MSE News

Boffins uncover secrets of yellow-sticker shopping success

Supermarket bargain-hunters require a unique set of "skills and knowledge" spanning both shopping and cooking to truly make the most of yellow-sticker discounts, according to a group of academics who analysed nearly a thousand forum posts.

Yellow-sticker shopping as competent, creative consumption was written by three researchers from Leeds Beckett University and the University of Nottingham, and was published in the academic journal Area earlier this year. It looks at yellow-sticker discounts – where groceries have been reduced to clear and marked with a yellow sticker – and identifies how MoneySavers make the most of such deals.

And now the academics behind the paper are looking to interview people who shop for yellow-sticker food to learn more about why and how they do it.

For tips to make the most of yellow-sticker shopping, see MSE Rhiannon's blog Follow the yellow stick(er) road.

What research did the academics do?

The researchers indulged in yellow-sticker shopping themselves and analysed forum posts on yellow-sticker shopping.

In total they looked at 968 discussion forum posts from 326 contributors, spanning over three years from 1 March 2013 to 26 July 2016.

The posts were in the Food Shopping and Groceries section of the MSE forum. 

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that:

  • Shoppers need a special set of skills both in the supermarket and the kitchen. The researchers said "the supply of goods when yellow-sticker shopping is uncertain and unpredictable" and "cannot be undertaken with a 'shopping list' of required items."

    As a result, they said successful yellow-sticker shoppers need "storage and preparation and cooking and recipe knowledge."

  • Shoppers use a range of different tactics to bag yellow-sticker items. Trips may involve "waiting around" in the aisles for reductions, actively seeking out or "stalking" reducers, or alternatively quick and efficient "pop-ins" after work.

  • The practice can be aggressive – some even use trolleys as "weapons". The researchers said: "Many contributors complain that the practice can be tense and characterised by aggressive, selfish or greedy shoppers.

    "Shoppers are described as 'sharks' who use their 'trolleys as weapons' to prevent others from reaching reductions."

  • There is no universally good time to go yellow-sticker shopping. The researchers said: "Knowing when and where food is going to be reduced is critical and the ability to schedule shopping trips at the right time is central to the practice.

    "A common question by newcomers to the discussion forum is: 'What time should I go shopping for yellow sticker items?' The response is that timings will vary both across and within stores. However, there is significant agreement that research within stores to discover general patterns of reduction will subsequently increase chances of securing food that has been (significantly) reduced."

    For some idea of when's best to look in each store though, see our Supermarket Shopping guide. 

  • Some people find the process of yellow-sticker shopping embarrassing. The researchers said they found references to discomfort at having to "hang around", "following" the person with the gun and "returning several times" to the reduced section.

Yellow-sticker shoppers are wanted for interviews

The academics are hoping to take their research on by directly interviewing those involved in yellow-sticker shopping.

They want to speak to people who shop for yellow-sticker food to find out more about their experience and learn more about why and how they shop in this way.

They also want to ask shoppers to document their purchases by taking pictures and keeping diaries and receipts, and then follow this food into the kitchens of shoppers to see how yellow-sticker food is stored, prepared and eaten. 

Those interested can email Sarah Kelsey, one of the co-authors of the paper.

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