Sainsbury's shows the beauty of simplicity

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As an industry, we are good at making things complicated for shoppers. A supermarket may stock 30,000 lines and have thousands of point-of-sale messages. It can take a lot of cognitive effort from a shopper to get round the store, make choices, and get out. The simpler we can make it, the happier shoppers will be.

Sainsbury’s is doing good things to make shopping simpler. So what are they, and what can be learnt?

First, simpler navigation and messaging. Shoppers navigate using colour and shape, and they avoid reading too many words.

From the car park, through the store, Sainsbury’s is realistic about how much shoppers are likely to take in, and designs its communication accordingly. Its signage and point of sale uses simple images and colour wherever possible, it minimises the number of words, and when words are used, it employs a very large type. Fresh meat is a good example, with simple colour coding and signage to direct the shopper.

Second, simpler pricing and promotion. Prices are typically £1 or £1.50 or £1.70; not fiddly numbers like £1.99 or £1.74. The (commercially brave) move away from multibuys further reduces the cognitive effort required from the shopper.

All promotions are simple price cuts, with the new price in the largest font. The upshot of all this? It is much easier for the shopper to compare price across products, quickly decide if a promotion is good value, and make a purchase decision.

Third, simpler seasonal selling. It’s sounds pretty easy, really. Give shoppers what they are probably looking for anyway, in any given month. So right now, in Sainsbury’s, you can’t miss strawberries and avocados on the produce gondolas (interestingly, products on these ends are not always promoted). There’s a strong, highly visible Summer Living range in the first aisle. Everyone does seasonal, but not everyone does it this loud and clear.

The simpler Sainsbury’s makes the shopping experience, the more likely the shopper will have the energy left to look at something a bit different. A new recipe, perhaps, from the Tasty Quick Ideas gondola in Fresh. A treat from the patisserie. A browse in Argos.

These points of difference are important - and Sainsbury’s is talking a lot with its suppliers about Difference. But the biggest learning I take from them is the focus on simplicity for the shopper.

For many people, grocery shopping is a bit of a chore. Make it simpler for them, and they’ll keep coming back, and they might find themselves buying a bit more, too.

Jeremy Garlick is a partner of Insight Traction

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