Tomorrow’s supermarkets need to get truly, madly, deeply obsessed with customers (but not in a creepy way)

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How can supermarkets respond to changing consumer behaviour?

In 2018, we want brands to be obsessed with us. As such, nowadays, it often seems like some brands know what we want before we do – we’ve actually come to expect it.

Take, for example, the remarkable changes we’ve seen in grocery shopping. We’ve seen the decline of big supermarkets, a surge of convenient ‘express’ stores, and quick, healthy services such as Hello Fresh are becoming more popular with consumers valuing quality and convenience over price.

But how do they achieve future-ready solutions tailored to the needs of the modern-day consumer?

Let’s start with a retailer already winning in the age of the consumer – Amazon. With a sophisticated data-gathering operation, they are constantly evolving to prove that they are obsessed with us all.

In fact, it’s so good that it’s borderline creepy. Recently, Amazon built-in the Alexa voice activation feature in its ‘Dash Wand’ instant-ordering gadget. Amazon was so desperate to understand and collect data on your wants and needs that it was giving this gadget away for free(ish). We could say that, if Amazon was a person, it would be the clingy teenage ex-boyfriend outside your window serenading you with his ukulele.

Close contact

The question is – do all retail brands need to become this creepy in order to survive? We think they do. In fact, understanding you, should be the only thing they’re concerned with.

Supermarket chains need to sit up and look at their customers’ individual journeys: the multiple touch points and objectives assigned to each which translates into a truly valuable experience for the customer. Not only would this improve understanding of consumer needs, it would further motivate brand consideration, engagement and advocacy – three things which any successful brand should be building with you as a valued customer.

Currently, traditional supermarket brands are catering to broader consumer demand, instead of individual consumer needs and we are seeing their demise as a consequence. ‘Branded Houses’ such as M&S and Tesco have suffered by expanding into a broad range of different categories without focusing their efforts on gaining insight into their consumers’ data. By trying to over-expand and maintain their own multitudes of sub-categories and divisions – for example, M&S’ Home and Clothing or Tesco Bank and Mobile – they have suffered financial and consumer losses.

For example, a £6.4bn loss in 2015 shook Tesco who had cashed in on multiple innovations in the market to build a holistic, all-encompassing customer experience. The resource required in continually delivering the quality associated with this type of model proved impossible in the modern market.

Smart acquisition

On the other hand, expansion doesn’t have to mean a reduction of quality in customer experience (CX). Looking to the recent acquisition of Whole Foods via Amazon we can see that, for tech-giant Amazon, this means an expansion of their food offering (previously operated under the label of Amazon Fresh). While the company has yet to craft a physical presence, the acquisition of Whole Foods could mean that they expand their services through Whole Food's existing brick and mortar outlets. This solves a problem for Whole Foods too, whose recent experimentation with smaller shops failed within a year.

Another prime example of consumer-obsessed success are delivery apps such as Deliveroo and Just Eat. Instead of over-expanding and lowering the quality of their CX (as the Big Four [Deloitte, PwC, EY, KPMG] are inclined to do), the smarter option is to partner with those who have experience of the target market or the technological capabilities to deliver truly individual customer experiences. Accordingly, Deliveroo and Just Eat incorporate payment options such as Apple Pay, ensuring a much smoother and convenient option for both first time and repeat users of their services.

Lack of willingness to be a ‘super creep’ aside, there really is no excuse for modern supermarket brands not to understand us. By catering for their customers’ individual journeys they will drive true brand consideration, engagement and advocacy.

Supermarkets need to get obsessed with us – and fast. Or else we might just find ourselves a new super-clingy supermarket to shop with.

Ally Waring, strategist, and Ronak Mokhtassi, junior social strategist, at RAPP UK.

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