This March, GCC is observing the 10th Consumer Protection Day. In the UAE, over 500 supermarkets and shopping outlets are offering discounts of up to 30% on consumer items all throughout the month, in line with the Ministry of Economy’s proposal.

But while you cash in on these slashed prices, what should you be aware of and how can you maximize your savings at supermarkets?

We often walk into a supermarket to get the basic necessities, but find ourselves walking out with a lot more than what was on the shopping list. Why? Because behind the scenes of the countless attractive shelves and easy to reach products – an army of marketing experts, psychologists and business strategists get together with a shared mission – to figure out ways to make you spend more.

[Related: Shopping, refunds & exchanges: A guide to UAE consumer rights]

Behind every design, product placement and display there is a marketing trap. Here are five traps you should watch out for:

The entrance trap: if it’s in your line of vision, you’re more likely to buy it

It’s the best place to catch you. You have entered the store with the intention to spend and your wallet is full. You’ll often see bulk goods such as cartons of aerated drinks and holiday items here. Kit Yarrow, a psychology and marketing professor at Golden Gate University, San Francisco says that the entrance area in any supermarket is designed to prime shoppers with impulse buys and products that appeal to them emotionally.

To avoid the entrance area trap, take a pause and move on to another zone before giving in to any impulsive shopping. If at the the end of the day you still want that box full of fizzy drinks, you can always go back for it.

The sales and specials trap

Special offers such as “Buy one get one free”, “Buy two for AED 20” and sales on items have a tendency to get any buyer excited. Questions to ask yourself when you see such attractive offers on display are:

Is it really a bargain? What is the real ‘value’ of the product?

Would I have bought it if it wasn’t on sale? If the answer to this question is ‘yes’ then getting the item on a reduced price is definitely a great deal, and you should go for it. But if your answer is ‘no’, then don’t buy the commodity just because it’s on sale.

In case of special offers on perishable goods, such as getting two boxes of fruit at a lower price – be sure to think about whether you will be able to use both boxes before the fruits spoil.

[Related: Compare your supermarket]

The ‘you may also like’ trap

You came in looking for tea and pasta. But before you know it, you’ve also added to your cart that package of choco-chip cookies and expensive pesto sauce so appropriately placed right next to the tea and the pasta. These may not have been items on the shopping list, but very often we give in to the power of suggestion. It’s worth keeping in mind that placing products that compliment each other is just another supermarket strategy designed to get you to spend more.

The samples trap

You may have noticed sales representatives in the supermarket offering samples of food to shoppers. If you do decide to taste a sample, don’t feel pressurized to buy the product. Psychologists reveal that a small bite of food releases hormones in your body that whet your appetite and increase the likelihood of you buying the food offered. This is especially true if you are hungry after having walked through the gigantic supermarket, aisle after aisle.

The checkout trap

This is the final frontier for impulsive shopping, and supermarkets make sure to cash in. Placed at checkout counters are last minute items that distract you – travel sized goods, chocolates, seasonal candy or chewing gum – all relatively cheap products – but with high profit margins. Interestingly enough, all of these items may have been available at the aisles you were shopping in, but you walked past them since they weren’t on your shopping list. At the checkout counter, the supermarket hopes to tease your mind into thinking that the product was missed by you in your list and you must now add it to your cart as an after-thought.

Tips to control your spending at supermarkets:

Other than watching out for the traps listed above, there are a few more steps you can take to ensure that your weekly supermarket bills aren’t high.

  • Try going alone: Leave the kids and your spouse at home. Having company not only slows you down but also adds to your bill with every member of the family adding into the cart their favorite snacks.
  • Go with a full stomach: When your stomach is rumbling for food, everything looks good. You are likely to grab sugary, salty, fried food that mentally appeases you at that point. Not only is it an unnecessary expenditure, it also increases the number of unhealthy items you bring home.
  • Big boxes into small carts: Another trick some shoppers use to control their spending at the supermarket is to load their carts with big boxes at the start of their shopping trip. Examples include bags of rice, flour or boxed cereal. With your cart appearing fuller, you’re likely to add fewer items to the cart thus spending less. Also, if there’s an option between a big and a small cart – choose the smaller one.
  • Be alert at the checkout counter: You may not remember the exact price of everything you added to the cart, but you’re likely to have an idea. If you have picked up items on sale, be sure to check that they are scanning through on the sale price. If you are meant to receive a free mug with your box of coffee, ensure that the free item gets added to your shopping bag. At any point, don’t hesitate to politely point out any discrepancy.
  • Use your supermarket credit card: Does your credit card reward you for your regular expenditure at the supermarkets with cashback or loyalty points? Make sure to use it. You can check out this list of credit cards with supermarket benefits.

[Compare credit cards in the UAE]