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Grocery Store Basics

Grocery Store Tactics

Food companies use marketing tactics to get shoppers to buy their products. These tactics are used to market healthier foods, such as dairy, whole grains, and legumes, but it can also be used to market foods that are not as nutritious. Some of these tactics are obvious, like using attractive photos and designs on their products. Others are sneakier, like placing their products in specific spots in the store or using certain buzzwords to make the product seem healthier.

Look beyond eye-level. When you are looking for an item at the grocery store, be sure to look up and down to see what is on the higher and lower shelves. In some cases, lower cost or generic brand items may be on the lower shelves. In other cases, food items that may appeal to children (often colorful boxes with cartoon characters) can be on the lower shelves where they are easily seen by kids.

Watch out for the smell of fresh baked goods. Grocery stores use psychology to help sell more items. One of the popular tricks is to bake chocolate chip cookies and fresh bread to get shoppers hungry.

Avoid checkout aisle temptations. Grocery store checkout aisles are often full of candy, sugar-sweetened beverages and salty snacks. This is meant to attract shoppers for a last-minute impulse buy.

Graphic of aisle and endcaps

End caps and special displays are not always showing the best deals. Grocery stores use end cap displays, or the small shelving units at the end of an aisle, to highlight certain items. Sometimes stores will display the price of end-cap items with larger price tags. This can confuse the shopper and make the item seem like it is on sale, when the number displayed is really its normal cost.

Think before you spend to save. Sometimes items on sale may be close to their expiration dates. If that is the case, then plan to use the item in the next few days. “Buy One, Get One” offers are common at the grocery store. Before you buy, think of whether you need the item, and if you could use the item before it goes bad. Also consider whether this item can be frozen. Other popular offers include bulk deals, such as getting 10 items for $10. With these, be sure to read the fine print on the price tag carefully. In some cases, this offer is really one item for $1 and you do not necessarily need to buy 10 items to take advantage of the deal.

Beware of buzzwords. Food packaging sometimes uses special buzzwords like “healthy” and “natural”. These words are not regulated and do not necessarily mean that they are good choices. Luckily, the Nutrition Facts label can help you make the best choices for you and your family. Learn more about how to read the Nutrition Facts label, here.

woman scanning a barcode at grocery store with her phone

Tips for Outsmarting Grocery Store Tactics

  • Make sure to eat a snack before grocery shopping to prevent impulse buys.
  • If you’re working with a tight budget, make sure you stick to your grocery list. For tips on writing a grocery list, read more here.
  • Studies show that the less time you spend in the store, the less money you spend. To help you save a little money, focus on your list and don’t let yourself stray.

Coupons, Apps and Loyalty Programs

Coupons, store loyalty programs and store apps are all great ways to save money at the grocery store. Before you head to the store, you can check the store’s website to see if they offer any digital coupons, apps with shopping incentives or store loyalty programs that you can sign up for in advance. You can find coupons in newspaper inserts, in your mail, on your receipts, or even online. Loyalty programs and apps can help you plan your meals by showing you the best deals on grocery items that week. 

Coupons, Apps and Loyalty Programs: Know Before You Go

  • Double check expiration dates on coupons so you know for sure that you can use all the coupons you have budgeted into your shopping trip.
  • Make sure the store incentive programs and apps are free to use so you don’t have the additional cost of memberships or subscriptions.
  • Think about how you plan to use the item before you buy it. Just because it is on sale or you have a coupon doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good deal for you, especially if it spoils before you end up using it. 
  • Coupons and sales on name brand items aren’t always a great deal. You can sometimes still get a similar store brand item for a lower price. 
  • Some stores will double the value of coupons during certain times of the year. Check with each store to see their policy on doubling coupons.

Types of Grocery Stores

In today’s world there are many places you can shop for groceries. Popular places to buy groceries include standard grocery stores, bargain style stores, cultural stores and convenience stores. Whether you have access to one type of grocery store or all the above, there are tips to help you shop smarter.

Standard grocery stores are often chain stores. These stores usually have a wide selection of different foods. You can expect to find most food items at these stores, but may not be able to find cultural foods or specialty items.

Standard Grocery Stores: Know Before You Go

  • Join loyalty programs if you shop there often. Not only is it free to join most loyalty programs, but you may receive special deals on sale items. You may also be sent email communications or mail circulars that tell you about upcoming deals.
  • If the store has a phone app, you can download it to check for deals. Again, many apps are free and will let you know what the deals are before you even go in the store. This can be helpful to reference before you plan meals for the week.


Bargain style stores offer a variety of discounted groceries at a lower cost than you would find at a standard grocery store. These stores change what is in stock often so you may not be able to get the same food items week to week.

Bargain Style Stores: Know Before You Go

  • To get the best deals, it can be helpful to be flexible with your meal planning. Instead of specifying that you need canned pears for a snack, plan on getting some sort of canned fruit and see what is available when you shop.
  • If you have storage space available and can use the item before it expires, consider stocking up to take full advantage of the sale.


Cultural food stores can be great places to stock up on specific cultural foods. They offer a wider selection of cultural foods that aren’t often found in mainstream grocery stores. These stores tend to be clustered around geographic areas that have a large community of that culture. They often offer lower prices of these foods than a mainstream store.

Cultural Food Stores: Know Before You Go

  • These stores can be a great way to explore a culture.
  • If you aren’t sure what a food item is, ask an employee. Many would be happy to share how they use the cultural foods they carry in store.


Convenience stores, corner stores, or bodegas can be popular places to shop for groceries. Convenience stores greatly vary in what kinds of foods they carry. Some focus on mostly pantry items, while others offer a selection of fresh foods. However, sometimes you pay for the convenience since groceries can be a bit pricier at these types of stores.

Convenience Stores: Know Before You Go

  • While most people know to use SNAP or WIC dollars at grocery stores, many people do not realize you can often use those benefits at convenience stores as well.
  • Many convenience stores are more expensive than a typical grocery store. If you have other nearby options, use convenience stores for when you forgot an item on your list or need something quickly. Do most of your shopping at a store with lower prices when you can.
  • Many convenience stores carry a disproportionate number of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods, such as chips, candy, ice cream, soda, and other convenience food and beverages.