The unprecedented monopolisation of grocery shopping by big stores and international names over the past 20 years has changed our shopping habits and the way we spend our weekends. Whether you are the type of shopper who follows a list, compares prices between stores or just throw things in a basket and hopes for the best, there are some tricks and cheats you should be aware of to maximise your weekly shopping budget.
You might not be surprised to learn that recent research has found that stores and big brands employ a host of tactics to get you to part with your cash. These might not all be deliberate ploys or attempts to mislead you, the customer, but they do all make it harder for you to know how to get the best deal. Here, I look at just a few insights into the big money world of consumer and supermarket sales.
Size is everything
Retailers will sometimes reduce the size of packaging but keep prices the same (or even increase prices in some cases). This may be because of changing costs for manufacturers, but do try and keep an eye on whether your favourite products are smaller than before.
Even in situations where the size and price of some products remains the same, the amount of food inside can change. Shops often change the weight in packs without shoppers noticing, paricularly with seasonal products such as fruit and vegetables. Shops may argue that they do this instead of increasing prices out of season, but make sure you look at the weight and unit price as well as the overall price of the item for comparison purposes.
A bigger pack doesn’t always mean better value, even if they claim to be at a special price. Buying separate items can sometitmes work out cheaper. Again, always check the unit price to ensure you’re getting the best deal.
Blinded by ‘offers’
Red price tags can imply that an item has been reduced, but often the item has always cost that price, typically £1. This might be to highlight a particularly attractive price, or to make you think that you’re getting more for your money when in fact this may not be the case.
In some cases it can be confusing as to what is on offer and what isn’t. It may be that sometimes the ‘offer’ signage is next to items that are not actually on sale, that another customers has left another item on a particular shelf or it can be confusing to see which items are included within a deal. Always double check your receipt to see whether your offer registered and read any small print displayed on signs and labels. Official rules on special offers say that a product should be at a higher price for the same amount of time as it is on offer. However, some stores may boost prices on seasonal items weeks before they reduce them for the holiday rush, so it can be confusing for customers to keep track.
Beware of the ‘tricks’
We are all familiar with some of the common tricks of the trade, but it doesn’t stop us being caught out. There is no coincidence in stores placing sweets and magazines by the till. These are impulse buys, so putting them near the till gives stores one last attempt to sell whilst we are waiting. Regularly bought items tend to be spread around the store, so you need to pass many other goods and offers to complete even the briefest of shops. You should also be conscious of smells, that are pumped around the store to tempt you or make you feel hungry. It is a current practice to have an open bakery with the smell of bread and pastries spreading throughout.
Best before’ dates relate to food quality, including taste, texture and appearance. Eating food past its ‘best before’ date is unlikely to be harmful. ‘Use by’ date are the most important date for people to consider, as these relate to food safety. While it is an offence to sell food after the ‘use by’ date, retailers can, with the exception of eggs, sell products after the ‘best before’ date, providing it is safe to eat.
- Write a list and stick to it
- Don’t go shopping when you are hungry
- Go shopping an hour or two before the store closes – you can often pick up some great bargains, particularly bread, fruit, vegetables and chilled foods
- Look up and down – not only at the good at eye level. That’s where you will find less popular (or less profitable) brands and items.
If you’ve been misled, what can you do?
Although most stores are completely above board, if you do find that once you have purchased a product that you are not happy with it or feel that you have been misled, then there are steps that you can take. When you purchase an item from a store, you are effectively entering into a contract with the store therefore if you have been misled, there may be a breach of contract. That said, the law does allow for mistakes to be made and given that many stores have an inconceivable number of product lines, mistakes do happen and will frequebtly be forgiven.
If you do feel like you have been caught out or misled, make sure that you go back to the shelf/area that you picked up your item and check that it is definitely the store’s fault (and not something that you have simply misread).
If you are not satisfied, you should see a store assistant or customer service representative to report your concerns BEFORE you leave the store (and ideally before you pay). It is at the store’s discretion as to whether they exchange or refund items, although most will do so straight away without reason.
If you remain unsatisfied, you can then get in touch with the store’s head office by phone, email or letter. You might also consider contacting your local Trading Standards office so that they can keep track of any misleading offers and take action where appropriate.