The year in Retail review: Aldi and Lidl, Tesco's comeback, the sugar-war, and the beginning of the end for Black Friday

Retail headlines in 2015 were dominated by the grocery sector, as the battle to get customers through the door moved away from heavy price promotions and instead saw marketers get sophisticaed with refreshed marketing plans and an investment in loyalty schemes. Elsewhere, the notorious Black Friday retail event saw high street retailers take a back seat to online sellers.

Discounters go mainstream

In the grocery sector it was another challenging year for the Big Four - Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrisons - as yet more marketshare was lost to German discounters Aldi and Lidl which, combined, now command 10 per cent of grocery spend.

In response, Tesco kicked off the year with fighting, unceremoniously sacking its ad agency and hiring BBH to breathe new life into the £110m account. The fruits of that exercise are only beginning to emerge, with Tesco launching its TV comeback in October with a fresh tone of voice and refocusing on connecting with consumers during events such as the Rugby World Cup and the Great British Bake Off.

Other retailers followed suit with marketing revamps of their own; Asda brought in a new marketing team and adopted parent company Walmart's logo and slogan, Sainsbury's turned to technology and opened up a new lab and tech Hub which have helped it begin trials on an in-store mobile check-out app, while Morrisons - currently in the midst of its own ad agency review - focused on stripping back its complicated store formats as new chief executive David Potts took the reigns.

Driving Loyalty

Loyalty schemes have been a hot topic amongst retailers this year, with the majority of the UK’s grocers taking a hard look at how to improve their offering in a bid to woo customers in the competitive sector.

M&S and Waitrose's refreshed schemes were particularly notable as they sought to redefine what loyalty is, with the former introducing a points based reward system in ‘Sparks’ and the latter allowing customers to ‘Pick Your Own Offers’.

Elsewhere on the high street, Sainsbury’s announced a review its Nectar points allocations, Morrisons overhauled the ‘Match & More’ price promise, Tesco introduced a new immediate cash-back 'Brand Guarantee' scheme and Asda commenced an in-depth look of its long-running Price Guarantee.

Sugar-War

The debate on how high fat and products are marketed made its way onto almost every grocer's agenda this year. MPs have been putting increasing pressure on a number of brands with a report by the Commons Health Select committee most recently recommending the blanket ban of all advertising of junk food during family TV shows and a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks and sweets.

Since 2014, supermarkets had vowed to remove sweets from checkouts but Tesco made the drastic move this year of pulling all juice drinks with added-sugar that are marketed at children from its shelves. Asda chief executive Andy Clarke is also spearheading a programme which will focus on improving national health through product reformulation and educating young people to use on pack nutritional information. It will likely remain a priority for the coming year as the government looks more likely to intervene.

The beginning of the end for in-store Black Friday?

2015 also marked a paradigm shift in how British retailers approached the Black Friday retail event with Asda, Oasis, Jigsaw and Primark all quick to opt out. Instead, it became the domain of online sellers confident a seamless experience over a longer trading period would avoid the in-store chaos of previous years.

Overall, mobile shopping set new records on Black Friday, according to IBM, accounting for nearly 60 per cent of all online traffic, an increase of 14.8 percent over 2014. Meanwhile, mobile sales tipped 40 per cent of all online sales coming from mobile devices, an increase of 23.8 per cent year on year.

In the days after the event, Asda boss Clarke said ignoring it was "the best decision we've made this year" but by contrast ecommerce giant Amazon said Black Friday had been its busiest UK day on record with more than 7.4 million items sold.

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Jennifer Faull

Jen Faull is Brands Editor at The Drum. Based in London, she has interviewed major business figures including top marketers from Mondelez, Unilever, Tesco, and Lidl.

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