Price benchmaks
August 28, 2012 11:45 PM   Subscribe

What are your benchmark items for determining if a store is expensive or not?

If you have regular benchmarks, are they just things you often buy and know the price of, like a dozen eggs, or are they items that you think are representative of the store's expensiveness? And if you did strategically choose a benchmark, what was your reasoning?

I'm asking because:
1) I could use a reliable benchmark.
2) I wondered if a lot of people used the same benchmark, and...
3) Do stores know this and price those items low while keeping other prices high? (This is more speculative; I'd be surprised if someone knew a yes/no answer to this)
posted by Rich Smorgasbord to Shopping (38 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
In the UK, the Office of National Statistics prepares a "basket of goods" to be able to assess food price inflation. There is a good article on it here, complete with a link to a PDF of the full list.

Me: I'm clueless by and large about prices. I shop carefully, but modern retailing practices introduce incredible variances in the prices of branded goods and seasonal products as supermarkets switch between positioning themselves as EDLP or good for promotions, and because convenience fascias of a retail store charge higher prices than supermarket/hypermarket fascias. To answer your question: I have no reliable benchmark. It is not in retailers' interests for you to have reliable benchmarks.

The traditional answer would be a pint of milk and possibly also a loaf of bread. In fact, a Empire magazine (a movie magazine) used to ask celebs how much a pint of milk was to see whether they were still in touch with ordinary Joes, with much hilarity. The Daily Telegraph has suggested that this test is now a poor one, and that even average consumers don't know the prices of common goods. One of the reasons for this is that in the developed world, even with significant food price inflation over the past few years, the share of overall retail spend accounted for by food was very low because of industrialisation of the food chain driving down the cost of a chicken or a bag of flour. This leaves us with more cash to spend on things like televisions or holidays and also explains why we became less price sensitive to the cost of specific food items (although we are still sensitive to the cost of the overall basket of goods).
posted by MuffinMan at 12:13 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure there are good benchmarks for this, since supermarkets will work to identify any key products that might be used this way and run them as loss leaders, lowering the price disproportionately in order to give the impression the whole store is more competitive.
posted by biffa at 12:17 AM on August 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

I've never added it up specifically, but some of the items I would look at are: store-brand milk, store-brand canned beans, produce generally, a pound of decent coffee.

I'm not sure if this is off topic or not, but I actually find that Whole Foods store brand products (milk, canned beans, crackers, etc) are very competitively priced. Their produce and prepared food is very, very expensive - I think that's why they have the "Whole Paycheck" reputation. So, how expensive a store is will vary quite a bit depending on whether your benchmark is store-brand milk, the most expensive milk a store sells, or tomatoes.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:26 AM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been grocery shopping regularly for 35+ years and I have no such benchmark items, nor can I imagine that there is a "standard" reliable benchmark - or even a basket of goods - that would serve for this purpose for a particular individual or family. For example, do you always buy brand names, or will generic do just fine; is your diet relatively healthy or do you eat a lot of heavily processed foods; etc. And, of course, "expensive" is in the eye of the beholder, e.g., a grocery store roasted or fried chicken is generally less expensive than take-out, but way more expensive than home prepared.

I also can't imagine doing all of my grocery shopping at one store, e.g., produce prices at major supermarkets (I'm in Chicago) are very high compared to prices at smaller, produce-oriented stores. However, packaged goods at these stores are often considerably higher than supermarket prices.

Re 3) Do stores know this and price those items low while keeping other prices high? (This is more speculative; I'd be surprised if someone knew a yes/no answer to this)

I would be surprised if stores don't do this, i.e., it seems like a classic no-brainer.

In fact, Wal-Mart is known for heavily promoting loss-leaders while keeping most of their inventory at traditional mark-ups. (On a related note, some discount retailers deliberately display items in large, messy, bins because it helps give the impression of a "bargain" even when the item isn't marked down.)
posted by she's not there at 1:31 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have found that stores often have products that they sell cheap, while other products are regular priced or even higher in price than in other stores. And these products vary per store. I really don't consider stores as being expensive or not anymore, but certain products as being cheaper in a particular store.
posted by charles kaapjes at 1:35 AM on August 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

For fresh grocery items- I know how much mushrooms and tomatoes should cost by the kg. if a store overcharges on those then I deem it expensive for groceries.

Otherwise I know how much my favourite bread and muesli cost. I wouldn't judge by the store brand in those cases because that's kind of the point of the store brand- it's not directly comparable because it's unique to the store. This is why I wouldn't bother comparing milk, for e.g (which in Australia is dominated in the major stores by the stores' 'home' brand). And milk is subject to a price war anyway ATM.

So I think it's not entirely straightforward- but I do use these bench marks and because they are my benchmarks rather than some universally assumed benchmark like the price of bread I think they work okay for me.
posted by jojobobo at 1:56 AM on August 29, 2012

posted by Justinian at 2:07 AM on August 29, 2012

My benchmark for a store is trying to return something and seeing how much they fight me on it.
posted by mannequito at 2:09 AM on August 29, 2012

(also, you could use something like this)
posted by mannequito at 2:11 AM on August 29, 2012

Mine tend to be
(a) what's the cheapest they sell 1 litre of milk for?
(b) what is the cheapest per kilo meat they sell?
(c) what are the cheapest per kilo fruit in season? (e.g. apples, mandarins, stone fruit if in season)
(d) what is the cheapest cheese that I would actually buy (i.e. not storebrand cheddar)?

For (b), I'm not necessarily going to buy the super cheap meat - I'm more likely to go for free range chicken or game, but if they don't sell any meat under $10 a kg, I'm not likely to find the better stuff in a reasonable price-range either, and the specific range of better meats a shop stocks varies enough that I can't usually do a direct comparison easily.

I'm not sure if you are interested in non-grocery shops, but I judge clothes shops by their price for a plain t-shirt or cheap pair of jeans, and shoe shops by their cheapest pair of sandals or sneakers (again, not that I'm going to buy that item, but I'm not likely to find anything in my budget if their cheapest sneakers start at $150).

For other department stores that sell all sorts of things, I usually look at toasters, electronics (esp software), vacuum cleaners, and furniture (sofas, coffee tables), because those are all things I've bought in the last couple of years so have a good idea of the range of prices available.
posted by lollusc at 2:22 AM on August 29, 2012

I think 330ml cans of Coke / Diet Coke are a reliable indicator. Individually in the UK they cost anywhere between 59p and 99p, but typically are always in a multibuy promotion. I think a "cheap" supermarket should have cans for less than 30p if bought 16 or 24 at a time.

Butter is another excellent indicator, although the range of prices for "basic" butter is much narrower.
posted by roofus at 2:24 AM on August 29, 2012

Some great answers. A lot suggest that there's no easy way to determine it. And yet people are always saying that so-and-so's really expensive and another one's cheap. Maybe it's a crowdsourced consensus; maybe none of them know what they're talking about. Maybe the least popular item in the place is a better indicator.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 3:08 AM on August 29, 2012

I go by the amount of purchased goods. Let me explain. I usually buy the same stuff whenever I go grocery shopping (eg. some bread, some milk, some veg, some fruit, etc.) I know that in shop A, I'll be paying about 20€ for stuff that I can carry in one bag. But in shop B, 20€ gets me two full bags of groceries. So I usually go to shop B.

I've tried tracking prices for each individual item in different stores, which only confirmed my "number of bags" theory. So even though particular items might be a bit pricier in shop B, it's a cheaper choice overall.
posted by gakiko at 3:17 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can tell you that the store I shop at routinely changes the prices of items by as much as 30% to make them loss leaders. I don't think you will get a good snapshot from one item, but instead to look at the breadth of what you buy.

A store is cheaper only if the items you buy are cheaper.
posted by plinth at 3:29 AM on August 29, 2012

And yet people are always saying that so-and-so's really expensive and another one's cheap.

Sometimes people mean not a direct comparison but the quality of the products they sell. For example, in the UK people often say Waitrose is more expensive than Tesco or Sainsbury's. In general, its not really true on a basket comparison. That is, if you buy the exact same things at each store, it should be about the same.

However, Waitrose sells more premium items too. So you will find expensive cheeses for example at Waitrose that you just can't buy at all at Tesco. Likewise, if you just want a block of really cheap cheddar, you can find that at Tesco but they may not have it at Waitrose.

So, if you're looking for the cheapest place to get "cheese" then its Tesco. If you're slightly more discerning than that and are looking for a specific cheese/brand then the two should be the same.

Likewise, regarding eggs. Waitrose is where you will find organic eggs and even eggs from specific breeds of hens. And they will cost more.
posted by vacapinta at 3:36 AM on August 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

There's a concept known as a "price book," which is a little notebook (or notes application on your phone nowadays) where you record the prices of the products you buy routinely. So if you just want to attune your own individual awareness of where specific products (and hence stores) fall on the good buy/overpriced continuum, that's one habit you could adopt. This is useful not only for comparing between stores, but also comparing prices at your habitual store week to week, so you can recognize a good sale from a mediocre one.

I've got a few items that I do use as sort of a benchmark for my internal reaction of "this store is a good deal" vs. "woah, crazy expensive": currently, for example, if the store has many common fruits/vegetables in the $1/lb range that's quite cheap. If common fruits/vegetables are more like $2/lb when not on sale, that's more expensive. If it has a lot of $3-4/lb produce, that's cray cray. A cheap store will have some form of bone-in chicken available for less than $1/lb. An expensive one will have its cheapest chicken at more like $1.50/lb. Regular milk under $3 = cheap. Regular milk $4 = expensive.
posted by drlith at 3:40 AM on August 29, 2012

Milk is usually a good comparison, as it's a staple item - bread is too, but there are so many different kinds and permutations of bread (wholewheat, thick cut, thin cut, etc.) that it's hard to judge. A common trope in the UK to see if politicians or celebrities still have the common touch is to ask them if they know how much a pint of milk costs.

Otherwise, I usually use branded goods I buy regularly, or comparable own-brand goods as a point of reference. For example, I rarely buy Horlicks, so I don't know if the convenience-store chain down the road from my house is more expensive than the supermarket based on this purchase. However, I frequently buy own-brand 75% dark chocolate, and I know that the convenience store charges £1.75 for their brand against the supermarket own brand £1, so from this I can ascertain that the convenience store is more expensive.

In the UK, we have a website called which will let you do price comparisons across the major four grocery chains. This is the same data that is used in those chains' advertising in terms of claiming that a basket of 20 goods is cheaper there than in Store X.

Clothing or household goods - now that's much less clear-cut, as it's dependent on so many factors. Quality, fabric/fibre, stylistic details, durability etc. lollusc has a good point in that you can judge general affordability by the price of the cheapest item in the store, but it's hard to compare against two similar stores without knowing about more than just pricing. I might pay less at Argos than I would at Ikea for a bookshelf, but I don't know if they are the same size, materials, or will take the same weight of objects on them.
posted by mippy at 4:11 AM on August 29, 2012

What are your benchmark items for determining if a store is expensive or not?

After reading the other answers in this thread I don't know if this is what you're talking about, but I have found that wood-paneled floors are a pretty good indicator of stores that are too expensive for me. Any kind of wood-paneling on the floor, whether they sell clothing, food, kitchen utensils, furniture, whatever, means the items are going to be out of my price range. This saves me a lot of time.
posted by bleep at 4:31 AM on August 29, 2012

Milk is usually a good comparison, as it's a staple item - bread is too

It tends to be staple items that stores reduce to act as loss leaders, so low prices are indicative of pretty much nothing as to the cost of other products.
posted by biffa at 4:35 AM on August 29, 2012

I just look at the average income of the neighborhood as far as I can tell from surrounding property/automobiles/dress of patrons. In my view, the more affluent the neighborhood the more likely the store is going to be overpriced. YMMV.
posted by murfed13 at 4:47 AM on August 29, 2012

Seconding vacapinta; often when I hear about "cheap" or "expensive" stores, it's in term of the overall selection they have. Whole Foods is expensive because it carries premium and organic products; Aldi is cheap because it has cheap stuff. You can't always do a direct comparison because you just won't find the same stuff.

Aside from that, for the most part I just go by the things I buy often. Milk may be consistently cheaper at one store, cereal at another. Trader Joe's is cheap when it comes to prepared foods and shelf-stable staples, but they don't have the best values on fresh produce. The people I know who really care about finding the best price and quality regularly go to multiple grocery stores because of this.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:12 AM on August 29, 2012

I think when people say a place is expensive, they are talking about their perception of the price paid for their whole basket, but this is just as likely to be a function of the appearance of the store (wood floors, nice exterior) as of the actual bill for groceries.

Manipulating/guiding people's perceptions is a huge part of the retail "game". Anecdata: when a national chain office supply store was moving into a residential area with a strong desire to be pedestrian friendly, community pressure to make the building design & landscaping nice was explicitly resisted by the chain because they wanted to be perceived as a big box discount store.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 5:24 AM on August 29, 2012

It tends to be staple items that stores reduce to act as loss leaders, so low prices are indicative of pretty much nothing as to the cost of other products.

I very rarely see own-brand milk on offer or temporarily reduced in the UK. Cravendale etc., maybe.

Own-brand economy bread has gone up from about 19p a loaf in 2006 to 70p now. Again, the branded stuff is often on offer, but the own-brand is not.
posted by mippy at 6:00 AM on August 29, 2012

I use other customers as an indicator of price. If I see a lot of immigrant families and Mormons (or whatever population in your area is raising large families and emphasizes home cooking), I know that the prices are going to be lower. I don't personally watch prices much and couldn't tell you how much I paid for anything; I'm trusting that mothers with a bunch of kids and a limited budget are watching that for me.

The real reason I do this is less about price though -- in the places I have lived, stores that are catering to new immigrants tend to have a much more varied selection of vegetables and meat cuts, and are usually better for quality as well.
posted by Forktine at 6:01 AM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I shop each place a few times and compare what my entire basket of goods costs. I mean, sales, loss-leaders, individual preferences make it hard to do a one-to-one comparison; this lets me shop like I would normally shop and see my total grocery bill. (It also lets me decide if I like the store or not based on other criteria, which I don't know how important to your question that is.)

So, stores A and B are definitely inexpensive and I can get a lot of the food I like for not much money. They both have a more limited selection and not a lot of staff to help you, so they're a bit of a hassle. Store A feels dirty and dingy and rundown and the meat and produce aren't very good-quality. Store B aims more at a suburban housewife cheap superstore-supermarket demographic, so it's nicer indoors and the produce is good, though there's nothing "strange" like guavas. I'll go to B if I know I need to stock up on things like cereal, and buy the rest of my groceries while I'm there, but it's not a broad enough selection to shop there all the time.

Stores J, K, and L are your average supermarkets and they all aim at the same demographic. They all have pharmacies and baby sections. (Important to me because I have little kids and want to consolidate my errands. I don't want to go to a second store to get diapers.) Stores J and K are pretty similar and I shop and both; they cost nearly exactly the same over time. Store K has a better deli and better produce and more of the packaged products I want (and store J has this gigantic, supersized cereal aisle that is like the aisle of the damned that terrifies me), and is unionized, and is well-lit and clean (store J has mood lighting, I hate it), so I tend to shop at store K, but I will go to store J if I am driving past it and it's more convenient. Store L is at the same price point but has a non-standard grocery store arrangement that makes it impossible to find anything and has lots of DEAD-END aisles, so you're constantly backtracking. (It's supposed to be "more consumer friendly!" but clearly it's arranged so that you have to stay there longer and walk past more displays.)

Store Z is a high-end organic specialty grocery. It is very nice and has lots of exposed wood and brick and really great prepared foods and cheese and produce, but it is boutiquey and very expensive, and buying "normal" things there, like milk or butter, is quite expensive because they don't stock it in large numbers, just enough to try to get you to do your regular shopping there. I can spend on three meals there what I'd spend on a week of food at J or K.

Anyway, expense matters, but convenience and comfort are also types of expenses. Shopping regularly at A, B, or Z would mean I had to add extra errands to the pharmacy or the baby store, which would cost me in time, which, right now, is very valuable to me. So I pay a bit more than I would at A or B, but I'm happier and I don't leave with a headache from the warehouse noises and terrible lights.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:23 AM on August 29, 2012

It is actually definitely true that stores will price a certain set of goods low in order to be competitive. For example, where i live, the largest supermarket (Loblaws) has identified about 80 products that are the items that are the most common to buy - ie. a large proportion of people consider these to be basics. (A carton of milk, bunch of bananas, sliced white bread, etc). They price those items to be competitive or equal to their low cost competitors (ie. Walmart), and let the pricing for everything else be higher and more variable. Also, pricing varies from store location to location, so you can't necessarily decide that one 'brand of store' is cheaper or more expensive.

My benchmark is usually boxes of cereal and cans of tuna.
posted by Kololo at 6:40 AM on August 29, 2012

Yeah, I don't know about milk. In Chicago at least, CVS and Walgreens always seem to have really good milk prices, but you sure don't want to shop there for anything else at regular price.

Numbers don't stick in my mind very well, so the one price I really track is Cheez-Its (I'm assuming nobody's already mentioned it because it's such common knowledge, right? Those orange crackers are practically their own food group). I think it's a good sign that 2/$5 seems to be the regular (not sale) price at my new local store. Stores--did you hear this? You are judged by your Cheez-It prices--you should lower them immediately to attract customers!

And wait, there's a Loblaws supermarket?? I would shop there, regardless of the prices.
posted by gueneverey at 6:55 AM on August 29, 2012

I am fairly tight with food shopping money at the supermarket, preferring to spend my discretionary food income more at the local farmer's market or farm stand. I also have a few supermarkets I can choose from and buy the same food most of the time so a big difference in prices can make a difference. Usually I'll buy a lot of a thing at the place that has it cheaply. Here are the things I notice the prices on.

- Milk - milk is cheapest at the gas station but it's from out of state. The cost of a gallon of milk can range from $2.99 to almost $5
- Kashi-type cereal - sometimes goes on sale but prices can range from over $4 to $2.49 at a regular price
- can of Progresso soup - I always have a few of these in the pantry, can range from $1.29 at dented-can type stores to $2.99, often goes on sale
- Gardenburgers - one box can range from under three dollars to almost five dollars
- brown rice - this is rarely something that is ever on sale or otherwise discounted or available at bargain stores
- soda - if buying a lot of soda for parties, these can range from $.99 for a 2-liter to over $2. Oddly the fancy supermarket where I usually hate shopping because they have no generic items and everything seems costly has some of the cheapest sodas because (I think) the locals use them for drink mixers

So like Eyebrows McGee, my five "regular" supermarkets are

- regular in-town supermarket (Shaw's) with the usual sales/discounts and generic items, very little "ethnic" food (i.e. they have one aisle and all the Jewish food is on sale after the Jewish holidays because no one buys it)
- fancy vacation-area supermarket (Lees) with nice high-end items, huge selection of fresh and local meat and produce, still not much ethnic food
- Price-Rite which is almost the Costco of supermarkets, huge variety of produce and tons of Portuguese meat and pastries, lots of Asian-type veggies and frozen foods, not a big selection but awesome if they have what you want. Cheap avocados
- Dented can store - marked down staples and lots of weird junk and diet food. Good for energy bars at deep discounts or canned/packages soups. Not for "real" food shopping
- Farm stand/farmer's market - amazing selection of local/organic produce and local baked goods and crafts, higher prices, small selection
posted by jessamyn at 7:12 AM on August 29, 2012

Cheerios. But I look at the basics I buy often. I have several grocery stores that are convenient and I am one who does not mind (enjoys maybe) grocery shopping, so I will get certain items at one store and others at another. I look at the weekly flyers too.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:21 AM on August 29, 2012

I think the benchmarks are whatever you buy regularly and are familiar with the high/low prices at your regular store. There are 2 grocery stores literally across the street from each other near my house, but we shop 99.999% at one instead of the other. I know the prices of things like Cheerios, milk, bread, mayo, and the specific brand of granola bars that my kids will eat (plus about 10 other things that we buy all the time). When the Other store has a loss leader in their weekly ad, I find that when I shop there to get that special, the prices on Cheerios, milk, break, mayo and those granola bars are higher than I am used to paying. So if I am willing to put up with the inconvenience of going to both stores, I will do that, but otherwise I just go to my store.

On preview - just what JohnnyGunn said, but I don't like to shop. I really think that it comes out evenly if you pay more for that one super cheap item but pay less for all the other regular items. Plus, I know where everything is at my store.
posted by CathyG at 7:26 AM on August 29, 2012

I consider the mark up on candy. If a single thing of Skittles or Tic Tacs or Peppermint Patties costs more than $1, the place is expensive. Shoot, I paid 1.75 for a pack of M&Ms yesterday. Not a fan of all this inflation.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:39 AM on August 29, 2012

Ground beef.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:48 AM on August 29, 2012

3) Do stores know this and price those items low while keeping other prices high? (This is more speculative; I'd be surprised if someone knew a yes/no answer to this)

I worked at a New Seasons Market in Portland Oregon, in Portland Oregon (think Whole Foods, but locally owned/operated), and in quarterly store meetings, they made a HUGE deal about this. They purposely marked all of those items even lower than your run-of-the-mill grocery store for key items. However, they had a ton of stuff that was sort of 'specialty-grade' that all sold at a premium.

So yeah, this happens, at least certain places.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:59 AM on August 29, 2012

I shop different places for different things for different reasons.

We are lucky to have Your Dekalb Farmers Market here in the ATL. This is THE place to go for meat, veggies and dairy. They also have an awesome bakery and deli counter. The prices are very good for produce, about equal for dairy and more expensive for meat. But, it's still fair overall and I have yet to see my final bill and feel the need to take out a second mortgage.

For packaged goods, cleaning supplies and things of that ilk, I am a loss-leader, coupon-user, money saver.

Since these things are shelf-stabile, I can afford to get them when they go on sale. I keep a modest stockpile, having back up items for things like deodorant, toilet paper, shampoo, soap, etc. The same for pantry items like ketchup, mayo, and pasta. (I don't believe in running out of anything.)

If you have a stockpile, you can afford to wait for things to go on promotional pricing. For example, around big holidays, soda goes on sale. That's when I get a metric shit-load of it. At least a month's worth. Husbunny lives on diet Moutntain Dew (gross.)

I like a particular razor. It goes on sale, markdown and discontinued at the end of the year. I wait and get a year's worth at that time.

There is no ONE store that's the best across the board. You can only get good savings by shopping at multiple places, using the flyers and combining loss leaders with coupons. Example: A-1 Steak Sauce is BOGO (Buy One-Get One free), I have a $1 coupon for it. It's usually $4, but I get it for $1, with the BOGO and coupon. 75% savings. That's not normal, you have to line it up like that.

If you want to beat the grocer, you have to work at it a bit.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:22 AM on August 29, 2012

Seconding avocados.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:07 AM on August 29, 2012

I'm a very loyal shopper of the nearest grocery store, because I don't drive and have to haul stuff home in my little rolling cart.

However, when I moved to this city from another one five years ago, I was shocked at how expensive food was here, comparatively. My benchmarks were broccoli, red peppers and apples, because those are three things I buy all the time and know the price of. Overall, I compare basket cost, but those are the items I know immediately if they're a deal or not.

Milk is an unreliable benchmark. The convenience store around the corner sells 4l of milk for almost $2 cheaper than the grocery store, and the drug store across from the grocery store sells it cheaper still. But I wouldn't buy any of my other food there. Except for chips, sometimes they're cheaper there, too, plus poor impulse control.

Now, when my parents visit, they are kind of horrified by what I pay for food at the Loblaws down the way. But that's because they shop at No Frills, Loblaws' cheaper little brother. As others have said, the food is cheaper there because they stock different brands and cheaper varieties of produce. Plus, my observation leads me to believe the A+ produce goes to Loblaws, while the B level fruits and veg end up at No Frills. Far more bruising, and ripening going on there.
posted by looli at 10:16 AM on August 29, 2012

As others have said, I find a store "cheap" or expensive, based more on the types/ranges of products they offer, moreso than any individual benchmark items. Also, that different stores have different things that are cheaper.

My "benchmark," in this respect, is whether or not a store carries my local dairy cooperative's products. It's not particularly expensive, as far as milk goes (usually only $4 per gallon instead of $3, and we're not organic, just local), but since it's highly perishable (it's pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized, so less shelf life) there have to be enough consumers looking to pay more for local milk going to that store for the store to be able to carry it. Which means they probably offer more products geared towards these consumers- a wider cheese selection, and other higher-end products.

For example, I shop at my local big-grocery-store (A&P) pretty regularly for dry goods and non perishables. They have a good selection of cheap pastas, canned veggies, and other things I use on a regular basis. However, their produce is poor, and overpriced, so I never purchase fresh veggies there. Or meat. Or milk. (No coop milk at A&P. Their milk is pretty sketchy. Sorry if I seem fixated- I work on a dairy farm, and so am hyperaware of the things that go into milk quality). (On produce, think $3-4 per pound of non-organic red peppers. That's what I usually look at).

My local higher-end grocery store carries my coop's milk, but also carries fresher veggies at better prices (think $1-2 for non-organic red peppers). But they also carry oodles of expensive stuff (really high end pastas, a cheese section i have to avoid to keep from dying of poverty or heart disease, and... so much organic stuff). Since I only buy vegetables and dairy at this high-end place, by shopping at the high-end store I spend less *total* on groceries than purchasing all items at just the cheap place.
posted by Cracky at 7:43 PM on August 29, 2012

Being a more visual person, one of the easiest ways I can determine how expensive any particular store (whether for clothing, food or even electronics), without even looking at a price tag, is to pay attention to how crowded it is per square foot.

If you look around and see very wide aisles, lots of open square footage compared to the actual stock of items to be sold; you'll see that the less crowded it is, the more expensive in comparison their items will be. The concept behind this is that more open square footage per item means that they have to charge more to "pay" for that floor space.

The really expensive clothing stores have only a few racks of clothing, very pretty displays that take up a lot of space, and these types of stores also tend to have nicer lighting (halogen spots VS general fluorescent).

Try this the next time you go casually window shopping - you'll see that it holds up pretty well for a quick down and dirty method for general pricing.
posted by Jade Dragon at 9:02 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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