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The Sneaky Reason Grocery Stores Rearrange Their Layouts — And How It Could Be Costing You

Grocery stores have a reason for making you hunt for your favorite snacks.
Grocery stores have a reason for making you hunt for your favorite snacks. BjelicaS via Getty Images

Do you ever go looking for the chocolate animal crackers you buy every week to eat while you’re watching “Survivor,” but once you reach the grocery store shelf where you’ve always found them, they aren’t there? In fact, the entire aisle is no longer filled with cookies and crackers — it’s now pasta and tomato sauce and canned veggies?

OK — maybe you’ve never encountered that exact scenario, but odds are if you’ve shopped at the same grocery store for several years, you’ve probably faced a store layout reorganization at some point.

Why do stores do this? Isn’t making shoppers hunt for items bad for business?

That’s what we — Raj Punjabi and Noah Michelson, co-hosts of HuffPost’s “Am I Doing It Wrong?” podcast — asked Kristen Aiken, HuffPost’s Editorial Director of Life and Commerce.

“My sister-in-law’s brother and his family have owned a grocery store in Brooklyn for 32 years, and I talked to him to get some intel on this,” Aiken told us. “He said it’s something that they do to try to force you to walk around and discover new products, because people like me — I’m so used to my routine that I’m never gonna discover anything new. I’m only going to buy what’s on my list.”

Sending shoppers down aisles they might normally never visit can be great for a store’s profits.

“I read that — this blew my mind — the average grocery store’s profit margin is only 2%,” Michelson said. “They need people to buy more groceries than they normally do, and one way is forcing you to go down aisles looking for the things you normally buy because you can’t find them because they reset everything. And then you’re like, ‘Oh, those cookies actually look good! Maybe I’ll get those too.’ The more random stuff we buy spontaneously, the higher their profits are.”

There’s another sly tactic stores use to get you to wander down aisles you might not normally visit.

“Let’s say you want to make a recipe with cake flour. If you go to the baking aisle, quite often they’ll just have all-purpose flour and there will not be cake flour there,” Aiken said. “But if you walk to, maybe, the organic section or the special diets, like gluten-free section, you might find cake flour way over there. That’s another thing that my family member told me happens — they will purposely place things in those other sections to force you to walk around and find them.”

Stores also strategically place the dairy department at the back of the store so we’ll have to wander past lots of other potential purchases on our way to grab milk or eggs. And they stock candy and soda by the checkout lanes, where we might be inspired to make one last inexpensive impulse buy.

So how do we avoid spending more than we want to spend when we’re grocery shopping? Our best bet is to make a list before we leave our homes and stick to it. That way, if we’re forced to search for our chocolate animal crackers in a new location, we won’t be tempted to grab something else along the way.

This episode of “Am I Doing It Wrong?” also features a chat about the best days and times to make our grocery runs, why we should almost always buy the generic brand and much more.

After you’ve had a listen to the full episode above or wherever you get your podcasts, subscribe to “Am I Doing It Wrong?” so you don’t miss a single episode, including our investigations of the ins and outs of tipping, how to score the best deals on airline tickets, how to apologize or vanquish your credit card debt, how to find love online or overcome anxiety, tips for online shopping, taking care of your teeth and pooping like a prosecrets to booking and staying in a hotel, how to deal with an angry person, cooking tips from celebrity chef Jet Tila, shocking laundry secrets and more.

Need some help with something you’ve been doing wrong? Email us at AmIDoingItWrong@HuffPost.com, and we might investigate the topic in an upcoming episode.  

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