HT Image
HT Image

How to outsmart supermarkets

If you look at their hidden agenda you will realise that the supermarkets want you to buy more and spend more and every effort is made to ensure that, writes Pushpa Girimaji.
None | By Pushpa Girimaji
UPDATED ON APR 04, 2008 11:37 PM IST

In many of the large supermarkets, as you enter the shop, you see rows and rows of attractive clothes on display. Or you will see some bright crystal wear. Or some expensive imported foods. You enter the shop with a list of some essential food items that you want to purchase. But as soon as you enter, your eyes are drawn to the rows of clothes or some other goods and you stop there – after all, you will think, there is no harm in looking. Before you know it, your trolley is full of the goods that you only wanted to look at. Some are bought because there are discounts. Some others because you always wanted it, but never bothered to buy. Yet others, because the shop is offering a “buy one, get one free” scheme.. Before you reach that section that houses the humble dal and chawal (not so humble anymore given their rising prices) your trolley is overflowing with goods that you never intended to buy in the first place.

Well, don't think that this has just happened by chance. This is how big retail chains want you to shop. We talk about the hidden agenda of politicians, but if you look at the hidden agenda of supermarkets – known as departmental stores in the good old days - you will realize that they want you to buy more and spend more and every effort is made to ensure that.

The first step in that direction is the way goods are displayed. They are meant to draw you to them before you reach the more basic food section. The discounts, the free gifts, they are all part of the scheme. These days, there are specialists who watch how you buy, what you buy and give expert advice on how to make you spend. In fact in the US it is a specialized science and there are businesses that rely on customer relations management (CRM) software which have developed this into a fine art.

Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to dissuade you from going to a supermarket. All I am trying to do is to warn you against unintended spending that may well leave you with huge bills on your credit card.. In fact I have found three distinct disadvantages of shopping at a supermarket, but you can overcome that and still shop smartly, provided you are aware of these pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Here are what I consider to be disadvantages of shopping in a supermarket:

You end up spending more time than you intended (of course if you have nothing else to do and would be happy to browse around, then I have no complaints) – you look at the clothes section, you move on to the cosmetics and may be, home appliances and so on. I often see people forgetting the original shopping list!
You end up spending much more than you intended.--the humble grocery bill would have more than doubled because of this extra, unintended spending. Unintended purchases could put total bill well beyond the budget.
You spend on goods that you do not really need Last month, a friend told me about how she bought some 12 rolls of silver foil because there was a scheme on them and she was getting it really cheap. But having bought it, she found she had no place to keep them.

You also realize later that these have been sold cheap because they have a limited shelf life. So you have to consume them really fast. A friend who lives alone, told me last week about how she bought 15 large cartons of fruit juices thinking that since they are really coming cheap She would drink them twice a day. Then, to her horror, when she looked at the calorific value, she realized her mistake, more so because she is trying to lose weight.

Similarly, the other day, I saw a ' buy one get one free' offer on an expensive brand of ice cream- Guess why the manufacturer or the retailer was trying to get rid of it? No. Not competition. Not even short shelf life. For some reason, the ice cream seemed to have gone into a freeze-melt-freeze cycle. Now, what gives the ice cream that fluffy texture is the air trapped inside and because of the melting, the fluffiness was lost and probably that was why it was being got rid of at half the price.

And where are you going to keep all these goods that you bought because it was cheap or there was an attractive offer?

In the US, for example, I have seen the basements of houses full of these kinds of goods bought on a sale. But the average middle-class apartment in India does not have that kind of space to provide for such extra shopping that we may indulge in.

So get wise, get smart. Buy only what you want-make a list before going to the shop and stick to that. You will then cut short your shopping time, limit your spending and in the end, find your house less cluttered with goods that you either did not want at all or have no place to keep. Happy shopping!

Story Saved