Are you a Sainsbury’s sycophant or a Waitrose warrior? More than ever, customers’ affiliation to a single supermarket brand is waning as many are choosing to visit multiple retailers to buy what they need for the week. The big shop is dying and supermarkets must adapt to the fact that customers have more market choice than ever before. How did we get here, and how can supermarkets win in a landscape where loyalty is dead?

When we look at general consumer trends, we notice three factors that seem to be leading behaviours.

 

Convenience

Contactless spending is on the increase, accounting for £25 billion of spending in 2017 compared to £7.75 billion in 2015, according to the UK Cards Association.

According to Tami Hargreaves, director of digital consumer payments at Barclaycard, said: “The days of the weekly food shop are gone for many Brits. With a £30 card max for tap and go payments, there is a clear shift towards speed and convenience, coupled with a couple of top-up shops throughout the week.”

 

Selection

The second factor is selection. Customers might do the bulk of their shopping at a less expensive store where they can buy then buy most of the things they need for the week. But then pick up a few luxury items from elsewhere to spice things up. Or vice-versa. For modern consumers, it’s a case of putting the item first: Where can I go on my way home that stocks fresh dill, couscous and coconut oil?

supermarket veg

Price

As ever, pricing pays an important role in consumer decision making. Brexit has stifled spending for many, and this has led to the rise of discount retailers Lidl and Aldi, who managed to grow their sales by 16.8% at the end of 2017.

Combining these three factors: convenience, selection and pricing, we begin to see why loyalty has become less important as customers’ priorities have changed, impacting some supermarkets positively and others negatively.

 

For example, the ‘big four’ (Tesco, Sainsbury’s Asda and Morrison’s) have become squeezed from both sides, with Aldi and Lidl pinching market share from below based on price point. Meanwhile, from above, Waitrose is expanding stores and growing their audience (despite 2017’s profit slump). This pincer movement from both sides has led to stagnation in the middle.

It’s clear that, as Waitrose’ Managing Director, Rob Collins says, “Today’s customer is firmly in the driving seat” and as he points out, with 65% of Britons visiting a supermarket more than once a day on a regular or occasional basis, retailers are having to do a lot more to just remain relevant or to get ahead.

 

The Aldi surge

Let’s look at a particular success story. For the first time, in 2017, Aldi raked in sales of more than £10bn in the UK and Ireland by extending its high-end products ranges, and record turnover throughout the Christmas period. Its “specially selected” premium range enjoyed a sales surge of 30%. Sales growth through range and store expansion are now the order of the day.

Aldi supermarket

From a pricing perspective, Aldi have limited their product ranges and supply chain to keep costs low. According to the FT, Aldi and Lidl stock product ranges of between “1,000 to 3,000 lines”, compared to 25-50,000 at the largest stores of their competitors.

In terms of selection, provenance has played a crucial role. Aldi have worked to ensure that their suppliers are local and ethical where possible, and by understanding that they can attract a broader customer base if they raise store standards, they have drawn in an aspirational audience, taking the Big Four’s audience share.

From a convenience perspective, Aldi have lured in more middle class shoppers with cheap but award-winning wines, dry-aged steak and cut-price lobsters. With their own spiralised veg and cauliflower rice lines, their charm offensive on the middle classes is taking shape. Meanwhile, the low price point and own-brand label products on offer means that they are able to maintain a broad-as-possible audience. Ultimately, this means that Aldi offer customers a convenient way to get premium and low-cost goods in one location.

On the other hand, look at the hard-pressed Marks and Spencer. Food has long been the company’s most successful element, given the declining sales of clothing. However, their like-for-like food revenue was down 1.4% over the last Christmas period and while their food hall expansion will continue, it will do so at a slower rate.

Marks and Spencer

To quote Wendell Stevenson in the FT at the end of last year:

“Where are the kombucha, turmeric, edible flowers, ceviche, matcha, yuzu, sorrel, cocktails and burrata? M&S may not want to alienate its core customer (always a relatively older demographic), but its food is falling between several stools: not new enough, not classic enough, not fancy enough and not cheap enough. It has become more about nostalgia than now.”

It could be argued that their food, like their clothing, has lost its way. Caught up in the changing food retail landscape.

The take away

Ultimately, customers have more choice than they ever have, so their loyalty cannot be taken for granted by supermarket operators.

The new objective for supermarkets must be to offer potential customers greater convenience, an appropriate selection and more value than their competitors. In a world where brand loyalty is dead, successful fulfilment of these criteria will lead to profitability.

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