Grocery Store Etiquette

If you’ve ever gotten that sinking feeling of dread leaving work when you realize you’re going to need to stop at the grocery store before making your way home, that might have something to do with how much time the average shopper spends perusing the aisles for food and drinks on a regular basis.

Studies have shown the average shopping trip lasts 43 minutes, and most families are going more than once every week, on average. Combined, you could be spending at least 37 hours every year looking at produce and nonperishables trying to decide what you should have for lunch or dinner.

Dreading the grocery store might not just be about time, though. To learn more about how shopping for milk and bread could be getting under your skin, we polled over 1,000 people about the most aggravating grocery store behaviors. From the unwritten rules of the supermarket, like where you should (and shouldn’t) leave your cart, to getting in the express checkout lane with too many cans of soup, we asked people to break down the dos and don’ts of grocery stores everywhere. Curious how many rules you might be breaking? Check them out below.

Our Guide to Shopping for Groceries


If you’re curious what upsets your fellow shoppers the most, there are three primary areas to look out for proper grocery store etiquette: entering and leaving the store, moving through the aisles, and checking out.

This guide breaks down the three most important rules to consider in each major area of the grocery store. Everyone knows that feeling of aggravation when you think you’ve finally found a parking spot only to discover someone has left a shopping cart in the way. Nearly 3 in 4 shoppers agreed it’s never acceptable to leave your cart in the parking lot instead of a cart return station – no matter how far they might be from where you’ve loaded up your groceries.

Shoppers almost universally agreed skipping one another in line is an egregious offense, and leaving your cart unattended in the middle of an aisle is also a serious no-no. Think having 12 small items in your basket means it’s OK to sneak into the express checkout lane? Think again. Eighty-nine percent of shoppers said they were upset when someone jumped into the express line with more than 10 items to purchase.

Most Inappropriate Shopping Behaviors at the Supermarket


We’ve all been there: You finally make it to the front of the checkout lane and realize you’ve forgotten one of the things you came to get in the first place. It’s an uncomfortable position for everyone involved, and you sometimes have to make the hard decision whether or not to jump out of line and make everyone behind you wait or to finish checking out before circling back around for the missed product.

Of course, some rules of the grocery store are a little more cut and dry. According to our survey on the least appropriate etiquette for grocery shopping, nothing was more offensive than leaving perishable foods like milk or ice cream somewhere else in the store if you decide not to buy them. Besides being frustrating for the market employees who have to put them back, that kind of lazy behavior could leave some foods to spoil unknowingly.

Other largely frowned upon behaviors you might want to avoid at all costs? Taste testing produce (including grapes and strawberries) before you buy was voted inappropriate by 4 in 5 shoppers, followed by eating or drinking food before purchasing it. When in doubt, you might want to follow the visual cues that fruits and veggies are ripe rather than trying to sample them in public.

How to Avoid Confrontation While Shopping for Groceries


Some grocery store behaviors are considered so offensive, they might just cause you (or a fellow patron) to speak up and say something.

No matter how much of a rush you’re in, if you try cutting the line at the deli counter, you might get called out on it. A whopping 99 percent of shoppers agreed being cut in line was unacceptable. Moreover, 58 percent of men and 48 percent of women admitted they’d confronted someone who tried to jump ahead of them. While potentially less offensive, 90 percent of people frowned upon blocking the aisle with your cart – 60 percent of women and 47 percent of men said they’d confronted someone guilty of this marketplace misdemeanor.

Letting your fellow shoppers know when they’ve crossed the supermarket line is one thing, but grocery store employees are something else. While 96 percent of people got upset when there weren’t enough registers open to check out, only 27 percent of men and 22 percent of women actually said anything about it. Ninety-three percent were put off by misleading signage on a sale or price, but even fewer – just 22 percent of women and 17 percent of men – had ever spoken up when it happened.


No matter how many good reasons you might think you have for leaving your shopping cart in the parking lot once you’ve transferred your purchases to your vehicle, the people around you probably don’t agree. Whether causing traffic jams or accidents, 72 percent of shoppers proclaimed it’s never OK to abandon your cart haphazardly in the parking lot.


Having fresh food to eat is usually worth the trip, but going to the grocery store can be a real pain. Thankfully, not every interaction in the cereal aisle has to be bad. Unlike some other public places, 71 percent of men and 65 percent of women said it was actually OK to flirt at the grocery store. The next time you see someone blocking the aisle with their cart, you might consider a more unique approach to asking them to move aside instead of getting too upset over it.

Don’t think that means you need to watch what you wear, though. Our survey found people were more likely to wear casual clothes to do their grocery shopping (including activewear and bathing suits) than more formal pants or shirts.

A Better Shopping Experience

With the advent of grocery store couriers and food delivery services, the amount of aggravating time we spend wandering up and down the aisles at the grocery store hoping to be inspired by the produce could be getting shorter. Still, when you find yourself pulling into the supermarket to grab your fixings for the week, consider these unwritten rules of the grocery store along the way. No matter how much of a rush you’re in, your fellow shoppers might call you out for jumping ahead in line or partaking in a cherry from the produce department.

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We collected 1,026 responses from American grocery shoppers utilizing Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Fifty-one percent of shoppers identified as women and 49 percent identified as men. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 87 with an average age of 37.6 and a standard deviation of 12.8. People who said they didn’t shop for groceries were excluded from the analysis.

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