November 9, 2012

Shopping Supermarket Savvy -- Part 4

Welcome to Shopping Supermarket Savvy, a series in which I share obvious and not-so-obvious strategies for sticking to whole, nutritious foods, avoiding junk, and getting a little more for your money at the grocery store. Just tuning in? You can find previous entries here, here, and here.

Dunce cap, indeed. I think the
21st Century term is "face-palm."
Today’s tip is one that should go without saying, but you know what they say:  sometimes common sense is anything but common. I shamefully admit that until recently, I hadn’t been following my own advice. I would go into the store, find what I needed (and of course, a couple things I didn’t, but hey, I’m only human and shiny objects do catch my eye now and then), head for the checkout, and then stash the bags in my car to go home. Notice anything missing? Yep, you guessed it—I never looked at the receipt.

 Talk about an epic failure.

While I do think food manufacturers deliberately design food “products” to hit all the right evolutionary taste buttons (sweet, fatty, salty – Honey Nut Chex Mix, anyone?) and be darn near addictive, I don’t think supermarket managers are intentionally out to steal money from the very people they depend on to stay in business:  their customers. So I don’t think this is anyone’s fault (except maybe the people who program the registers), but from time to time—maybe more often than you think—items ring up at the wrong price. Maybe the two-for-one sale (that’s BOGO in competitive shopping lingo, ya’ll) failed to ring up properly and you end up paying full price for both items. Maybe the discount price for the week was programmed incorrectly into the machine and you end up parting with more change than you should have.

Like I said, I’m not placing blame. Mistakes happen. (And better at the checkout counter than, say, on the operating table, eh?) Anyhoo, reading your receipt might seem like a small move, and maybe even one that’s not worth your time when you’re trying to hurry home to cook dinner or just want to get out of the store before someone’s darling child screaming his or her head off eight aisles away causes you to commit homicide, but those few extra seconds can have a pretty substantial payoff if you catch an error. Scrutinize that sucker before you leave the store!

Yours will probably be in dollars.  ;-)
Case in point:  I once bought a fancy brand of extra virgin olive oil specifically because it was on sale. Even at the sale price it was a little more than I’d normally pay for olive oil, but I wanted to try the brand and I figured that was my chance. In looking at the receipt on my way out, I noticed I was charged the regular price. Hold the phone, yo!  This baby’s on sale. I went to the customer service window to get back the difference, and you know what? This store’s policy was that if something rang up incorrectly, you get it for free! SCORE!  Yes, I got the fancy-pants olive oil for FREE. Remember that Monopoly card that said “Bank error in your favor, collect $50”? That’s how I felt. Except better, because the money wasn’t blue; it was real, actual, U.S. legal tender. No, it wasn’t $50, but it kinda felt like it! (It was fancy olive oil, but not that fancy, hehheh.)

Again, I don’t think these stores are deliberately trying to cheat consumers. I think there are just so many thousands of items that have to be coded, sales prices programmed, and coupons recognized that the scanners are bound to mess up now and then. No skin off my back—especially if the end result is me getting something good for free. (If you happen to live in Northern VA, this occurred at the Giant in Kingstowne, in case you’re wondering. Since they remedied my issue in such a nice way, the least I can do is give them free advertising.)

There’s a store in Long Island, NY, where they cringe when they see my aunt coming. You see, this store’s policy is that if you find something on the shelf past its sell-by date, you get a new one for free. An incentive to keep their stockboys and girls on their toes, I suppose. Well, eagle-eyes auntie has walked away with tons of free stuff just by taking the time to scour the shelves. Not everyone has the time or desire to do this, but if you know of a store that has a similar policy, it might be worth it now and then.

That’s it for now on the shopping tips. There’ll be more down the line, but for now, there are much more interesting topics to get to. Lots of good stuff coming down the pipeline. (Blogline?)

Giant? Safeway? Whole Foods? TJs?
"Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"
P.S.  If you live in the greater Washington, DC, area, and would like some hardcore help with navigating the supermarket with your sanity and wallet intact, I offer personalized grocery store tours. Just you, me, and the store you like best. We’ll read labels, study the store layout, scrutinize the shelves, and give you all the tools & tricks you need to truly understand which foods are best, which are okay, and which you don’t want going anywhere near your kitchen.  

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