OPINION4 January 2012

The retail savings game

Can brands and retailers find ways to reward consumers for savvy shopping habits?

A report by the housing charity Shelter this week confirmed that almost one million Britons have taken out an emergency ‘payday’ loan to help pay their rent or mortgage in the last year. In addition, the charity also reported that seven million Britons – that’s 10 per cent of the population – are relying on some form of credit to help pay their housing costs.

With so much of the population under such fundamental financial pressure the situation necessarily has implications for brands. Consumers will not only be searching for the best bargains but will be willing to put more effort into securing them. They will also be looking for emotional pay offs: higher-level benefits such as “doing the right thing” or “being responsible” as well as more basic ‘animal’ drivers such as “competing for scarce resources” and “protecting the family”. It will be interesting to see how people’s well developed need to be part of the herd or community plays out against this background.

While brands might be tempted to introduce “value” variants of their best loved products we would caution against straying too far from accepted brand values and setting the brand up for a later fall. Launching value brands might bring some dividend now but could damage positioning in the longer term if the brand in question operates in a premium segment.

Brands could more fruitfully consider greater innovation in promotional strategy (we have seen iterations of this with retailer schemes such as Asda’s “Price Guarantee” and Sainsbury’s “Brand Match”). They could do this by applying product innovation research techniques to create, develop and test truly innovative new value/promotional ideas rather than relying on the classic well-worn path. Larger, global brands may even look to see what has worked for them in less well-off, emerging markets to see whether messaging or products for ‘poorer’ consumers might be transferable.

Or what about promoting the idea of saving money as some sort of game – rewarding consumers who shop savvy so they can continue to buy the brands to which they are emotionally and behaviourally connected. It is something energy companies have tried in the past – rewards for being more energy-efficient. Let’s see if it can work in retail too.