Shopping secrets from insiders

By on December 12, 2012

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – We enlisted the help of a former high-level supermarket employee and an entrepreneur who’s made it her business to food shop. The ex-supermarket manager wished to remain anonymous so we’ll refer to him as Mr. Whipple. (Remember the Charmin squeezer?) The entrepreneur, Ashley Watson, is the founder/owner of Mountains of Groceries, a personalized grocery shopping service launched in 2006.
“Don’t shop hungry,” Watson reiterated the age-old sliver of advice. “And go with a list and stick to it.”

Grocery stores operate on a notoriously thin profit margin. They are aware customers will abandon them in a split second if they can save a penny or two on a can of peas across town. Grocers make hay on impulse buys, the coup de nourriture of the biz. Industry research shows 60 to 70 percent of grocery store purchases were not on a shopper’s original list. Product placement, layout, even music is all used to entice a shopper to buy stuff he or she never wanted.

“We use end caps. Those are the featured products displayed at the end of the aisle,” Whipple said. “Sometimes it is for the customer’s convenience, like putting stuffing and cranberry sauce all in one place during Thanksgiving, but usually it is items we are trying to move fast.”

Shelf placement is also very deliberate. Whipple said certain brand names pay for the preference of being on the eye-level shelves. Only the savviest of shoppers will stoop to save a nickel. Also, items that appeal to children are often placed on lower shelves where they can be easily snatched up by toddlers eager to display their sugary discovery to mom or dad.

“Shopping with children can be challenging,” Watson said. “I would suggest one of the carts shaped like a fire truck. And how about getting the kids a frozen yogurt to start? Many moms have said this keeps them busy and quiets them right down for the whole shopping trip.”

Full disclosure: Watson also owns and operates the Bluebird Yogurt stand in Albertsons.

And layout? Some grocery stores are designed like casinos: easy to enter, hard to leave and everything you really need is hidden away on purpose.

“You have no idea how much research goes into the layout of stores,” Whipple said. “Ever wonder why the fresh produce is right there at the front door, usually just on your right? Ninety percent of shop- pers head to the right when they enter and shop in a counter-clockwise pattern. Studies have shown that the customer who buys asparagus or broccoli right off the bat will feel better about purchasing chips or cookies later.”

Consumer Reports found that shoppers could buck the trend and save money. According to their study, customers who shopped a clockwise pattern saved on average $2 a trip. Grocery store owners hate “quick trip” shoppers. “You will never, ever see a bakery or dairy section near the entrance of a store,” Whipple said. “You’re going to have to weave through the entire store full of eye-catching displays to get to these staple items.”

Another trick employed by grocers is the “shipper.” These are the bins of stuff placed in the middle of the aisle. Often they will appear in the boxes they were shipped in to the grocery store. “The impression they give is that this product is so hot, so in demand, that the stockers haven’t even had time to put it on the shelves. They just opened the shipping container and let shoppers have at it,” Whipple said.

Mood music is also sometimes employed to make customers hungrier. Faster-paced music supposedly speeds up shoppers into filling their cart faster. Slower, more somber music causes slight depression in shoppers and instantly gives them the munchies. None of the grocers we contacted said they use music to stimulate their customers’ shopping habits.

“Carry a calculator if you have to. And read labels carefully,” Watson suggests. Buy-two-get-one-free deals are not guaranteed to work in the consumer’s advantage. You may actually be losing money on the exchange. And remember when buying in bulk saved money? Not anymore. That jumbo-sized box of ce- real likely costs MORE per unit than the smaller box.

Watson said she shops all three major grocery stores in Jackson depending on what she needs. “Albert- sons has the most convenient location with the bus stop and nicest parking lot,” she said. “Whole Gro- cers is great for organic product and keeping your bucks local. Smith’s has great produce and, people say, the better prices.”

Watson said she also enjoys hitting Pearl Street Meat & Fish and Aspens Market for fresh high-end product. “Persephone [Bakery] too, has completely changed the bread market,” she said. “There are so many local options. Other towns in the West do not have as much to choose from as we do here.”

About Jake Nichols

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