes to spotting supermarket trickery. I’m not even fazed by an end-cap display announcing, “Special.” I know their ways. They hope we’ll just assume that “special” means “super cheap sale.” But we’re so much smarter than that. Which is why I was taken aback by a recent article by our friends over at TLC Discovery Channel. They revealed ways grocery stores trick us into spending more that I’d not considered. Some of these really made me stop and think.

1. TVs at checkout lines. I have not seen this yet, but I hear it’s coming. The trick is to distract us from the checkout scanner while exposing us to product ads for items that are coincidentally within easy reach, or that we’ll encounter on our next shopping trip.

2. Rearranging the store. There’s a reason they do this: To get you out of your rut so you’ll start to notice things you never saw before. While searching for what you need, you’re apt to toss a few new things into your cart that you hadn’t planned. The store wins again.

3. Strategic placement. There’s a psychology in the way stores are laid out. Milk, bread and eggs (common items) are located miles from one another. They know you’ll have to traverse the store from one end to the other. That increases the likelihood you’ll more things than you planned. Tricky!

4. Pricey things at eye level. Human nature says, apparently, that humans are more likely to pick up things at eye level than when placed higher or lower. So where do they put the most expensive options? Bingo! Manufacturers actually pay a premium to have their items placed at eye level.
5. Unit pricing. It’s a good thing that stores now have labels showing the per-ounce or per-pint price, right? Sure, as long as all of the options are broken down in the same way. But what happens when ice cream is shown as per ounce for one brand, per gram for another and per pint for that one over there? Not easy to compare. The trick is to confuse us so we’ll just grab the one at eye level.

6. Diluting liquids. Items like liquid laundry detergent, cleaners and fruit juices can be difficult to price compare. While one brand may be priced cheaper than its name-brand competitor, it may be watered down considerably and therefore cheaper. Become a label reader to avoid getting tricked.

7. Grouping complementary items. You have tortilla chips on your list, but not fresh gourmet salsa, sour cream and grated premium cheese. But hey, they just happened to be arranged so beautifully right there with the chips, so why not? Or you grab the sale-priced eggs, but then see the hash browns, milk and premium brand English muffins right in the same bin. How thoughtful. The only problem: All those accessories are full-priced. Yet another tricky way the store gets you to spend more.

Mary Hunt is the founder of, a personal finance member website. You can email her at