Supermarket Pricing Oddities and Rules

I live in Western NC and East Coast Florida. In NC, at least around where I am, if an item is on a BOGO, you can take just one and get it for half price. But in FL, at least where I am, to get the deal you have to take two, so they literally mean it when they say buy one then get one free. OTOH, in FL if it’s marked as 2 for X, you get the half price deal if you buy just one. What’s with that? Back to NC, lately they’ve started with buy 2 get one free pricing, but then you do indeed need to take all three of them to get the deal – you won’t get 1/3 off if you buy just one or two.

Why these crazy pricing rules? Just to confuse the unwary?

Then there is the pricing of identical items but in different size containers where the unit price in the smaller container is lower than in the larger container, e.g. a 16 oz. container is $1.99 while a 32 oz. container of the same identical item one shelf down is $4.69 or something like that. This is quite common in certain items like catsup and canned tuna, but you really never know. And it happens with so-called regular pricing, not just sale pricing when the smaller item is on sale.

Then there’s items that are on sale frequently, even alternating with competitors like local agreements or practices among soft drink bottlers where Coke in on sale one week then Pepsi the next, all year round. Does anybody buy this stuff when it’s not “on-sale?” Why? Is this just another trap for the unwary and/or folks who really don’t care how much they spend for things?

I think of “sale” prices for many of these things as the real price, and the non-sale price as the super price for the unwary, where the companies make most of their actual profits.

What pricing anomalies like these have you observed?

I’ve never had an issue with a BOGOF. It’s straightforward - the deal is for taking two.

But as for the differential pricing of the same item, depending on container, I agree - I’m sure it’s designed to try and fool the customer. Of course, that’s the customer who doesnt bother to read the unit pricing on the shelf label. But that’s not me - I always read the unit pricing when I’m comparing two similar products. The ones that really annoy me are when, say, a bag of apples is priced per apple but loose apples are priced per kilo. How on earth are you expected to know which is the better deal. Which, of course, is why they do it.

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It doesn’t really bother me, as the ads are pretty clear here in Pennsylvania. BOGO you have to take two. Two for $, you get the discounted price on just one. Five for $, must buy five, limit five.

As far as the pricing discrepancies on different sizes of the same product? I’m with @Harters --I look at the unit price and base my purchase on that.

I’ve seen at least one instance where the price for the 16-ounce can (of sauerkraut) was less than the price of the 8-ounce can of the same brand.

And as I have noted elsewhere, prices can vary wildly between stores of the same chain not very far from each other (at least for Aldi).

Do you think they were trying the move them because they were coming to the expiration date?

I shop at shoprite in Middletown and the one in bayville when I visit my family. The bayville one is more expensive on most items. 24 a pound for scallops! :roll_eyes:

I don’t know if you would consider this a pricing anomaly or not. But I have noticed in recent years that more and more items on sale ring up at the usual price. And this is days after the sale began. I’m one of those customers who prefer someone ahead of me in line so I can get my stuff loaded on the roller thing. I like to see everything rung up. Obviously people are not paying attention and I think this is where stores are making a bunch of money. People really need to be on their guard at the checkout counter nowadays.

Same here; BOGO means you have to take two, or be ok with taking one if you really can’t make use of the free 2nd item. A sale of 2 for $4, means $2/each and that’s the price regardless of how many units I buy.

@Miss_belle I too have seen more pricing errors, and I wonder if this is a programming issue. As point of sale and inventory management tools get more sophisticated, and with more SKUs to manage in a store, I wouldn’t be surprised if things get missed. As long as people can fix the issue with me relatively quickly it’s not too big of a hassle. The local grocers near me all put up quality sign that essentially has a guarantee on price accuracy. If someone is wrongly priced at checkout, they will either give you the product free (on top of refunding the difference) or some other remediation.

It’s one of the reasons I like self-checkout. If something doesn’t look right, I’m not in a rush to pay and get moving. I will flag someone to fix this before I pay.


A friend of mine is responsible for all sale signage in her grocery location. The signage is generated by one department at the corporate office where there is (theoretically) coordination with the person(s) responsible for advertising. The IT department is responsible for making the internal changes to update the system so the new prices are reflected. The system updates is where this frequently goes wrong. It often takes a day or two for all errors to be caught and fixed.

My brain sucks at remembering prices. I now take a photo with my cell phone of the sale signage if it is at the beginning of a sale or at a store where I have had issues. This saves me a lot of time!

It really isn’t a plan for the store to make money. It is the result of corporations cutting jobs and expecting one person to do work which requires many hands. A good example is Publix which is employee owned. They are always very well staffed and I’ve never had a problem with an item ringing up wrong. Companies which make their management decisions simply to please the stockholders tend to not see the jobs as anything but line items to trim.

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I’ve been seeing this with half-n-half lately at many different grocery chains in two different states. Two smaller sized containers is much less expensive than the equal quantity in one larger container. I don’t get it.

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I’m feeling doubly grateful to have a large well stocked hippie style independent supermarket.
No loyalty cards, no bogus offers, no hassles.


An absolute pet peeve of mine!
If the store has a huge hole in the shelves where a popular product is supposed to be shelved…they are losing sales and profit by volume. Saving that $10 per hour per employee, by not scheduling enough labor, rankles me (and I’m sure a few others).


I buy a lot of half-and-half and always check unit prices but haven’t noticed this one where I am except occasionally with sale prices. One of my local stores does, however, offer both ultra-pasteurized H-n-H (the usual) and regular pasteurized (seldom seen) and the regular is much less expensive, which seems odd to me since a specialty item is generally the more expensive and since the spread is far more than could be explained by the cost of ultra-pasteurization (in fact, I suspect the all-in cost to them of the ultra is actually less which is why it predominates in the first place).

BTW, while on the subject of H-n-H, what is “fat free” half and half anyway? If ever there was an oxymoron, that has to be it.



I’ll add my comment on half-and-half: When a restaurant asks me if I want milk or cream with my coffee, and I say “cream”, they never bring me cream–it’s always half-and-half. That’s like asking if I want margarine or butter and then bringing me light butter.


Upon reading my post, I meant BOGO, not bogus, though both terms apply…


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I’ve seen this over the past few months in NC & FL. Maybe it is regional due to some sort of production issue? But it still makes no sense…

Sorry if someone’s pointed this out already, but I’m pretty sure the BOGO deals (or buy three to get the sale price) are strictly a state-by-state thing. In my experience, in NV you have to buy the quantity to get the deal, but in CA you don’t.


I agree. In my local grocer I can get a scanner (they have an app also but that doesn’t get along with what I listen to when I’m shopping). When I scan a product I can see what the POS system will charge and either put it back or take a note to get it fixed at checkout. As others have noted unit pricing is a boon but less so when the units are a moving target. I do conversions, some in my head and some on a calculator.

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Here in NYC, the wording of sale promotions varies. I’ve never seen a “BOGO” deal in so many words that lets you buy just one item for half price, but more common around here are “N products for $X” sales, sometimes with $X equaling the regular non-sale price. And when that’s the case, some stores - like pretty much all of the supermarkets I shop at - let you buy just one of the item at the relevant fraction of the stated price, while others, like my primary chain drugstore, do not. (Though at the latter, the single item price is usually somewhat lower than the regular, non-sale price.) And the same is true at most of the smaller, independent grocery stores I shop at. “2 for $3”, with “1 for $1.99” in slightly smaller letters below it on the sign, is a common sight at the latter…

One of the first shopping lessons I remember being taught before I hit double digits was, the “economy size” isn’t always, maybe even “often isn’t”.:wink:

“Marketers” spend so much time and effort trying to psych shoppers out one way or the other that I rarely even bother to get annoyed by it, I just don’t pay any attention to anything but the price and package size (and for prepared foods, the relevant nutritional info) and buy whichever makes the most sense, factoring in shelf life as well as unit price. Ironically, I’m often actually pleased to find that smaller containers are cheaper, since i figure they last longer unopened…:slight_smile:

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold