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Vying for Your Voting Dollar

Supermarkets have something in common with politicians - they both need something you have!

 Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman

Supermarkets have something in common with politicians – they both need something you have!

It’s election time again so the countryside is being peppered with happy face signs and street corners are becoming populated with overly polite politicians trying to be nice to us all. That’s political democracy at work! We have the votes they need to remain in the business of politics. And so it is with supermarket democracy – they need our dollar “votes” to survive.

Not surprisingly, both use the tricks of their trade to extract what they want from us!  

Here are some the things oily rag readers have told us what they dislike about their shopping experience and some of the things shoppers need to be wary of as they head off to their local supermarket ( besides being wary of being confronted by a politician in the car park – as is prone to happen immediately prior to an election!).

Have you noticed how packet sizes keep shrinking – but not the price? Product downsizing has been going on for years. Cadbury reduced its King sized block by 20% in 2009, from 250g down to 200g. Other examples of product shrinking include breakfast cereals, hair shampoo, and drink can sizes.  Consumers can neutralise the confusion this creates by working out the best-buys by weight.  When we last did the exercise for breakfast cereals we found there to be a huge difference in price. Rolled oats was the cheapest by a long shot and nearly a third of the price of bran and sultanas, which was the most expensive.

Murray from Hastings also has a warning about thinking you are getting a bargain by buying in bulk. “Some large amounts of washing powder are expensive per kilo and can be cheaper in smaller amounts – like one kilo packets when on special. Watch the price for the weight with any product you buy. We feed the four of us for $240 a week – that's an average of $60 per person. My Motto: buy on special when you can.” We also found this with flour. Sometimes buying bigger does not mean paying less.

How often have you gone to a shelf only to find that the product that’s normally there has been shifted? Some shoppers are suspicious – they say it’s to encourage us to spend more time browsing!

There is no doubt that stores arrange their products strategically, to ensure that shoppers have to navigate through a constellation of high-profit-margin teats and temptations before they arrive at the checkout. Apparently between 40 percent and 70 percent of all grocery purchases are spontaneous or unplanned! That explains why essential items like milk and bread are often located at the very back corner of the store, and why lollies, chocolate bars and magazines headlining celebrity births, deaths and indiscretions, are all within arms length of the checkout counter. It also explains why those end-of-isle and in-isle displays loaded with ‘specials” tend to be right where your trolley wants to go!  

A good deal of research has also gone into analysing gender differences in shopping. A couple of academics from Queensland have concluded that men tend to adopt a “grab-and-go” approach to shopping. They see shopping as an inefficient use of time (I suppose they think it is using up the time that they could otherwise be spending watching sport on TV!), and are less concerned about bargain buying than they are about speed.

Shoppers that are armed with a calculator and have a battle plan prepared – in the form of a shopping list – are less likely to be vulnerable to the subtle and not so subtle tactics used by retailers to lure them away from their discretionary dollar!

Do you have some shopping tips to share? Send us your comments and tips by visiting the oily rag website or write to us at  Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei. The book Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag by Frank & Muriel Newman is available online at

* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at The book is available from bookstores and online at