23 January 2011

6 important things to know when grocery shopping in Germany

Here’s something interesting I’d like to blog about. There’s a huge difference between doing my groceries in Singapore and doing it in Germany. You must be wondering how different that can be – after all it’s just grocery, right? Well it’s been two days since I’ve wanted to write this all down.

And who knows, perhaps if you come to Germany someday (or likely also to other European countries) you’d be glad you read these 5 tips.

1. Bring your own bags / baskets / trolleys

As the most important rule, it would have to be first on the list. Sometimes I use my own bags, sometimes I use my own shopping trolley (eg. bag with wheels). Without bags you’d of course have nothing to carry your groceries with.

This might not apply if you go by car, since most groceries have trolleys which you can utilize for €1 or so.

A funny experience Micha and I once had was that we literally pushed a huge trolley full of soda bottles all the way home – which was 900 metres and 15 minutes walk away from the grocery. I pulled, he pushed. It was 50 kilos of uphill pushing, terrible in every way. I was even surprised that we didn’t get a lot of stares.

But sometimes that’s what you have to do when you don’t bring your own bags. Groceries here don’t provide carriers (to save the world).

2. Be careful of Anti-Shoplifting Devices

Before you walk into a supermarket, make sure that you aren't carrying in anything from any another store with you. As I once walked into a grocery, the anti-shoplifting devices went off because I had something in my bag from another store.

That’s ridiculous, you might think. And I agree. It makes absolutely no sense and that never happens in Singapore. But that’s the way it is here – to avoid any misunderstanding perhaps?

Whatever it is, if you have ‘stuff to declare’ you have to do so at the information counter or customer service before entering. They might ask you to show the receipt(s) to the items you’ve bought and then either they hold the items until you’re done shopping or you can take them right in with you.

3. Do I have to weigh this?

Most german groceries don’t require you to weigh certain fruits and vegetables since they will be weighed and charged directly at the cashier. Some supermarkets require you to weigh them yourself at a weighing station where the machine will then print a sticky barcode out for you, and if you don’t know or you forget, they’ll weight it for you at the cashier.

I’m sure it’s pretty much the way it is anywhere else in the world, the only thing is: There are groceries here that do not have ‘built-in’ weighing machines at the cashier.

So if you’re at the cashier with a couple of unbarcoded bananas they will ask you to go all the way back to the weighing station. Either that or they do it for you and while you wait you get piercing stares from every single person waiting in your line.

Best thing is to always get stuff weighed and labeled (labelled?) when there are weighing stations around, to avoid problems during checkout.

4. Make sure of Barcodes

Here’s another thing about barcodes. Just because something is for sale, that doesn’t mean you can buy it.

For instance, I picked up an item I needed but it is without a barcode. And out of my typical clumsiness I totally FORGOT that they can’t help me out at the cashier if I want to buy it. And true enough I only arrived to realize that there was a problem.

The lady kept flipping the tag around trying to figure out what to do, typed some stuff into her register, and then asked me, “Do you know what it costs?”
I said, “No I don’t, but I really need it, can you find out?”
She said, “Sorry, I have to hold this. You could go to the information to find out.”
I said, “That’s alright. I’ll leave it out”.

I thought wow, if I had told her that it costs only 10 cents would she have believed me? So I paid for the rest of my items, except for the one without the barcode. And I left without going to the information because my german would be so shitful that I wouldn’t be able to explain. I didn’t need to cause more confusion over a bunch of hairbands.

In Singapore they’d get me a price in no time, coz to them that would be their mistake to have not barcoded the item before putting out (that’s the point, right?). But then I can’t compare, of course. The customer is not always right, not here in Germany.

So moral of the story: Make sure your items all have barcodes before checking out.

5. Put everything out at the cashier


When you're ready to check-out, remember to put everythig on the assembly line at the cashier.
Separate your items from those of the person in front of you and behind you with the plastic 'separators', which should be provided.

6. Use your coins

This is not a tip for everyone, instead only for those who find coins a little annoying. Like me.
In Singapore, nett prices are being rounded down to the nearest tenth-cent (if that makes sense). For example, if the total cost is $3.64, it will be rounded off to $3.60 so that’s what one pays.

But the prices in Germany (as they used to be in Singapore too) are so precise down to the last cent. Cashiers sometimes ask you for that 64 cents. As annoying as it is to dig that out of your wallet or purse, it is also a good thing because your coins are more likely to pile up at breakneck speed if you hardly ever use them.

I swear. After just 4 months in Goslar, I have collected more than €50 worth of coins. And they consist of € 1, €2, 50 cents, 20 cents, 10 cents, 5 cents, 2 cents, 1 cents – 8 different amounts and sizes and they make anything weigh a ton.

I try to get rid of them especially the smaller ones since they make up most of the pile. Some cashiers won’t like it because for some reason they don’t like to spend just a couple more seconds counting the coins, but hey, I know some cashiers who have thanked me because they actually need coins!

It’s not a crime so why not. Being a little thick-skinned pays off sometimes.

To sum it up, remember these tips:
  • Bring your own bags
  • It’s best to declare items from other stores
  • Weigh fruits and vegetables (if you have to)
  • Barcodes are your bestfriend
  • Use your coins

So those are my tips for a smooth grocery experience in Germany. :D


  1. thanks for the tips, want my husband to pick up some stuff in Germany, this will be very useful, since he will be a first time shopper there.

    1. You're welcome. I hope it was a nice trip for your husband :)