John Lewis’s Never Knowingly Undersold price-matching mechanic sure has inspired a lot of imitators in the world of grocery these past few years: Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Ocado - even Budgens.
Or should I say, even JLP-owned Waitrose. While it has been ‘knowingly undersold’ on a regular basis, Waitrose did commit some time ago to matching Tesco’s pre-promotion prices on brands; and Sainsbury’s on own label. This week sees Waitrose take a new tack, however, via Pick Your Own Offers, a new scheme revealed by The Grocer six weeks ago.
It’s clearly realised, with sales plummeting, that it needs to up the ante. And thus Pick Your Own Offers has been born: a scheme in which the shopper chooses, from a list of 1,000 products, 10 that qualify for a 20% discount.
It has already been proclaimed a ‘game changer’ and ‘inspirational’. And MD Mark Price said the scheme was not only ‘groundbreaking’: “There is a question over time whether this changes the market in the UK and around the world.”
Sounds like an exam question to me. So let’s discuss.
”Pick Your Own Offers is groundbreaking, says Mark Price, but isn’t it a bit of a faff, and another move away from what Waitrose is good at?”
Adam Leyland, Editor
It’s certainly intriguing and quite possibly very clever. Rivals will be scratching their heads as they try to figure out a) how it works b) whether it works. But even Price didn’t sound entirely sure: “It could be very, very expensive for us but we think giving power to the customer on 1,000 lines to start with is the right thing to do,” he proselytised.
PYOO is predicated on the consumer’s suspicion, with rival price-matching schemes, that they are somehow being conned. That it’s too good to be true.
And when you look at The Grocer 33 every week - and the value of the various coupons and points delivered - it’s surprising how often a big differential does not translate into any form of coupon. In fact the only retailer that seems to be paying out in recent weeks has been Asda - already comfortably the cheapest of the top five supermarkets - and only because of its pledge to be 10% cheaper as opposed to achieving parity. And still its sales are in the doldrums.
PYOO empowers the consumer to receive a discount on their ‘favourites’ - whether that’s items they regularly shop, or little luxuries they could otherwise not afford - though consumers should not expect a 20% discount on a weekly bottle of Haut Brion any time soon: the priciest item on the list was a not exactly mouthwatering packet of Redoxon for £13.45.
It’s also a bit of a faff. Sure, it’s not as complex as the Morrisons Match & More scheme. But who can be bothered to calculate which items they want to commit to, let alone going to a website to register them? And who even wants a promotion on the same items every week for the next three months?
Even before we examine the question of how Waitrose will fund this, I’m worried Waitrose is digging itself into an ever deeper hole. Sure it’s innovative. But instead of focusing on what it’s good at - or, as Price once brilliantly put it, “on being everything the discounters are not” - the Waitrose message is increasingly about price. Compare and contrast with Marks & Spencer, where its arresting ads dizzyingly convey the excitement and commitment of M&S towards constant innovation. And compare and contrast, too, with Lidl’s new Taste Challenge ads. As with Aldi’s award-winning Like Brands campaign, the focus is on quality. And as a previous Lidl ad memorably mocking the complexity of the Morrisons Match & More card pointed out, participating in the value Lidl is promoting couldn’t be easier.