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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Tricks and Gimmicks of the "Store Without Gimmicks"

My shopping trip from O Grocery, plus cheap
fresh produce I got from the farmer's market
There's a chain of grocery stores in my area that has been getting a lot of press lately. While one chain (lets call it R Grocery) (the chain I usually shop at) is known for their great prices (overall the cost of a grocery cart there have been proven to be significantly less than at their competitors, research shows), a newer chain (Lets call it O Grocery) is opening stores in more and more places and attracting people with their prices as well. I heard a lot of the hype about O Grocery's chain, and though R Grocery is much closer to me, when I was in the city the other day, I went out of my way to shop at and check out O Grocery.

Before I went, I asked in our local frugal Facebook group what the best deals were there, and I stocked up on those specific things. I was impressed with those prices, but the rest of the store? Some stuff had good prices, some had great prices, but some weren't anything to write home about, since they were more expensive than I typically find them at R Grocery...
But, even though some of the stuff were worth stocking up on, it was a hassle to get to that store (involved 2 buses, minimum, each way), so I said that it would have to be a once in a long time outing...
However, O Grocery just opened a new branch 2 weeks ago that is right on my bus route, and I was really excited about it, since it meant I could shop there without the hassle that it was before. Last night I went there to do my usual weekly shopping instead of at R Grocery, and I just felt the need to write up about it.

O Grocery has a slogan written everywhere- "Without Tricks, Without Gimmicks". They want to be known as the gimmick free store- what you see is what you get- low prices and that's all. Great idea for a store, no?
It would be, if it were actually so.
In fact, I found it ironic that for a store that labels themselves as a gimmick free store, they had many more gimmicks than R Grocery, and in fact, any other grocery I remember shopping at in the last while.


Even before I entered the store, I realized there was something strange going on. I was wearing Rose in my baby carrier, and pushing my stroller. I use my stroller as my means of transporting groceries, so I had planned on filling up the stroller with my groceries instead of using a shopping cart, so that way I could make sure that I wasn't buying more than I could carry. There was a man outside the entrance who told me I wasn't allowed to enter like that- I could only enter with the stroller if my kid was sitting in it. Otherwise, I'd have to leave it outside the store.
I looked around and saw that there were many folding shopping carts around the entrance- none of those allowed in either.
At first, I thought it must be just because of convenience, to not take up too much room in the store.
And then I saw the shopping carts they had, that everyone needed to use (if they weren't just carrying things in their arms)- and realized that they were huge! I have never seen bigger shopping carts in this country. They may be similarly sized to Costco shopping carts (from Google image search), but different dimensions.

There was a reason they make everyone use such huge shopping carts- you don't realize how much you're buying and it encourages overspending!
I "kept my shop small" and only filled my cart about 1/4 of the way- and upon checkout, saw that it was the equivalent of a mostly full standard grocery cart! I had a hard time finding room to put everything in my stroller...

So that is gimmick number one. Huge carts so you overbuy, because our brain doesn't compute quantity the same way when things are in different sized/shaped receptacles.

Speaking of which...
Packages were very oddly sized.
Things in my country are sold by the kilogram, usually, and sometimes by the half kilogram. This store had a few things sold by kilo or half kilo, but most of the store was with things in other random sizes, like 1.4 kilograms, 3 kilograms, 850 grams, etc. While I try to price compare, I usually just price compare things in my head, to get a ballpark figure if something is a good price or not compared to what things usually cost. It is much harder, therefore, when things are not in the standard units, or multiples of it, to be able to do a quick comparison of prices. (Comparing costs of 500 grams to a kilogram- 1000 grams- is easy. Comparing 500 grams to 1.4 kilograms is not.) People see bigger packages and higher prices, but most likely just assume that the larger sized package is cheaper, without actually doing a price comparison.
I'll give an example. Basmati rice is usually sold for $2.85 per kilogram here. There were packages of 1.4 kilograms of basmati rice being sold for $4.28... which seemed like a good price, until you actually whip out a calculator and calculate the price per gram for the larger package, and see it is actually $3.05 per kilogram, not a good price after all... While I do try to whip out my calculator, most people don't. They're counting on you being fooled both by the bigger packages and the non standard sizes into thinking things are good prices.
So that's gimmick number two.

Gimmick number three is related to number two.
They do have some amazing prices! White rice locally is typically sold for $1.42 per kilogram at cheap stores, occasionally on sale for $1.14. This store had rice for 82 cents per kilogram, for example. They also had olive oil on sale for $4.25 per 750 mililiter bottle, when the usual sale price for that size olive oil is $5.71-$6.30! (None sale olive oil goes for $8.60-$10.)
So with these super prices, they fool you into thinking that everything they have is a bargain, so most people don't even price compare- they just put everything they see and want into their cart, because "Its at O Grocery so it must be a steal."

But gimmick number 4 is what bugged me most of all, that actually makes me strongly consider never going to shop there ever again. I still am undecided, but this turned me off O Grocery so much, I can't even describe how much.
When I checkout at the register, I like to watch the register, keeping my eyes on the tally- maybe put some thing back/reconsider whether I need everything in my cart, if I see the total getting higher than I'd want it to be. I also watch to make sure the cashier doesn't make mistakes, or that the computer is showing the listed price.
BUT AT O GROCERY YOU CAN'T DO THAT!
This branch of O Grocery has the cashiers sitting facing you directly, the screen of the register with its back to you, so that you cannot see the register at all, unless your neck has the ability to stretch and bend 360 degrees.
You have no idea how infuriating that was to me.
I know the reason why the store has it is precisely because they don't want people to be putting back things and not purchasing everything that was in their (very huge- remember?) carts. It wasn't an accident- to me it is quite obvious that this is a marketing strategy/gimmick to make as much money as possible from shoppers, and it feels very morally wrong to me and sneaky.

Fortunately, there were no mistakes on my bill, but I still left the store feeling very frustrated.

Still not sure whether I'm going to go back to O Grocery.

I am very turned off by the fact that this "Store without Gimmicks" was full of this kind of trickery.

Edited to add:
After seeing the reaction this post has been getting on local message boards, I just want to clarify- the point of this post wasn't to write a review of a store- because this blog isn't just a local blog. And it also isn't to bash people who choose to shop there. It also wasn't to complain because "I was tricked", because I wasn't.
The reason for this post was to point out issues that people might not be aware of when grocery shopping. These are issues that no matter who you are, no matter where you live and where you shop, you should keep in mind, so that you don't overspend at the grocery store.
All stores use gimmicks and tricks to get you to spend more- there are countless articles on the internet about these types of things. A store isn't "bad" for having gimmicks.
My only issue is to be pretending to be without these gimmicks and then being no different than any others. And not being able to see the register. Had this store not have signs plastered all over "we have no tricks and no gimmicks" and had it had normal registers, this post never would have happened.

Do you have stores that pride themselves as being "gimmick free"? Do you find that they're actually gimmick free or that they do have gimmicks, like this one?
For those of you local to me, and shop at various branches of O Grocery, are all the stores with the same rules of no strollers and registers that you can't see? Or is it just this branch with all these gimmicks?
In my place, would you go back to such a store, knowing these gimmicks? If so, what would you do to avoid spending too much money and not fall for their tricks?

12 comments:

  1. I often put the important stuff on the belt first and then have them give me a sub-total in the middle of the order so I'd know whether I needed to remove anything less essential from the order..

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  2. Fascinating analysis.

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  3. At the O grocery in my neck of the woods, you can see the totals. You aren't allowed to bring in personal shopping carts. Overall, I like their prices except for produce. What do you think of their veggie prices? I've found them high.

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  4. Next time - if there is one - can you stick Rose in the stroller and bring the wrap? Then pop her in the wrap and use the stroller as a cart. If snyone asks say she was fussy and no one appreciates a screaming child :)

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  5. The O grocery store (I am pretty sure I know which you mean) I go to has cash registers really facing you, so you can see everything You are literally standing over the cashiers shoulder as you pack. Before you abandon the whole chain make sure yours is typical. As for a bigger shopping trolley, when I think of my mother (of four kids) trying to push two smaller trolleys around a supermarket at once, where there weren't larger ones, I can only think that calling Groucery O's help on this a trick or gimmick is just cynical.

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  6. Really interesting..
    Never even thought about gimmicks 3 and 4. But that's true of most of the groceries here. Fascinating.

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  7. It's a valid question why they set the cashiers up where they did - one major advantage is that your double stroller doesn't get stuck going through checkout. But the totals screen only faces one way so if you're still loading the belt then you can't see. I seem to remember a market where they had 2 screens one for the cashier and one for the benefit of hte customer - was that only back in the US?

    Also note that they have NO EXPRESS LINE. I can believe the idea that they've structured things to encourage people to BUY MORE. Though I do find the large carts very helpful, and think that I stick to my list....

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  8. The "O Grocery" near me also lets you see the monitor- so maybe that was just something by the branch you were at.

    And about the random sized packages- I found them at a different chain last week too- I think its a new company that's trying to trick us, not that specific grocery chain. And I was able to get split peas and chickpeas at a really good price in the 1.4 kg bags, but the rice worked out to be really overpriced.

    Also, a tip for shoppers- locally, legislation requires the store to list the price per 100 grams (I think in the US they also make them list the price per ounce) so you don't really have to whip out your calculator, you just have to study the label that's posted on the shelf!

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  9. When my wife shopped at grocery O once, a cashier reached into her bag of oranges and pulled out a rotten orange that my wife hasn't spotted. Also, in the branch near us they have the huge carts as well as normal size ones, and it's possible to see the registers.

    And, price aside, they only employ the people that I would feel comfortable standing with my back to... which to me is a sign of communal responsibility (they don't advertize it, and they have nothing to gain from it except doing the right thing), which is why I switched to shopping there after having shopped at R for some time.

    Excellent analysis on the weird rice bags though, as well as your other tips.

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  10. Grocery stores are full of gimmicks. My husband falls for the "Well if it's on sale it must be cheaper" one all the effing time, much to my annoyance. There's also the "expensive stuff at eye-level" gimmick, and the one where they put the unit of sale (kilo or 500 g) in really tiny print.

    As for the odd packaging: if it's an American/British company, they might already have their machines calibrated to lbs/oz, so rather than reprogramming their machine, they might elect to just buy new labels.

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  11. U can see the monitor at our "O" store as well. But ur right...the carts ARE huge. Also, all the Costco stuff they stock is a bit weird to me. Never went to Costco when I lived in the US...and now it's followed me here LOL

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  12. One of the things that drive me crazy at some of our stores is that when I'm trying to compare prices on similar items, some items will give you a price per ounce, while other like items will have price per piece. This way you really have to do your match to determine which price is better. Just a way to keep lazier people from trying to figure out comparative prices. LOL

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