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No Substitute for Experience


After a week at conferences and industry pow-wows, I’m back at my desk and spent lunchtime leafing through the pile of trade magazines that have built up in my absence. The Grocer as ever takes pride of place. (Once, this might have been contested by Marketing, but not since it was devoured by its omnivorous sibling, Campaign.)

My eye was taken by an article by James Cronin, a lecturer at Lancaster University Management School. The gist of this piece is, I think, that the Big 4 got it wrong by overcomplicating their offer and becoming distracted by a race to provide customers with retail experiences, leaving the door wide open for “agnostic Aldi” to slip in unnoticed and hoover up. (I think this is the conclusion, although the concluding paragraph is, well, inconclusive.)

There are several aspects of this piece that leave me a little bit disgruntled. The first is that this is yesterday’s news. The second is that it is glib and fails to recognise the complexity involved in retail marketing in the current climate. The third is that its basic premise, that shoppers prefer “bare bones shopping” to a pleasant shopping experience misses the point. The Tesco Extra of 5 years ago wasn’t rejected because it was over-engineered; on the contrary, it was rejected (by some) as it was a cluttered, unpleasant environment that was a nightmare to navigate.

All shoppers want a pleasant store environment that’s easy to shop, with a reasonable choice of good quality products at sensible prices. Depending upon mission, shoppers may want more or less choice, and this will drive choice of channel.

The bottom line is, shoppers want a pleasant environment and convenience, and everyone recognises this. The Big 4 can make their stores easier to shop via better segmentation, adjacencies and signage. In parallel, some of the most attractive new stores are being introduced by the discounters, as evidenced by new openings from Lidl and Iceland’s Food Warehouse. Retailers constantly tweak their offers and try out new ideas. And shoppers pay their money and take their choice.

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