Barely a day goes by without another news item or broadcast bulletin referring to a supermarket chain either announcing profit warnings, staff redundancies or commonly another price war. I’ve thought about this a lot recently and I can’t help but think that these retailers are missing the point.
Let me explain. I have been a fan of the discounters for some time – in fact years, as I used to manage the PR for Netto. It’s fair to say that the brand didn’t have the best reputation for quality but consumers at the time were misguided; the produce was fresh but we were less accepting of foreign imports.
Then we hit hard times when the recession took hold in 2008 and suddenly the car parks of discounters looked like a high end car showroom. People began to realise that actually you could rely on these stores for your weekly shop and save money.
I am a huge fan of the #Lidlsurprises campaign and can’t fault the PR team for the creative yet simple way that they have shared their message with the masses. The press event which invited journalists and celebrities to a champagne reception with all the glamour you would expect only to then reveal it was all produce from Lidl was inspired. Follow this up with the same concept for a Christmas advert, keeping the messaging simple… well, what can I say, a great example of PR done well.
Anyway, I digress, but the point is that these campaigns make sense to me. They are consistent, engaging, surprising and real. It’s not about money it’s about adding value, giving the consumer something they didn’t expect – like lobster at Christmas and a selection of high quality wines to match seasonal produce.
What I don’t understand is the ongoing bickering that comes with price wars. There is no doubt that consumers are price conscious but I can’t help thinking that retailers need to take a step back. Consumers want good value, not cheap produce. They want variety and provenance – a balance between every day and speciality.
What we get is bread for pennies and milk which costs less than water! Not only is this unnecessary but it’s become a playground fight, only the retailers seem not to have noticed that they have made the consumer a disinterested bystander.
PR is all about reputation, which should be built around values. All I can see from retailers at the moment is ever decreasing costs and a battle, which to all intense and purpose communicates that they are in fact not focusing on the consumer at all but instead on their competitors.
It’s like being back at school; he said this, so I did that…
What the retailers should be doing, in my humble opinion, is looking at how they can add value. Many of them have magazines now, which are great. They are helpful, interesting, well written and appealing to the demographic but what more could they do?
ASDA launched Mums Eye View, a YouTube channel which invites vloggers to share their thoughts on products stocked in the store. Great idea; captivating and interesting content that consumers can access and better still engage with and share.
So how come so few people know about it? Rather than attracting ASDA customers, the vloggers seem to be sharing their message with their own audience, which in most instances doesn’t fit the demographic profile of an ASDA shopper.
The retailer could have done more with this platform to integrate digital with ‘real life’ further extending the engagement. Having a shopper booth at larger outlets which asks customers to give two minute reviews of their favourite ‘must have’ items would be one suggestion but instead the platform seems to be a huddle of vloggers raising their profile and doing what they do best – talking to their audience.
And so, I come back round to taking a step back.
The marketing strategy of retailers needs to start with their values and evolve to the customer journey, making sure that every shopper has an experience online and in store that they can share positively with their friends and family.
Convenience is going to continue to drive the market, as people have less time and no longer commit to a weekly shop, but retailers need to think about brand loyalty. How will they get consumers through the door and most importantly encourage them to become regular visitors without relying entirely on price.
The other point to consider, which should be fundamental to any business with a conscience, is the suppliers. Retailers may feel that driving prices down has a positive impact on consumers but what about the suppliers, the reduction needs to come from somewhere and it certainly isn’t the stores.
These leading supermarkets need to stop and think. The impression they are giving is not positive. I don’t want a local farmer to go out of business because despite supplying the leading retailers the margins have been squeezed so tight he can’t make ends meet.
Provenance is still a trend and is something that consumers have come to expect but I find it interesting that ‘Farmer Smith’ from ‘a farm somewhere near you’ isn’t quoted on pack saying ‘I won’t have a holiday this year because once again you have demanded I lower my margin to meet with your demands, allowing you to offer my produce at 10p less than your competitor’.
Things need to change and until one of the leading supermarket chains stands back and becomes a value based brand with a real conscience the playground scrapping is simply going to continue.