News & Views

Power of the path of least resistance

by Dan Southern

Lidl’s brand-on-brand trol-lolz show that placing more requirements on customers won’t be the answer in the UK supermarket wars

At Contagious Insider, we have a number of favourite slides for presentations we deliver at speaking engagements around the world. As The Simpsons offers a handy universal language for discussing consumerism, a fair few of those faves feature quotes and stills pinched from the cartoon series (and yeah, actually, they are, like, mainly from the early ones because they were, like, sooo much more authentic and stuff, ok?).

One of those stills depicts Kwik-E-Mart’s monolithic and foreboding rival, Monstromart, where the tagline is ‘Where shopping is a baffling ordeal’. The image provides the backdrop to a discussion on how large organisations tend towards doing things they find easier to process and deliver, even if the result is a more complex experience for the customer as their needs get drowned in behaviours that protect or prioritise the status quo. However, just as organisations will naturally err towards their own path of least resistance, so too will customers.

An interesting case in point has arisen in the UK, where the supermarket sector is undergoing what appears to be a significant change. Many shoppers who previously preferred mid-range brands like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s are beginning to feel more at home with ‘deep discount’ retailers, namely Aldi and Lidl. While they have a narrower choice and a more ‘rough and ready’ store layout, shoppers appear to be in favour of facing fewer arbitrary short-lived offers and generally lower prices. Both are experiencing double digit growth and, according to Kantar in August this year, 53 per cent of British households shopped at one of the discounters in the 12 weeks prior to their survey.

Morrison’s, however, has decided enough is enough and recently launched a loyalty scheme, Match and More. It promises to match the prices of competitors including, for the first time from a mid-range brand, Aldi and Lidl. At the end of their shop, Morrison’s compares the price paid by the customer with what they would have paid elsewhere, promising to refund the difference on their next visit. Which all sounds good and well until it comes to taking up the Bradford-HQ’d supermarket on their kindness.

The hoops it requires customers to jump through have been helpfully outlined by Lidl in a superb piece of direct comparative advertising in The Sun newspaper (above). Clever copy dissects a bewildering (if slightly embellished) 28-stage process featuring 19 digit card numbers and miniscule point accumulation. ‘Or you could just go to Lidl’, the ad brightly suggests. Whilst comparative advertising can run the risk of serving the trolled brand well – especially in passively consumed ads where the key arguments might not be fully processed – this engaging piece of copy via TBWA, London, insightfully unpicks that pickle Morrison’s and its peers find themselves in (and begs to be photographed and shared).

You can hear facepalms being planted on the foreheads of executives at Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s. Embattled as they are, Morrison’s baffling ordeal further highlights the deep structural challenges these brands face if they want to consistently deliver Aldi and Lidl-style prices. Demanding of customers their time, data, loyalty and, frankly, brainpower in order to benefit from prices they can get elsewhere simply for turning up can’t be the solution.

The truth is that many of the mid-tier brands have some soul-searching to do, which should involve trying to get closer to their customers once more and model around them. Aldi and Lidl have proved that you don’t need a Clubcard-card style data regime to do this anymore (in fact many analysts throughout 2014 have grumbled that Tesco’s Clubcard should be ditched or have a radical overhaul). It feels like a case for prioritising more ethnographic approaches to research and collaborative design with customers, in order to get back to some sense of reality.

Ultimately, the paths of least resistance internally for the organisation and externally for the customer need to have a harmonious balance. Lidl’s claim that Morrison’s attempt to match its prices places a surplus of requirements on its customer makes sense. Morrison's and co need to redress the balance.