The grocers have faced numerous obstacles in recent years. There have been public sourcing scandals, health-driven backlashes against major product categories, and price wars. Consumers have benefited from deflated prices and the distinction between discounters and high-end is less defined than it has ever been.
So in the battleground of the supermarkets and, importantly, in the hunt for increased market share, surely it is customer experience that should be the focus to differentiate and retain, if not win, customer loyalty.
It seems those at the top end agree. Last week, KPMG Nunwood released its 2016 UK Customer Experience Excellence report. It found the UK’s overall customer experience has improved for the first time in three years. Specifically though, it revealed that grocery retail continues to lead the way with regards to customer experience in the UK, with M&S Food coming seventh overall, Waitrose 12th and Ocado 13th.
In the scrabble for the top spot and the biggest market share, grocery brands have tried to woo customers in a number of ways. Whether it’s personalised special offers or more convenient home delivery times, brands have continually raised the bar, and along with it their quality of service.
But the grocers are not just competing among themselves. Innovations such as Amazon’s Dash button disrupt the market more broadly, highlighting the need to not only improve customer service, but to keep up with and hopefully overtake those challenging existing models.
Grocers would also do well to consider the central theme of this year’s report - memory - and the importance of not only providing positive customer experiences, but memorable ones that prompt customer loyalty.
The key may be in the statements from management at the brands profiled in the report, who consistently mention that putting their customer at the centre of what they do and - crucially - understanding that customer is driving their success.
Supermarkets are most effective at winning and retaining customers because they use data and insight to establish a greater focus on the individual. Others should take note.
Liz Claydon is KPMG’s UK head of consumer markets