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Supermarket Shenanigans II


FOOD FOR THOUGHT - August 15, 2007 - Mark R. Vogel - [email protected] - Mark’s Archive

In the last edition of “Food for Thought” we reviewed various antics that arise at supermarkets and other food vendors that can cost consumers extra money.  Some of these capers are legitimate sales ploys, some are honest mistakes, and a minority are unprincipled attempts to con the unsuspecting customer.  In the interest of “knowledge is power” let’s peruse some more supermarket shenanigans.


     The switcheroo is when you ask for a specific item in the fish or meat case and the clerk gives you another one, sometimes from a cache that is out of sight.  One day I asked the clerk for oysters in the case and he gave me dead ones from a refrigerator in the back.  Another time I pointed to a specific loaf of bread, again in the case, and was given a stale one from a table behind the counter.  Thus, the switcheroo can be a means of getting rid of items that are older or flawed in some way.  If a clerk does not give you the exact item you asked for, speak up.


     Hide the salami occurs when inferior products are hidden under higher quality and more visible products.  A perfect example is pre-packaged veal scaloppini. The top pieces are pristine and nicely shaped.  But when you get it home, remove the wrapping, and lift off the top pieces you find discolored, gristle-laden, scraps.  Another instance is when prepackaged pieces of meat or fish are wrapped icky side down.


     This is when the most expensive products, or products whose manufacturers have deals with the supermarkets to promote, are placed on eye-level shelves while the economical ones are on the bottom, top, or back of the racks.  End of aisle displays are also meant to catch customers’ eyes. 



     Multi-tasking is attempts to lure the customer into buying larger quantities.  For example, the sign next to the lemons says "2 for 99 cents."  This is a subtle, almost subliminal attempt at coaxing you into buying two.  But you can still buy one at the same price rate.  Sometimes the special price only applies to multiple quantities such as when you must buy three or five of an item to get the sale price.  Other times you're not even given a choice about the quantity, like when you need one shallot for a recipe but they only come in boxes of four.  Anything prepackaged that could be sold loose, such as string beans for instance, forces the consumer into a quantity inevitably in excess of their immediate needs.


     Many chain stores offer “loyalty” cards, sometimes known as “club” or “discount” cards.  The pitch is pretty straightforward:  sign up for a card and receive special promotions on merchandise.  Unfortunately there’s more than meets the eye going on here. 

     Stores use your card to track your purchases and provide information about their sales which guides their marketing campaigns.  In addition to the discount prices you obtain with the card you may also be sent coupons or special promotions based on your purchases.  The problem is that your privacy may be threatened.  The personal information you provide to receive a card, as well as your purchase information is sent to a giant computer database.  Concerns have been raised about stores sharing or selling this material to other sources and/or increased risk for identity theft. 

     Some have balked that it is unfair to have to divulge personal information in order to obtain the same prices as the cardholders.  And to make matters worse, there have been reports of some stores raising prices after beginning a card program.  The “sale” price the cardholder receives now becomes the regular price.  Non cardholders get the dubious distinction of disproportionately adding to the store’s coffers. 


     Last but certainly not least are all the little ways that prices can be played around with.  First are the times when the price of the item is not on the package or the shelf.  Denied the opportunity to compare prices, you're more likely to purchase inefficiently, or buy something you wouldn't have if you new the price.  How about when an item is advertised in the sales flyer but at the regular price?  Its mere appearance in the sales flyer leads you to believe its on sale.  Or the times that something is on sale but only certain varieties or sizes.  There you are at the checkout with 5 lite yogurts, only to discover the sale only applies to the regular ones.  Are you going to bother to go back to the dairy case and hold up the line to switch them?   No, you’re going to begrudgingly keep them, curse under your breath, and remember to read the fine print in the flyer the next time.  I’m sure this isn’t planned but I can’t help but wonder how many extra sales they make each week thanks to the fine print.  And of course, everybody's favorite, when a product is on sale but the sale price isn't in the register's computer system.  I strongly recommend you check your receipt before leaving the store.  Some stores routinely ring up the wrong price.  Even if it's not intentional, it still makes you wonder, and that's just not good for business.

Also Visit Mark’s website: Food for Thought Online

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