Friday, 30 May 2014

Tesco Bag-For-Life outlasts customer life time


What’s interesting about modern grocery shopping in the UK today is that the disposable plastic bag, so vilified by many, has been replaced with “lifetime” bags - thick plastic bags that last a long, long time.  

If you purchased one these bags you’d tend to be a regular customer because:-

  • a) You bought enough to warrant a big bag
  • b) You liked the brand enough to buy a “permanent” bag
  • c) The bag is re-usable so it probably means you intended to come back

What’s interesting though is that these bags also tell another story and they tell me that Tesco has a problem.

I don’t need to read a newspaper or their annual report to see this problem.  I don’t need to run customer research to see this problem.  I simply need to shop at Aldi and look at the bags that customers are carrying.

These bags may not literally last for a customers lifetime, but they do seem to have lasted longer than the customers lifetime with the grocer that sold them.

Coming out of my local Aldi, every other customer was carrying a rival supermarket bag.  What was more interesting was that 9 out of 10 of these was for Tesco.

Now this over-indexing of Tesco is probably due more to rival supermarket proximity than anything else, but it is indicative of a wider problem - previously loyal customers are shifting their loyalty.

It’s also closer to home for me personally - I was up until recently a highly loyal Tesco customer.  I saw the value in their loyalty programme and I received significant value back every year from the programme.  I used their supermarket, their home shopping, their insurance products, their fuel and their credit card.

Yet I left them to shop at Aldi.

I’m also not the only one judging by the bags people use, and more scientifically, based on the results of the latest Kantar survey.  This shows Tesco’s market share has dropped nearly 1 percentage point in the last year (down from 29.6% to 28.7%) and is down 3 percentage points from its peak of 31.8%.  Given each percentage point is worth around £1.27bn, that’s a lot of sales value.

This isn’t due to lower sales overall - the market grew by 2.2%.  It’s also not due to customers trading down - both Sainsburys and Waitrose held onto their market share.  For me, this is more of a customer experience issue than a pricing one.

Obviously there is no denying that Aldi are significantly cheaper on many products than Tesco and it isn’t hard to see that these real savings today add up to more than loyalty rewards later.

However, that’s not the reason I continue to shop at Aldi - I actually like shopping there more than I like shopping at Tesco and the reason for this is fourfold:-

  1. Store Format - At Tesco the stores are now just too big.  It’s great if I want something specific, but for a standard shop it just makes the trip take too long.  Walking down endless aisles past thousands of products I don’t want or need.  Aldi have smaller stores making the shop quick and simple.
  2. Paradox of Choice - When selecting products, there is too much choice.  While this can be a good thing, when presented with 10 different types of sliced bread there is a tendency to pick something you recognise to help expedite the process.  The net result of this is that you pick brands you’ve used before or heard of and brands have a premium.  At Aldi there is limited choice, very few branded goods and typically one option for each.
  3. Service - I’m not talking about customer service specifically, both brands have well trained, personable staff.  I’m talking about the way the tills work.  Aldi is specifically engineered for speed.  A whole shop is scanned at tremendous speed with packing done elsewhere at your leisure.  This means no real queues and no long waits.  Tesco checkout is just, well, slow.
  4. Gamified - This is price related and is a personal aspect, but I like to compare purchases and keep the shop under a defined value.  Given the shop is typically 50% cheaper than my previous comparative Tesco shop, there is a pleasure - almost like a game - in seeing the final till receipt value.

I've given up a number of things to shift to Aldi.  I’ve given up a loyalty programme; I’ve given up home delivery; I’ve given up choice.  Ironically though, I feel like I’ve gained time (due to the quick shop), gained satisfaction (in making a smart choice) and gained money in my wallet.

The fact that I then blow that extra cash on eating out that weekend in simply a bonus - There’s no waiting for me to spend the value I’ve accrued.  I don’t need to wait for a quarterly statement, or redeem for a voucher.

So what would make me go back to Tesco?

  • Better pricing/value exchange - that’s always a basic requirement.
  • Better store layout - Make my basic shop quicker
  • Better checkout experience - Speed up how the scanning/packing process

The number one thing though is to connect the satisfaction of shopping with the experience of shopping.  Tesco Clubcard doesn’t do that today for me - it’s not immediate enough, it’s not rich enough, it’s not connected enough.  Interestingly, Target Cartwheel which I’ve written about previously does seem to achieve many of these things.

Loyalty is still in the game and it still has a role to play - but at the moment for Tesco, it hasn’t kept pace with the market.  When your bags are lasting longer than your customers, you know there are issues to address.