Tesco shop floor

What do shoppers want? It’s a question retailers and suppliers never tire of asking – and nor should they, as it’s just about the most important question than they can ask.

For the embattled leadership at Tesco, already struggling to find their way out of the mire even before Monday’s accounting mishap was revealed, the findings of a new study may make for interesting reading.

A survey of 16,000 EU consumers by Nielsen, published today, suggests that ‘it was on sale at a good price’ is still the primary reason for someone trying a new grocery product. Sixty-one percent of British consumers said they were motivated by price, versus 59% of EU shoppers.

‘I wanted to try something new’ trailed behind in second place, cited by 45% of British shoppers and 46% of Europeans. And, for those who have championed the rise of EDLP and sneered at gimmicky bits of paper printed off at the till, ‘I had a coupon’ was the next biggest reason given for trying a new product – although Brits proved more susceptible to this technique, with 41% citing it, versus 30% of Europeans.

Recommendations by friends (26% of Brits/32% of Europeans), enticing store displays (26%/17%) and impulse buys (25%/27%) were other top reasons for shoppers opting for something new.

Price was also the primary motivation for consumers switching stores – cited by 71% of British shoppers and 70% of Europeans. Convenience (44%/39%), product quality (39%/49%) and promotions (36%/40%) were the other top reasons for jumping ship, according to Nielsen.

Shopping online, meanwhile, appeared to be broadly positive to those surveyed, with 75% of British consumers agreeing that it was convenient, while 59% believed they could get the best price online (though the 51% of people who thought that ‘shopping online is fun’ probably need to get out more).

For a behemoth like Tesco, shedding share to the discounters, and a player such as Sainsbury’s, which has, until now, managed to walk a fine line between cost and quality, the continuing importance placed on price by shoppers is worrying, if unsurprising.

Just 20% of British consumers surveyed said store cleanliness was a reason for switching stores; 16% cited the staff; and 28% cited range. If the message is that stores can be scruffy, understaffed and lacking in a full selection of products as long as they are cheap, then Tesco’s efforts to turn its out-of-town sites into gleaming ‘destinations’ would appear to have missed the point. And for those who don’t like the experience of shopping in a run-down store, there’s always the internet. Make it cheap, or make it convenient – and be very worried if you’re in between the two.