Save at the Supermarket: Boost Your Price Power!

Treat Shelf Prices with Skepticism

What's a shelf price? In today's supermarket, the price listed on the shelf for each item is closer to a myth than to reality--and smart shoppers treat the price that's on the shelf with a grain of salt.

Sure, our grocer labels each shelf in the salad dressing department with that $3.69 price, but if you buy with a club card? You'll pay only $3.29. Add in promotions, coupons and club rewards, and the "real" price for the dressing comes down to a figure closer to $2.89.

This week, anyway.

Markets use inflated shelf prices to tout "specials". By claiming that this week's salad dressing sale price of $2.99 has been reduced from the inflated shelf price, it creates an illusion of a bargain.

Similarly, wildly inflated shelf prices tend to go hand in hand with promotions like Buy One Get One Free. Called BOGOF by dedicated sales shoppers, these events could also be spelled BOGUS: too often, the shelf price of the "buy one" is more than double the non-sale price the previous week.

Bargain? Hardly. Free? Not when you pay more than double for that first item.

Tune In to Target Price

Unit price points out the best buys on any one trip to the supermarket, but how do you know whether this week's prices are high or low? Enter the target price!

Achieving real supermarket savings requires knowing the target price: the lowest sales price offered for that item over the life of the sales cycle.

It's the rock-bottom, on-sale price that signals the bargain hunter to buy in bulk and stockpile against the weeks when prices are high.

Establishing target prices requires observation over time. The tool of choice: a price book.

By tracking weekly price fluctuations for family staples--cereal, tomato sauce, peanut butter--the price book establishes the lowest sales price for each item, and illustrates the sales cycle, or length of time until the discounted price is available again.

Take an example: foil packets of water-packed tuna. A staple of lunch bags everywhere, shelf prices for packet tuna range from $1.49 to $2.19 ... but once every 7 to 8 weeks, tuna packets go on sale for one dollar. When they do, it's time to visit the store and stock up!

Knowing that the sales cycle is 7 to 8 weeks long, smart shoppers purchase enough tuna at the target price to tide the family over until the next sale.

Make Sense of Multiple Pricing

One final arrow in the supermarkets' price arsenal: multiple pricing. Offering products at prices like "2 for $7" or "3 for $5" are designed to do two things: obscure the true price of a single item, and subtly pressure shoppers into buying more than one.

After all, selling bottled barbeque sauce at "3 for $5" sounds like a much better deal than pricing single items at $1.67--and it encourages shoppers to add three bottles to the cart, even when the family only needs one.

Fight back! On an index card, write out single prices for commonly-offered multiple price points, and tuck it into your wallet or coupon holder.

When you can see at a glance that the frozen pizzas priced at "3 for $10" cost $3.34 each, you'll be free to reach for the $2.99 brand on the next shelf.

Prepared to spend less at the supermarket? Brush up on your pricing power ... and save!


Price Book
Shopping List