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Comment: Upheaval ahead for grocery says Anthony Earley of Lick Creative

Major changes are afoot in grocery. Not only is Amazon rumoured to be launching its own range of products in line with its impending grocery service in the UK, but the aisles are being shaken up by internal strategic shifts as the major retailers away from price promotion.

Add to this external pressures on product brands from the implications of sugar tax and HFSS (High Fat Salt and Sugar) legislation and the experience of grocery retail is likely to alter significantly, both in-store and online.

With new grocery retailer brand entrants, and these many internal and external developments all happening at once, retailers and brands alike could be forgiven for being confused by all the change. Which begs the question – what is the customer, in turn, supposed to think?

On the surface, UK consumers are currently reaping the rewards of these shifts. In particular, the Big Four’s response to the growth of Aldi and Lidl has led to more competitive everyday lower pricing strategies, meaning that less products are being bought on promotion, according to the latest Kantar figures. This may only be a short term effect, however. With many stores also shaking up longstanding loyalty programmes, there has been a corresponding impact on shopper loyalties.

In the longer term, shoppers are experiencing more than implications for their wallets; behaviours are being altered as well. Changes in promotions – whether BOGOFs or from longstanding loyalty deals and discounts - will affect how the aisles are shopped by those long used to larder-loading on promotion. And even old favourite products themselves may soon be changing, if reformulation in the face of impending HFSS legislation becomes a widely embraced strategy by food brands. 

The typical supermarket shopping experience is going to become noticeably different from gondola ends, which used to be packed with three for two deals, through to shelves becoming more competitive spaces for new formulations of existing products. Education on all of these issues will become key to engaging customers at the point of purchase – where between 60% and three quarters of purchase decisions are made (depending on the research study). 

With so many brands seeking to stand out and connect with customers at the same time, the shelf is going to become a crowded place. This is where a focus on the idea, alongside a fresh approach to communicating brand standout, will become crucial for brands to engage. For example, Tesco recently announced a drive in this direction, from making it easier for shopping apps to be connected to third party technologies, to issuing a call to suppliers to come to them with new ideas for promoting fresh produce.

While these developments, taken collectively, issue a challenge to retailers to curate their in-store space per category carefully, they should also indicate that an upsurge in creative brand executions will also be hitting the aisles shortly.

Marketers have never before had such an arsenal of creative options available to engage with shoppers, from interactive 3D or holographic shelf displays in a fresh twist on the humble wobbler, to adding audio to creative, to - of course - VR as this year’s hottest new communications platform.

Naturally, the true test of this communications creativity will be the sound of tills ringing, and connections with customers remaining strong. Simply spending thousands on the latest technology is not a guarantee of sales success. However, in a battle for shopper attention and engagement, looking at innovative and engaging new ways of delivering messages, as long as they are rooted in delivery back to the brand itself, are likely to prove significant in the months ahead in-store.  

Anthony Earley is director of Lick Creative