Buying groceries is not just about price. Consumer expert Tina Leonard talks to Pat kenny about the psychological tricks like 'bogofs' - buy one get one free - used to persuade us to part with our cash

When you enter a supermarket your progression through the aisles and how you make your choices are all aided by number of factors; call it aiding customers to find what they want or call it a host of psychological tricks.

In addition, with price now the most important factor in why we buy a product, how can we find out just which is the cheapest supermarket?

Be aware of the psychological ‘tricks

1. Buy one get one free

BOGOFs (buy one get one free) or 3 for 2 offers on big brands are there to make sure you keeping buying the brand rather than a cheaper version. Think before you buy. Is it really better value to have three of something you mightn’t even use? On the other hand, canny consumers only buy big ticket items i.e. dishwasher tablets, when they are on special offer.

2. Is special offer not always the cheapest?

Products on special offer are usually placed at the end of an aisle, which are the areas encountered most frequently as you can easily see them as you pass by. They are often separate from other similar products, so check out the other similar products first, to make sure the offer is the best value.

3. Eye level products could be the dearest

Don’t only look at products that are at your eye level. That is supermarket premium real estate, so look down or up to find the own brand and value products. You are likely to find bulkier items lower down and cheaper own-brand products higher up and less prominent. Likewise products aimed at children will be low down at their eye-level to encourage pester power.

4. Product association plays tricks with your mind

Why might you find garlic bread beside the lasagne? Because the product association may just encourage you to buy both. Category management means you will also find fresh soup beside fresh bread or pasta sauce beside pasta.

5. Fruit and veg are at the front for a reason

Fresh fruit and vegetables are often the first items you see in a store for two reasons: It gives the impression (as does freshly baked bread) that the store stocks fresh food and healthy produce and is a shop worth trusting in. Plus fruit and veg look better in natural light than artificial light, which means that they benefit from light from the door. In contrast, meat and fish looks much worse in natural light, so will be further inside the store.

6. Eggs and milk at the back for a reason

Ever wonder why the eggs and milk are stuck in the back of the store? Walking multiple aisles to get to these staples means you’re likely to buy more, which is why you should make a list and stick to it. Men’s products are often placed at the back of the store too to counter what is sometimes called the ‘boomerang effect’, where men are more likelt to just get what they came for.

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7. Loyalty cards spy on you

Loyalty cards are crucial so that the store can get information on everything you buy, and all data collected is stored and analysed. There is very sophisticated software enabling supermarkets to analyse this information in detail. They can see that of all the people who bought one item for example, 30% also bought another specific product and this may prompt the stores to place the products near each other. The store will also be able to see if there are a lot of families with children shopping in the store or if the customers are mainly singeletons, and this will affect how products are displayed, in what prominence, where in the store and what promotions they carry. Stores now send targeted money-off vouchers to loyalty card-holders so that instead of getting random vouchers for stuff you don't want they send you vouchers based on stuff you buy. But these are items are likely not to be on promotion or discounted, causing you to perhaps overlook a similar but cheaper product.

8. Red is the colour of discount

Use of colour is important too. For example red appears closer to the eye so you’ll see it first, hence the use of red in discount signs. Also, the association of purple and black are with luxury so these will be used for own-brand premium products and colours like white, blue and green and generally used for cleaning products.

Price is now crucial

As we’ve discussed before on this programme, our grocery shopping habits have changed, and are still changing.

According to the National Consumer Agency’s most recent research seven out of 10 people shop around for the best price with more than half citing price as the key factor in choosing where to shop.

In addition 35% of the products we buy are now own-brand, a figure that has been rising steadily.

The latest research from Kantar World Panel in Ireland looked at the 12 weeks to March 20th and report that 4% less is being purchased by the average household in order to save.

They also report that in those first 12 weeks of 2011 grocery prices rose by 5.3%. This means that our actual spending is down around 1% to mitigate this increase in prices.

The supermarkets - where are we spending

Tesco: Biggest market share at 27.2%

At the end March they announced 1,000 price cuts and run consistent ads citing their price checks that reveal they are the cheapest on over 1,000 products.

Dunnes: Second largest market share at 23.3%

They say that Tesco are responding to their lower prices rather than the other way round and that they cheapest retailer in Ireland and has been for the last 5 years.

SuperValu: Third biggest market share at 20.2%

On 24th March SuperValu announced a €260 million investment in delivering price savings to consumers with the launch of the second phase of its “New Ways to Save Every Day” campaign. The campaign is aimed at making it easy for savvy shoppers to save on average €35 per week, through a mixture of buying own brand and items on special.

Superquinn: Market share approx 6%

Superquinn’s latest price campaign commenced in mid April and features a number of half price offers across the store. I.e 3 for €10 on a selection of Irish meat / 3 for €5 on certain fruit etc.

Lidl 5.9% market share

Aldi 4% market share

Both discounters run specials on all items from time to time, but interesting their prices do not fluctuate as much as the others. Also, while their products are not directly comparable, they are often identical on price.

Who is cheapest?

The answer to this question can’t always be clear. That is because it depends on when you ask it and what basket of goods you are comparing!

Looking at some big price comparisons, in the last price survey published by the NCA (last August), on a basket of 103 branded goods Dunnes was cheapest, but the difference between that total and that of Tesco was a matter of cents and with Superquinn was only €1.14.

Independent grocery price checking website smartshopper.ie reports Dunnes to be the cheapest on their survey of 200 goods for most weeks of the year.

However in The Consumer Show price comparison survey (a basket of 50 items), prices have been tracked since January. After 14 weeks, we revealed in programme 1 (19th April) that Tesco was the cheapest overall for the basket, but when we checked again on this Tuesday’s show SuperValu was the cheapest for the week. (Tune in next Tuesday to see who is cheapest then..).

And this is where the answer can be it depends…..

The Consumer Show basket figures showed that at the beginning of the year SuperValu started off as cheapest for but one week later Dunnes was the cheapest and Dunnes remained the cheapest for most of February and again in early March.

Tesco in fact came out second dearest at various points in January and February. Their prices plummeted in late February before hiking up again in March. Then on this basket their prices begin to fall and by the end of March, when they introduced their 1,000 price cuts campaign, bringing their total price across the 14 weeks below the others.

Prices fluctuate a lot so how on earth can consumers check?

Apart from actually going from store to store there are two websites that can help:

www.fitthebill.ie is a free grocery price checking website and www.smartshopper.ie is a subscription site that costs €11.99 a year.