People everywhere are tightening their belts. The cost of living has skyrocketed in the past several years as income has dropped. As the number of families who seek to cut costs increases, so does the size of the grocery store flyer.

These flyers, sometimes the size of small magazines, are chock full of “great buy”s and “rock bottom” prices. They promise the lowest price anywhere and the most value for your shopping dollar. Mailed flyers offer more deals online, and online versions offer printable shopping lists and coupons. What’s not to love?

For starters, circulars act as mini mind-control devices. No, that isn’t an exaggeration. Market researchers have successfully crawled inside your head, know how it works and have planned every sale item in accordance with what they’ve learned. Consumers have been reduced to statistics and probabilities, which are then organized into tidy demographic groups.

These marketing masterminds have tables that offer data such as: if a consumer in age group B plans to purchases product x they are 75% more likely to also purchase product y. If product y has a very high profit, they’ll jump at the chance to put product x on sale. Product x then finds its way into your local circular, you put it on your list and you leave the store with product y.

If the mind control aspect isn’t enough to make you toss them all immediately, consider the purpose of the circular

JAMES CHENIER

They want you to come in and spend money, preferably more than you intended. The flyer achieves this by advertising things that are less expensive than usual but still make a profit.

For example, consider brand name canned soup. These often show up in circulars for an unbeatable 3 cans for $5. That doesn’t sound too bad, after all. You can get 3 lunches for $5. An entire week of lunches for $10. At the store, you buy 12 cans because you want to take advantage of the great deal, and congratulate yourself for planning ahead. Except, had you looked approximately 2 feet to your left, you would have seen the generic soup – probably manufactured by the same company – for $1 per can, or $.66 less per can than the brand name soup.

The circulars are created to trick consumers. Since the items are typically advertised in groups – 2 for $3, buy 2 get 1 free – shoppers don’t always consider the cost per item. The problem is compounded when the non-sale price is listed per item. In the previous soup example, the advertisement may read: “Canned soup: 3 for $5.00. Originally $2.00 each.” This leads consumers to believe it is an excellent sale, as the group price is just a few dollars more than the sale price.

You’ll have a good idea of what is usually cheaper at each store, and can plan your shopping trip accordingly

If you want to avoid the circular trap, spend a few weekends shopping at multiple stores. Soon, you’ll have a good idea of what is usually cheaper at each store, and can plan your shopping trip accordingly. Go into the store without knowing what they want you to buy, and you can take advantage of the really good deals to dramatically reduce your grocery bill – without mind control.

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