When I was teenager I worked in a grocery store, initially as a box boy. Within six months of being hired, however, I was promoted to checker.
Over time I eventually got to work almost all of the jobs in the store including working the deli counter, and helping the overnight stock crew fill shelves and reprice products after the store closed.
Anyway, I kept that job for three years, until I left my hometown to attend college up the coast.
To be sure, I learned some valuable lessons while working at the supermarket. Although it’s not true any more, the first thing I learned was that grocery store checkers were paid very very well at the time. Although I had not reached the top pay level by the time I quit, I was still earning the inflation-adjusted equivalent of roughly $26 per hour — and $78 per hour on holidays. Meanwhile, the most senior everyday checkers were pulling down about $30 per hour (and $90 per hour on holidays).
That’s not too shabby for a teenager with few financial obligations.
Even so, working in a grocery store was not a very fun way to make a living. Not only is working as a grocer back-breaking work, but you also have to deal with the public on a daily basis — which in my case meant I even had to endure an armed robbery while working there.
It wasn’t all bad though. Working there did help me earn and save enough money to pay for my college education.
Perhaps even more importantly, I also learned a few tricks that many grocery stores still use today to get a little extra money out of their customers and pad tight profit margins.
Here are some of the sneakiest grocery store tricks to watch out for:
1. End cap “specials” that are anything but. The items you see at the end of each grocery aisle – known as the “end caps” – are NOT typically the areas where you’ll get great deals. In fact, the end caps are often misleadingly used to push items that aren’t on sale. Oh sure, grocers will make the end caps look festive and boldly advertise the price as if it were a good deal, but it’s usually not. In fact, end cap items often provide grocery stores with some of their biggest profits.
2. Bad deals at the checkout line. Just like the items on the end caps, you need to avoid the candy, gum and magazines you’ll find at the checkout line. These items are almost always high profit-margin products that can really run up your bill.
3. Name-brand products placed on shelves at eye level. Why do stores do this? Because the premium you pay for name brand products can be as much as fifty percent and sometimes even more – even though store brands are often of similar quality. If you want to save money you’ll usually need to look down low for those store brands.
4. Sale prices on only selected product varieties. It’s true; many times a store will advertise a sale on a product, but if you don’t read the fine print – or look closely at the price tags – you might not realize that the sale is only on certain varieties. At our store we used to do this with Spaghetti-Os all the time. We’d put the plain Spaghetti-Os on sale, but if you bought the variety with franks or meatballs, you were stuck paying the full price.
5. Sneaky price tags. When you see a price tag that says “5 for $5.00″ it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to buy five items to get the deal. In fact, more often than not you can usually get away with buying just one for a buck. As a box boy working the late night shifts I’d occasionally mark down stuff in the bargain bin with ridiculous prices like “7 for $1.89″ or “3 for $2.37.” Just for fun. The best part was when a happy customer would bring the marked-down item to the check stand and I got to watch the poor checker try to figure out the unit price in his head. Of course, the checker would look at me and I’d just shrug my shoulders and give a sheepish grin. Actually, looking back it’s a wonder I ever got promoted.
(This is an updated version of a post I originally wrote in May 2011 for the defunct blog, Currency.)
Photo Credit: Boris Anthony