Learning to be different
Some glimmers of hope for struggling supermarkets
RARELY have the Christmas results for Britain's supermarkets been awaited with such trepidation. Most of them, especially the market leader, Tesco, struggled in 2014. The hard-discount stores, Aldi and Lidl, continued to undercut them, gobbling up market share, while falling food prices ate into their profits. Would the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year's Day, generally the strongest sales period, bring some relief?
He's making a list, checking it twice
The answer, so far, is mixed. Waitrose, the most upmarket grocer, did well. It made ￡728m (1.1 billion) over the five weeks to January 3rd, excluding fuel—7% more than in the same spell a year ago. By contrast like-for-like sales at Sainsbury's fell by 1.7% in the 14 weeks to January 3rd among stores that had been open at least a year. Tesco, which reported on January 8th, recorded another drop in sales, though by only 0.3% compared with the previous year. It is to close 43 stores. Analysts estimate that Asda, the second-biggest chain after Tesco, saw its market share fall by 1% in the three months to December.
Asda's boss, Andrew Clarke, has warned of more challenging times ahead. Yet the lesson from these results is clear. Grocers with a clearly defined position in the market will continue to prosper, but for those without one there is more pain to come. Thus Waitrose, for instance, has remained resolutely and distinctly posh. It has refused to chase the upstart discounters by slashing prices, as mid-market rivals have done.
Natalie Berg of Planet Retail, a research outfit, argues that the key to survival in a ferociously competitive groceries market is to offer the customer a brand that is “clear, targeted and consistent.” Waitrose, at the top end of the market, does this well, as do Lidl and Aldi at the bottom. The rest are stranded in the middle, trying to be all things to all people. This week, for instance, Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco announced further price cuts. That might fend off the discounters for a bit. It will also muddy perceptions of who their target customers really are.
一家名为“行星零售”的调查组织的成员Natalie Berg认为，在竞争激烈的零售商市场中存活下来的关键，在于给顾客留下这么个品牌印象—“明晰，有定位，持久”。 Waitrose卡住了市场的顶端部分。而Lidl和Aldi则把持住了市场的草根部分。其余的卡在中间，想着变成百宝箱，面向所有消费群体。比如这个周，Asda，Sainsbury和Tesco宣布接着砍价。这或许能些许抵御零售商的攻势。它也同样能搅起一池浑水，搞不清谁是它们的目标消费人群。
But it is not all gloom for the supermarkets. A more clement economic environment should help all of them. Tumbling fuel prices and—a novelty, this—rising real wages will put more money in shoppers' pockets. The results also demonstrate that supermarkets are rewarded for a strong internet presence. Again, Waitrose has done well here: grocery sales through its online service grew by 26% over the Christmas period compared with a year ago. Its parent company, John Lewis, has had great success with a new click-and-collect service at its department stores, which allows customers to nominate a place to pick up their shopping. Most of the supermarkets are trying out new digital gizmos to make shopping easier. Waitrose is experimenting with a home-scanning device called Hiku. This will allow people to scan barcodes on Waitrose products at home to add them to their online shopping basket.
There are grounds for optimism even at Tesco, argues Bryan Roberts, an analyst at Kantar Retail. For a couple of years its stores in London have done better than those in the rest of the country. Store managers in the capital have enjoyed more autonomy to fill their shelves with products suited to the people who live or work in the local area. This process had become over-centralised, missing local trends; devolution seems to have helped reverse that. Simple, but effective.
坎塔尔零售的分析师Bryan Roberts则认为，就算是Tesco，也有乐观的理由。经过多年经营，Tesco在伦敦的店铺，其经营情况好于全国其他地区。首都店铺的经理享有更多的自主经营权，他们能为所在区域生活或工作的居民提供适合他们的货品。此前这个过程都是收回经理的自主权，这就忽略了当地发展趋势；让权能帮住扭转颓势。大道至简，直接有效。译者：唐宇·无心 校对：石海霞