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 Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Grocery shopping: a little effort can stretch your dollar
by Greg Swenson, University Communications

The holidays are right around the corner, and most people in these uncertain economic times are looking for ways to stretch their dollar as far as possible.

And yet even with all the choices and shopping tools available to consumers today, many still lose the game when it comes to getting the best price for their gifts or even their groceries, said marketing Professor Donald Lichtenstein of the Leeds School of Business.

"There are so many traps, so many problems with the way that most consumers shop," Lichtenstein said. "Take grocery items for instance: study after study has shown that consumers shop in a manner whereby they don't pay attention to prices. They may shop one store over another based on a low price image, yet when you go into the store and ask them 'how much did you pay for such-and-such,' they don't know."

Retailers are well aware of this behavior, and go to great lengths to get shoppers into their stores and to assure them that they are getting a good deal. The truth, Lichtenstein said, is that consumers really need to pay attention and strategize when they shop.

While there are plenty of deals to be had during the holiday shopping season, finding the real values takes some work, according to Lichtenstein. And shoppers must pay attention to the numerous pricing ploys that await them.

When grocery shopping, consumers have to be on their game if they plan to get the best deals and save real money. For example, over the years retailers often have put their sale items at the end of the aisle so shoppers can easily see them.

"Now merchants many times put higher margin items that are not on sale on these end of aisle displays," Lichtenstein said. "Consumers go by and just think ‘OK, it's on display so it must be on sale,' and they throw it in their shopping cart, so they end up paying a lot more than they should."

Grocery shoppers also need to strategize when they are buying sale items because stores set their prices based on a "market basket" of goods, which refers to the most common food and household items people buy in their store. For example, the bread might be on sale but the butter is very expensive.

"So consumers need to be aware that even though highly visible items are low priced, the market basket of goods might be very expensive," he said. "I am a cherry picker. It's generally worth it for me to go from store to store to pick up the sale items."

For those planning to cherry pick, which is especially worthwhile for nonperishable items, Lichtenstein says stockpiling is a good idea.

"If you have the storage capacity, go ahead and buy a lot because stores are getting you into their store based on that good sale price," he said. "It may not be worth it to go store to store for items unless you can stockpile."

Lichtenstein also recommends paying close attention to grocery coupons because many stores will double a coupon up to one dollar off in many cases. Consumers can also go online and print multiple coupons for items they buy every week, often resulting in major grocery bill savings.

Click here to listen to a podcast of Lichtenstein discussing shopping strategies.

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