/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Are you a ‘professional’ supermarket shopper?

Supermarket shelves full of offers

You know the type, they use and abuse special offers, shop in different stores and swap brands for budget ranges. According to Morrisons, there’s a growing trend towards shopping like this, but is it just PR hype?

Trying to get around the supermarket without being sidetracked by yellow stickers and special offers is no easy task. You go in with a list of items you need, and come out with a whole lot more besides.

At least, that’s how it always feels to me. Despite working at Which? and therefore having a heightened awareness for the fact that these offers aren’t always as good as they seem, I often fall for them regardless.

A professional approach to shopping

We know from many previous Conversations that shoppers are wising up to these ‘special’ offers. Lots of you say you don’t trust ‘buy one get one free’ offers because you think the prices may be inflated just before the reduction is made.

So could Morrisons’ assertion, that consumers are becoming so savvy that they’re becoming ‘professional shoppers’ really be true? According to Dalton Philips, the supermarket’s Chief Executive, people are hunting down price promotions, switching to own label products and group buying – all in a bid to save money on their weekly shop.

‘There is a growing professionalism in people’s approach to shopping. We are seeing it across the country, this phenomenon of checking all the prices and, in many cases, leaving the credit card at home, buying in bulk packs – splitting them with friends or freezing.’

It all sounds sensible, but also like a lot of work. I don’t have the organisation skills to plan my own meals in advance, let alone plan them ahead with friends!

Beat the supermarket

But a quick look back over some previous discussions shows that there are people out there who spend the time and effort beating the supermarkets at their own game.

When we compared the Asda and Tesco price match commenter Buyer showed real ‘professionalism’:

‘It is in fact a good offer… I bought the following: Hovis Medium Sliced Soft White Bread, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Snickers Bars and Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausages. [There was a] difference of £3.34 and I got a £6.68 voucher… with the voucher I then brought things on offer. So if you are clever you can make some nice savings.’

But how many of us really have the time to do this, even if we have the inclination?

Perhaps the easiest of Morrisons’ suggestions is to swap brand for budget lines. 67% voted in our poll to say you buy store cupboard essentials from budget ranges and we’ve also found a fair few Which? Best Buys in budget stores like Aldi and Lidl.

So, just how professional are you when it comes to your weekly shopping? Is Morrisons using this as a convenient excuse to justify its price rises or is there really a trend in the making?


Today in Morrisons there was a “NEW!” shelf label on 160-packs of Tetley tea bags at a price of £2.25. It did not say “reduced” or “special” price but that was clearly the implication. In fact, an 80-pack was £1.12 so buy two of those and save a penny [“Every little hel . . . No, never mind]. i try to be a canny shopper and I can usually afford [and have the storage space] to buy products on offer if they are my usual purchase [or as good as]. I don’t normally trade down to take advantage of offers. We buy a mix of main brands and own-label products selected according to our preferences developed over many years of experience. Some own-label goods are superior to, or at least equivalent to, the pricier branded goods but for some items there can be no compromise – there are other ways to economise if necessary [like eating less, even!].
Supermarkets usually stack the special offer products at the ends of aisles [duplicating the offers in the regular positions] so it’s worth taking a look and seeing if there is something you normally use and will keep or which you will probably need in the near future even if it means going outside your list. As Hannah suggests, smart shopping does require organisational skills; when spotting a new promotion we have to remember what we already have in stock or you end up with gallons of bleach scattered around the house and start consuming at an increased rate just to see it go. There’s nothing like a stock shortage to make you more economical [the last quarter of a toothpaste tube lasts as long as the first 50%!] and there’s nothing like a surplus to make you wasteful. I think supermarkets are alert to that psychology so, whereas – in theory – they should not sell more bleach overall, in practice they achieve a small increase in sales over time which more than compensates for any discount offered under the deal [which is part-funded by the manufacturer anyway]. I think bogof deals are generally worth going for even allowing for a bit of price-hiking but, again, you need to be certain you want it and are not just being seduced by the offer. A good way to curb a tendency to buy too many things is to leave the car at home and shop with a basket not a trolley; a full basket is probably as much you can carry home and you will be naturally restrained from picking up the two giant boxes of detergent that might otherwise have tempted you. Mind you, with washing powders and liquids having reached such astronomical prices now, any offer is worth considering; we try not to buy any unless it is on offer. Strangely, we never seem to be able to get as many washes done with the concentrated products as they tell you on the packs; psychology at work again! And then, having done all this canny shopping, I go and blow the saving on some pathetic indulgence like a DVD I never get around to watching!.

Supermarkets are easier to beat (for want of a better word) than most people realise. They are not your friend, they do not have your best interests at heart and should be viewed with contempt.

As much shopping as possible should be done BEFORE going to the supermarket. Supermarket shopping should only be for a last few bits each week.

Visit local markets for fruit, veg, fish (from an actual fishmonger!) and pick up toiletries etc, cheaper in price, negotiate discounts if you buy say 5 of a product, it may only be 10p per item, better in your pocket.
Call in at your butchers (an actual butcher!) longer lasting, cheaper, often locally produced and fresher meat than any supermarket shelf, less packaging/waste as well. Whilst you’re there, pick up fresh eggs (if you don’t have a milkman), often locally made cheeses, even locally made sauces are available at our butchers.

Shopping this way BEFORE arriving at the supermarket, means I can walk right past whole departments, I can get around fast so I’m in and out quickly, grabbing the few remaining bits of shopping I need for the week.
This way always saves my household money.

Supermarkets are not the customer’s friend at all, many branded goods can be bought cheaper at the local corner shop – who buy in 12 tins at a time – than a supermarket which buys in by the pallet load, how is this possible? Huge profits every six months shows what the big four are doing.

One example of supermarket’s utter contempt for the people of Britain, for me, came as times started to get difficult back in Sept/Oct 2008 – with reports all over the news of desperate times for households to come and people would significantly need to cut back their spending – two of the big four supermarkets in my area, slapped an extra 20% – 30% on the prices of most of their branded tinned goods, the exact products that people were starting to buy to save a bit of money.

Over the past 12 months, our house has been working on eliminating the need to visit any supermarket for our weekly shop, we are almost there, just a few bits to source elsewhere and we’ll be there. The money we have saved each week has been significant, eye waterwing when added up over a month/year.
We have an abundance of fresh seasonal fruit and veg always on hand, our recycling bins have never been more than half full each fortnight. It is even quicker to visit a neighbouring town and back than it is to do a shop at the supermarket.

I may paint a rosey picture, that’s because it is, other than carrying the shopping back to the car I cannot find any other negative point about shopping locally. The added bonus of course, is that I am not lining supermarket shareholder’s pockets, I am putting money back into my local economy which can only be a good thing.

Gimcrack says:
16 September 2011

I roughly know what shops to go in for the cheapest products. Go to the market/Turkish supermarket for cheap fruit and veg, Lidl for cheese and ham, the butchers for meat and I make my own bread. I order online for bulky stuff and make sure I buy in bulk if, say, dishwasher liquid is on special offer.

If you don’t have any local shops and don’t/can’t order online, then you are at the mercy of your nearest supermarket. I wonder if local councils take this into consideration when they give permission for yet another large out of town supermarket to open up.

hate supermarket shopping. I dislike the lighting the checkout, and the fact that you often find items have been moved round to different aisles on different visits. It feels to me as if I am in some sort of maze like psychology experiment – which I probably am, for the interest of marketing people.

Since I live on my own, many of the special offers are irrelevant anyway, as there is too much for one person. Why don’t they offer half price, instead of bogofs? Doesn’t it come to the same thing?

I buy an organic veg box which is locally produced, and transported, and that saves me having to think about what veggies to buy and I can spend less time in supermarkets.

I purchase bulky and heavy items from supermarkets. And also lemons/oranges/avocados, which obviously can’t be locally produced. But I always make sure I have made a list and buy only what is on it. The advantage for the supermarkets is that they usually provide free and easy parking, which does encourage people in.

Of course, there is the fact that some people just love shopping – they love the whole experience of seeing everything before them on the shelves and “finding” a bargain.

As to Morrisons – like Tesco – however much they manipulate shoppers, they don’t like it when people play them at their own game do they?

Agree with many of the previous comments. I would add that there are all sorts of ecologically-sound & economical ways to avoid or at least reduce the amount of time/energy wasted on supermarket shopping. Online & local shopping are good examples; alternatively, invest in greener ways of living, e.g. instead of spending money on endless packs of washing powder all year round, use eco-balls in your washing machine (a set will last up to 3 years for a one off purchase), or try to grow fresh herbs on your windowsill – they smell & taste much better than the dried stuff & are so much cheaper if grown from seed! With such tough economic conditions facing many families, maybe we need to re-consider not just our shopping habits, but our whole value system? Smart shopping is just the beginning…smart living should be the goal.

Don’t waste your money on eco-balls. They don’t work.

Money Maker says:
21 September 2011

Why do Asda always have offers where the total cost of 2 individual items are cheaper than if you purchased a bigger items with the same volume? As an example – very often 2 packs of 6 eggs costs £2 on offer whereas a single box (of the same egg’s on the same shelf!) cost nearly £3? – Very frustrating!

Sainsburys – a very novel tactic.
They check against the other leading supermarkets for all your branded items and if its cheaper you get the money back via a voucher to spend next time. We spent £35 and got £4.05 back in a voucher. We love to save money and this trick works for us. Can’t be bothered to check against the other stores.

Just Me says:
20 January 2012

Agreed I get that one too, and always buy exactly the amount of the voucher and no more, and only when I need to get things I actually need. Otherwise I buy non-perishables with the voucher before the expiry date runs out. 🙂

Nina says:
8 December 2011

I live alone and usually eat alone (aarh poor thing). Yet I buy in bulk and am canny about how much I spend. Not because I am poor but because I do not like being ripped off or wasting money.
If I see something advertised at too low a price – a glitch? I buy loads before they realise and put the price to what it should be. I study all the prices on the internet sites so that I see prices per kilo before choosing, I check all special offers. I do not bother to go to a shop just to buy one thing.
I get different things from different shops and always have it delivered – as I do not have a car or nearby shops. To me it is a paid hobby to go online, look up the special offers and find something I would buy anyway very cheap and stock up on it. It is a very small victory for human kind over the huge money making supermarket. Other people go online and play bingo and lose money. I spend less time checking prices and gaining money. Until it becomes illegal I will continue to do so.
(That is a joke by the way). I think people fall for so called special offers such as NUTELLA is 20 pence cheaper when the own brand chocolate spread is a lot cheaper and just as good.

Just Me says:
19 January 2012

Eleven tips to avoiding being ripped off by superstores…

1) Never go to a supermarket hungry, you will always buy ten times more than you need.

2) Always check the bargain at the end of the isle (Point Of Sale) with the same products stacked on the shelf, as the POS is often a con, usually more expensive.

3) Know what you want before you go into the store, and know the store layout so you are not turned around. Buy what you want and leave, do not be tempted to go into the non-foods section for a look.

4) Kids in the store with you are the supermarkets best friend, and your worst enemy. Ask yourself why the stores always put the sweets on the checkout, when your kids are at their most difficult.

5) Superstores pump the air from the bakery to the front of the store, to make you want to buy fresh baked bred. You may also notice that many of the items you would seldom buy are also right around the bakery.

6) Milk is always placed at the back or somewhere in the middle of the store. This is to get you to go all the way into the store, and get you looking at all the so-called bargains on the way in and on the way back out.

7) Always carry a calculator with you and DON’T be afraid to use it. Socially we feel dumb or stupid if we think we are being observed or judged for inadequate mental arithmetic, but the stores TOTALLY rely on this. This is why there are so many confusing offers, to make you just give up and buy, rather than appearing flummoxed or self-conscious of your perceived lack of abilities.

8) Always check the price per item, or price per weight, usually displayed in a much smaller font just below the displayed price. This gives you a quick and usually much easier way of working out if the multi-pack you are buying, is actually better value than buying the same number of items individually.

9) Always use your vouchers. We stuff these little gems into our wallets or handbags and they are lost forever. Yet with a little thought when you get home, if you take a second look and then work out what you need the next time you go the store for some milk or a loaf of bred, you will be shocked how often you can use them to your own benefit. Superstores know you are going to stuff them in with your receipts, which in turn will go into some draw, or some shoe-box of receipts you will never go back too, which is why they use them as a PR stunt, so check them out when you get home, they really can save you £££££’s if you use them.

10) Get to know someone who works for the store. Staff nearly always have a staff-discount card, usually about 10 to 30% discount. There is a buying limit on the card per year, but usually too much for most single people to ever take advantage of. So go shopping with them and not only do you get the discount at the till, your not so board on the way around the store, and you may even get the benefit of car sharing and save on the petrol and parking on the way. But don’t forget to get your friend an extra something at Christmas or on their birthday, it’s just good manners.

11) Buy one get one free? If it sounds too good to be true… Need I say more?

jean says:
1 March 2012

I live on my own and can afford to eat well. However,when I go into either of my 2 local big supermarkets I always compare prices before buying,typically saving up to 20p per item. I often only buy items when they are on special offer. I am currently out of my favourite cereal but will not buy any till the next attractive offer comes along. Why do I do it? Is it because I see inexplicable price hikes or confusing trick offers? Is it because they increase prices shortly before a bogof deal so it isn’t as good a deal as you think? Yes, I see such scams as a sign that they do not respect us. So why should we trust or respect the big supermarkets and hand over our hard earned money ?Turn shopping into a battle of wits. Play them at their own game everyone.

ASDA are guilty of yo yo Pricing with Princess tined Foods but still more Expensive than at Smaller supermarket Asda offer price Buy 2 for £2.00 Smaller supermarket Price 79p Ready meals.It is hard living alone pensioner or not its best to buy a small Freezer then make up several meals and put into those Freezer to microwave containers because what prices ASDA and the other big supermarkets charge for 1 person meals is a Rip-off.When smaller supermarket charges less it proves my point.Pricing seems to change each week in ASDA which is a scandal and its the single person hardest hit.

I Usually buy in bulk a few products that I like to have stocked up when they’re cheap.

One of these is for example Coke Zero Cans. I make the maths as a good price for 24 = 6£.

Oftenly i see asda selling 8 packs for £2 (which makes 24=6) then out of nowhere they stick pallets of them cans all over the supermarket saying SUPER OFFER 2 8Packs for ONLY £7! and people load up on those. that means it works. even thou people are paying £0.50 extra on every pack.

I just wish i increased my “price knowledge” list when shopping so i can buy more and more stuff when they’re low and less then they’re high.

Yesterday i looked at Pork sausages Pork&beef too out of curiosity i have not eaten sausages for years my conclusion i am not paying for such rubbish.If you look at the butchers counter their labels are so small they do not tell the consumer very much.Its no wonder the Germans reject the British sausage poor meat content German sausages much better quality than ours although they only available in jars of 6 except in Aldi far too much for the single person.I was horrified; disgusted at the actual meat content per sausage in the frozen sausages 41% meat years ago it was 65% meat for the average banger higher 80%for the best quality then it dropped to 50%meat now 41%its disgusting parents with there children buy this rubbish its high time government investigated some foods advertised as Pork sausage or Pork&Beef it should say Pork flavored sausage there are many
6 pack sausages advertised as special sausages they are not the are once normal sausages at a unrealistic price.I do not blame the farmer its these profit driven supermarkets and food processors.