If you sell tens of millions of your product, shaving just a penny or two off the cost of each one can make a huge difference on your bottom line. So while we’d like to think the free market is all about selling good quality at a good price, the difference between profit and bankruptcy can in fact lie in the seller’s ability to screw you an ounce or a nickel at a time. Their little tricks are everywhere, and they add up. Here are 5 ways you are getting screwed at the grocery store.
5. Tricking You Into Wasting Laundry Detergent
Before we get to the kitchen, let’s start in the laundry room. You’re about to put you’re a load of clothes in the washing machine, but as you measure out the laundry detergent, it spills over, drenching your hand, the machine and your granny’s finest silk teddy in gel-like soap. Hate it, right? With today’s low textile prices, why wash clothing at all?
After a few dozen mishaps like that, you’ll find yourself with nothing but a smidgen of detergent left, and since you have no plans for washing teeny-tiny baby socks, you throw the whole jug out. Congratulations, you just played right into the detergent manufacturers’ hands.
The Rip-off: Even though detergent companies provide a line for consumers to use as a guide as they measure out their soap, that line is practically invisible. It’s often on the interior of the cup itself, as if you’d be able to see it once you began pouring the liquid. And for another, the line is usually just a raised ridge that’s the same color as the cup, so your depth perception has to be eagle-sharp for you to spot it.
And because we can’t see that line, we tend to overpour our detergent, because who doesn’t want extra-clean clothes, right? And detergent makers know that. They also know that the smell and feel of freshly laundered towels is only slightly less addictive than fresh cooked pie.
Even if your favorite brand of detergent has a clearly marked measuring cup, there’s an excellent chance you’re still using way too much detergent. One appliance repairman even suggests that by using the recommended doses, you’re actually damaging your clothes and your washing machine with too much soap. He suggests that depending on the hardness of their water, most people could get away with using one-eighth to one-half of what the label says to use. Otherwise, you’re just gumming up the works and ruining your favorite shirt.
Now the big thing is 2X concentrated detergents, which cost twice as much as the old detergent but come with the claim that you need to use only half as much (it’s good for the environment). Hey, did you notice that the fill caps are the same size as before? There’s a new, lower fill line telling you to only fill the cup a third of the way or so. Consumers tend to instead use the amount they’ve been using their whole lives, thus doubling your waste, along with the manufacturer’s profit.
4. Charging More For Something It Cost the Same to Make
An easy way to boost profits off of schmucks like us is to charge more for products that don’t cost more (or maybe even cost less) to make. For example, even people who spend 95 percent of their time on the Internet need to get outside to buy a taco every now and then. And when they do, you’d better believe sunscreen is a must for their fragile skin. (After all, they read on the internet that the sun will give you cancer in 5 minutes.)
Let’s say you’re going on a big outdoor adventure, maybe urban Rollerblading or what have you, so you go shopping for some sun protection. The first thing you notice is that the SPF protection ranges from 5 to 70. Naturally, you want to buy the 70 so you can tell the sun to bug off today.
Chances are that 70 SPF sunscreen costs more than the other, but that’s OK, because it’s protecting you more, right? You take it to the register, hand over your money and slap that lotion on your skin, feeling superior knowing you just bested a star.
The Rip-off: Lotion is lotion and it all costs the same to make, no matter what level of protection it offers you. But sellers assume that once a consumer sees the bigger number on the SPF protection, he’ll be willing to shell out more. And they’re right. In this case, we’re talking about a few dollars that could add up big time in the long run. Because some consumers might not buy the better protection for their kids in the interest of saving a dollar, and those kids could be vulnerable to malignant melanoma later in life, which is why one British retailer announced it would no longer charge more for the higher-SPF lotions. BURN! (The British go through nearly four bottles of sunscreen every year.)
It’s the same thing with dairy products that have been whipped for fluffiness, such as yogurt and cream cheese. You think you’re paying more for a decadent, creamy treat, but you’re actually getting less of the product than you would if you just bought the regular version, on account of the fact that the extra creaminess is due to the addition of a whole bunch of decadent, creamy air.
Speaking of which …