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September 21, 2005

Can Sainsbury's create a smarter conversation?

Several of us met earlier this week to talk about where we're heading with this experiment. One theme that emerged is this: we'd like to use this space to explore how Sainsbury's can create a smarter conversation with its customers and other stakeholders.

A lot of conventional thinking about branding doesn't really countenance the idea of conversation, preferring the apparent certainty of broadcasting. Brands are encouraged to adopt "positions" and put "propositions" to customers. This propositioning creates good income for ad agencies, but does it really engage customers? Does it create a climate in which brands actually learn from their customers?

Using one bunch of agents to do advertising, and another bunch to do market research, doesn't create a conversation. A conversation is much more than a surface level swapping of ideas and opinions. For me great conversations allow both parties to be influenced and affected by each other in a continuous, unfolding process.

Adrian here, and James here, have both recently encouraged Sainsbury's to create better relationships with the farming, especially organic, industry. Cynics would say that would be a waste of time; supermarkets have to squash their suppliers becuase the only thing customers care about is value for money, which they measure largely on the lowest price for a given quality.

I'd like to suggest taking a more optimistic view of human nature, one that recognises that people are not the selfish, hyper-rational creatures of the economists' imaginations. Admen have long prospered by selling their abilities to leverage our emotions... though often on the assumption that our motivation remains fairly narcissistic.

Actually, we're hungry for something to believe in beyond self-interest. In fact, vibrant communities, and thriving conversations, are much more likely to happen when people's higher selves are engaged, not just their pocketbooks or vanity. Not many marketers are willing to take the risk of taking a stand for something bolder, but some that have, have prospered. Pret a Manger comes to mind.

The new Sainsbury line is "try something new". Is this to be just another here today, gone tomorrow, slogan? Or can Sainsbury's bring it to life by creating challenging thinking for its staff, customers and the wider community? Will it risk the sort of thinking that might engage our passions? Can Sainsbury's make this theme about genuine innovation, involving risk-taking by itself as well as customers... or will it settle for being merely the peddler of the latest food novelties?

(One small straw in the wind is how they use Jamie Oliver. Is he bascially going to continue as a gimmick, or are they going to align more with the side of him that campaigns for something? I'm not a huge fan of celebrity marketing, but if they're going to work with Jamie, how are they going to work with him?)

(Credit: Hugh Macleod is the guy who - to my knowledge - first used the phrase Smarter Conversations in marketing)

Posted by Johnnie Moore on September 21, 2005 at 11:57 AM in Marketing | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

September 20, 2005

On reasons not to copy Tesco

Tesco accused of bully-boy tactics as profits climb again

According to Vicki Hird, at Friends of the Earth: "Tesco's sensational growth is sucking the life out of communities, farmers, workers and the environment. The competition authorities should be embarrassed they have let things get this far and must act to curb the local and national monopoly of Tesco."

FoE is part of a campaign called breaking the armlock, set up to monitor and lobby for supermarkets to establish better farming and supply chain practices.

Tesco likes to claim it is British Farming's Biggest Customer, but in many cases that means supporting the growth of agri-businesses, not farms.

Sainbury's could instead aspire to being British Farming's Best Customer. The new organic campaign is a good start. Food from small farms tends to taste better. Ask any top chef. Someone like Jamie Oliver, perhaps...

Of course Sainsbury is not all sweetness and light but if it wants to create a position as a place to come and try something new, why not start with rethinking the relationship between customers, farms and supermarkets?   

There are those that would say its all about customer choice, and cheap shopping. Does anyone else remember watching the chap from Scolarest, the company that feeds our nation's children, tell Jamie Oliver the same thing on Jamie's School Dinners? Ah yes the delights of Turkey Twizzlers and the market-driven economy.

Supermarkets and fast food restaurants don't just respond to buying behaviours, they create them. That is the lesson, and that is why we will continue to push for Sainsbury to make a difference by being different.  Why not sponser a new TV show by Jamie looking into environmental issues surrounding British food. It might make more sense than multimillion pound advertising budgets...

Posted by James Governor on September 20, 2005 at 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

September 19, 2005

Try something new today

Try something new today.

That's Sainsbury's new slogan as reported by The Guardian. I confess, my kneejerk reaction was what the hell does that mean? But I was delighted to read this (emphasis mine):

The new slogan was developed after research showed that customers wanted supermarkets to help them with simple but effective recipe ideas.

A central plank of the strategy is for Jamie Oliver's cooking hints and tips to be sampled by all of Sainsbury's 153,000 employees so they can share their knowledge and ideas with customers.

Bigger stores will also offer samples of new products and ideas to shoppers.

Good Lord - it's as if they have been reading 173 all along! Emphasis on the food. Staff trained accordingly. Leadership for people who want to change their eating habits. And perhaps even a slogan aimed at those of us who say, "I would like to eat better / more variety / healthier."

If other people experience the same initial reaction to the slogan as I, or if the implementation of the strategy is botched, then the store may continue to have problems. But if JS can raise quality and logistics to Waitrose levels, then this training idea could make Sainsbury's definitively the best food supermarket, and I think that is tremendous news.

Posted by Adrian Trenholm on September 19, 2005 at 02:55 PM in Food, Marketing | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

September 12, 2005

On 173, marketing blog and Morrisons

The story about 173 in last weeks' Sunday Telegraph was bound to garner some attention for us, and so it proves. The latest pointer comes from the Marketing blog.

Author Stuart Bruce, a Labour party councillor in Leeds, points to the story of two blogs about two retailers.

He also points out that the entry Morrisons Is Rubbish on his personal blog, is the most widely read and commented on. The views are mostly negative.

Sadly for Morrisons indicators are that things may get worse before they get better. I can't vouch for the authenticity of this view from an employee, but its worrying anyway, from a fear, uncertainty and doubt perspective:

as a 20year plus employee of safeway distribution centre aylesford i can only fully agree with your views on morrisons quality of product.fresh food standards are terrible,we are getting produce that is well past its best,the other day we accepted carrots with only a couple of days shelf life when it came into the depot!!!

Posted by James Governor on September 12, 2005 at 02:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sainsbury's mini Internet cafe near the checkout

Dennis Howlett has a neat blog called Bazaarz, which has an avowedly European standpoint, rather than a parochial American or English view. He focuses on ebusiness and accounting, although not necessarily in that order...

Riffing off some 173 thinking, Dennis has the idea of a mini customer service desk at Sainsbury:

Set up a mini Internet cafe near the checkout and maybe next to where you get your latte (if you have time). Set up a blog. Moderate it. Get the brands involved. Get staff involved. Learn from customers. Act according to customer feedback. Measure the results.

I like the idea. Although I can't see my local Sainsbury in Dalston serving lattes...

Why not have a customer service point, though, where the agent could point to news, views and reviews of fellow shoppers? What are fellow customers saying about a particular cheese, cereal or wine.

A customer could request a particular product the store doesnt currently carry. If there is not enough aggregate demand for that item at that store, the customer could be shown how to use Sainbury.com to order it, or directed to a larger store that carried it.

One thing I particularly like about Dennis' idea is that such a blog, used as the basis of a customer service system, could be used to enable an ongoing dialogue between Sainsbury's store locations, head office, and Internet presence. A mix of online and offline views should appeal to marketers.

At the moment the demographics using Sainsbury's online are probably nicely ABC1, but that means the information gleaned about customer behaviours is limited to a single segment of the customer base.

As I understand it Sainsbury's internet sales are pretty disappointing in relation to those of Tesco or Waitrose (Ocado). But it seems very unlikely Sainsbury can change the situation unless it thinks different.

So why not forge ahead and use the net for establishing rich conversations with customers, rather than just seeing it as a sales mechanism, whilst also taking advantage of a core Sainsbury asset--its own people. If thousands of employees and customers began to discuss their good experiences sales would likely follow. Customers are the best evangelists for any company or product.

When we buy from Amazon or through eBay we do so not because they are the cheapest, or the fastest at delivering, but because of the community these web properties have established, helping us to find good books and music, or trust particular eBay merchants.

That is, these sites enable conversations about goods, products and services, with feedback loops based on customer experiences. Customers buy from these sites because they can make more educated decisions. None of the current generation of UK internet grocery retailers however are using this model.

Sainsbury could change the game by building communities, rather than "online commerce engines".

An instore mini customer cafe would be a very useful tool to ensure that everyone could participate with this approach, including who that don't know the difference between a blogroll and a bogroll.

Finally, from a managers perspective, note that Tesco's share price is higher than its peers not just because it has greater sales, but because of a premium based on its "greater understanding of customers". Tesco makes great play about the huge success of its rewards program is helping it understand customer behaviour. Its a virtuous circle.

With a customer service system that spoke directly to customers and aggregated preferences Sainsbury could respond, in a transparent fashion, with no fear of "big brother" perceptions about the use of customer data (because customers would volunteer this info).

Now if only my local Sainbury did a decent espresso...

Posted by James Governor on September 12, 2005 at 01:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 11, 2005

Sainsbury's Supermarket of the Year.

The world's premier wine awards the International Wine Challenge has just announced the awards for the UK's best wine merchants. Sainsbury's has been crowned Supermarket of the Year 2005.

Organised by Wine International magazine the judges noted that

Booths’ range came in for particular praise, while Waitrose was applauded for its website, and the fine wine room and wine bar concepts that have been introduced to its flagship Canary Wharf store. However, after careful consideration of its IWC wine success and a second store visit, Sainsbury’s just edged into the lead. The judges were particularly impressed by the effort this chain is putting into training the staff in its wine departments, the look of those departments and the information on offer in them. The recently introduced wine festivals were also singled out, as was the growing number of small parcels of wine that are now available in the stores and via the chain’s website.

The judging criteria included range, prices, layout of the stores, general level of service, the wbesite and number of successes in the competitions wine tasting section. Mystery shoppers were also sent to various stores.

The runners up in the Supermarket section were Booths and Waitrose.

Posted by wine_scribbler on September 11, 2005 at 05:33 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 09, 2005

Sainsbury's farmers' market mash up

James Governor's comment about his local Fresh and Wild got me thinking. The best thing about it, he said, is the farmers' market across the road. It's a similar story in New York, apparently, where a flagship Whole Foods has opened next to the Greenmarket:

It began congenially enough, however, with the new upscale supermarket donating $8,900 to the Greenmarket as the first of four annual “5% days,” when 5 percent of a day’s profit goes to a local nonprofit organization.

Whole Foods spokesperson Fred Shank draws the image of shoppers carrying Whole Foods bags at the Greenmarket, and Greenmarket bags in Whole Foods.

It’s not only shoppers crossing over — mixing open-air with subterranean, small bags with shopping carts, hand-wrapped with prepackaged — but purveyors as well. Shank points out that the Whole Foods prepared food team checks out the Greenmarket every week for fresh ingredients; and products from Greenmarket regulars, like Ronnybrook farms and Bread Alone, can be found on the new chain store’s shelves. Planners expected the new Whole Foods to bring more people to the area, and folks from the Greenmarket, as well as the new store, say it seems to have done so.

This crossover of buyers between farmers' market and supermarket got me thinking about Sainsbury's new focus on organic food. The SO range is a fantastic development - could Sainsbury's solidify its organic credentials by working with existing farmers' markets? Even help set up new ones? It sounds counter-intuitive - why would Sainsbury's work with their "competitors?" - but I think there would be benefits.

The consumer would gain increased choice of fresh, local produce, while still having the convenience of a "one stop shop." The farmers would get access to Sainsbury's locations and customers. Sainsbury's would gain credibility as supporters of local organic farming, further distinguishing itself from Tesco and Asda. The total market for organic produce would grow and Sainsbury's would be the focus of that growth, supplying that expanded market on the days that the farmers are not in town. Sainsbury's might even consider guaranteeing the farmers' sales for the day, and take any surplus for resale after the farmers go home, or for donation to local community projects and charities. The whole thing might even provide what commenter Paul Goodison calls edutainment.

What do you think?

Posted by Adrian Trenholm on September 9, 2005 at 08:41 AM in Food | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 07, 2005

Sainsbury's cuts prices... a lot

I know Sainsbury's is cutting prices, but this is ridiculous: very cheap quiche.

Posted by Adrian Trenholm on September 7, 2005 at 12:42 PM in Retail is detail | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sainsbury's needs simple systems and empowered staff

Several times this summer, we have returned milk to Sainsbury's which was within its sell by date, but which had turned to yoghurt within a day or two of purchase and periodically we return various cheeses. This doesn't happen to the milk or cheese we buy from Marks & Spencer or from Tesco. I hadn't thought much about this until I read this article last month: Sainsbury's fined over rancid milk

The rancid milk, still on the shelf 23 days after it should have been drunk was deemed "unfit for human consumption".

A spokeswoman for Sainsbury's said: "It's extremely rare for something like this to occur.

"The store sells 120,000 fresh products a week and we have elaborate systems in place for checking that all our products are well within the label dates and that out-dated stock is cleared from our stores every day.

This may well be an isolated incident, but I think I can guess at two ways this kind of problem develops.

First, why does JS have an "elaborate system" where surely a simple system would suffice?

Second, for a simple system to work, Sainsbury's has to employ staff who care about food and customer service, and give those staff the authority to take action the second a problem is brought to their attention. I told a member of staff last week that the chicken I wanted to buy was past its sell by date, he replied "you need to speak to Customer Services about that" before going about his business. The chicken, it seems, was in someone else's section.

I have no idea how Tesco or Asda compare, but if Sainsbury's wants to have any credibility as a food focused store, I believe simple systems and empowered staff are high on the list of requirements.

Have you had problems with freshness at your local Sainsbury's?

Posted by Adrian Trenholm on September 7, 2005 at 12:31 PM in Food, People | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

September 06, 2005

Investing in the US...

Geoff Jones reports a story that Tesco may bid for Albertson's in the USA.

Albertsons are the number 2 food retailer in the USA who are having a hard time against Walmart.This is interesting especially after all the recent UK PR about Asda (Walmart) bleating about Tesco's dominance in the UK....

Personally I think its sheer lunancy if Tesco do this. Has any UK company succeeded in the USA? However, it could be good news for Sainsbury etc in the UK since Tesco's senior management would be well stretched to handle a Albertsons take over.

Sainsbury's invested in Shaws in the US but sold out last year... to Albertsons.

Posted by Johnnie Moore on September 6, 2005 at 10:59 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack