How the Endcap Dictates What You Buy at the Grocery Store

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Flickr: SwellMap)

The endcap — a display of products placed at the end of an aisle in a store — is part of a contract between you and your grocer. You promise to look at the merchandise and occasionally buy from the end-of-aisle shelves, and your grocer promises to change the contents frequently, price items clearly, and keep it fully stocked and beautiful.

The endcap’s job is an important one; it draws attention to what’s in the aisle, and is an effective way for a retailer to communicate a message. Whether the story is “we care about local” or “hey, this is where the chips are,” it’s safe to assume much thought has been put into the endcap at your grocery. And while some may suggest being wary of the endcap, I say embrace it. Here’s why.

New Products

When a retailer brings in a new item, they want you to notice. Why? They’re testing it out to see if you’ll buy it. If you buy it, it stays in the rotation; if you don’t, it’s gone. And it’s not just an individual product: Endcaps are an ideal place to help buyers experiment with entire categories. The success of a brand of organic chips may give the buyer confidence to bring in more organic snacks.

Sale Items

When you turn the corner and see a wall of your favorite potato chips and soft drinks with a sexy low price attached to them, know that someone at your grocery negotiated a temporary price reduction (TPR) with the producer for that real estate. Fill your cart with the good stuff, but don’t get used to that price.

→ Pro tip: Don’t assume everything is on sale just because it’s on an endcap. Look closely. Many times, companion items (think: chips and salsa, graham crackers and chocolate, cheese and crackers) are paired together in a prime area, but only one has a lowered price.

Discontinued Items

Maybe the gluten-free thing didn’t work out, or the store’s making room for a new brand of spices. My favorite way for markets to discount is the old-school “throw it in a cart with a hand-drawn sign” method of rural grocery fame, but it doesn’t really class up a joint. Thus, I present the hard-to-find endcap. Target fanatics know these to be the endcaps facing the far walls, filled with clearance lamps, Easter candy, and other priced-to-move items. In the supermarket, it’s likely a back corner. Take a moment of silence for that Banana Ginger Spice hand soap that just didn’t make it, then snag three bottles to throw under the sink.

What’s the best endcap deal you’ve ever found?