Mellody Hobson: Savvy Shopping Secrets

Both supermarkets and big-box retailers rely on smells and sounds to get you to purchase more. One of my favorite tricks is the placement of the bakery -- usually at the front of most supermarkets. The smell of fresh bread and other baked goods is a renowned way to appeal to hungry consumers or a surefire way to make customers hungry even if they are not. Even fresh flowers are strategically placed in supermarkets -- with the intent of luring customers into the store with their welcoming scent and bright colors.

Likewise, retailers are master disc jockey's when it comes to picking the right song for shoppers. The company that brought us the sleepy elevator Muzak now has designers -- called "audio architects" -- who match the music to the retailers a far cry from the boring instrumental symphonies of past. They try to pair the right music with the type of goods they are selling -- like top 40 hits for blue jeans.

When it comes to taste, supermarkets are infamous for offering "free" samples of their products. Statistics show that nearly 70 percent of shoppers will try an in-store sample and 37 percent of those shoppers will actually buy the item. Those are pretty good numbers for stores trying to make a sale.

Supermarkets Purposely Stock Larger That Look Like a Better Value
But this is not always the case.

It is a common myth that buying items in bulk sizes is cheaper. Buying bigger can actually mean a bigger price tag. With items such as peanut butter, toothpaste and ketchup, the family sizes often cost more per ounce than the smaller item.

Often, buying two smaller cans of a single product is cheaper than the big "value" size. Retailers love to make you think you are getting a bargain and know that it is an easy association for consumers to assume more is less.

Additionally, size comes into play off the shelves as well. Big-box retailers have gradually increased the size of the typical shopping cart significantly -- and Costco even has large, flat-bed carts for customers to push around its stores. The bigger the cart, the more you buy, and there is definitely a psychological effect to having a full shopping cart. If it takes longer to fill and there is more room, consumers are more likely to add that extra item, which they did not originally intend to purchase.

It Is Almost Impossible to Go to a Big Retailer and Just Buy One Thing

It is hard. And it is further proof that "big" is not always better. For example, the average shopper spent $60.34 per visit to Home Depot last quarter. That is a lot of nuts and bolts -- definitely more than what a typical shopper would purchase at a smaller store with less inventory and a smaller array of options.

Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Capital Management in Chicago (www.arielmutualfunds.com) is "Good Morning America's" personal finance expert.

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