They're in, then they're out, and now they're being shaken all about. So what is the future of the bogof? Ed Bedington asks those in the know Not so long ago the days of the buy-one, get one free offer seemed to be numbered as the multiples pushed ahead with EDLP. Chains such as Asda and Tesco trumpeted their constantly low prices and it seemed promotions were out of favour. But bogofs now seem an even bigger part of the multiples' offer. Walk into any big chain and you'll be virtually assaulted by signs and posters directing you to free offers. Paul Murphy, director with Taylor Nelson Sofres Superpanel, says one of the reasons behind the change is that supermarkets are using a combination of the two. "There was a big change in August 1999 with the launch of EDLP. After that, everyone thought that promotions would be no more.What we're seeing now is EDLP with promotions." Sainsbury is championing bogofs at the moment, currently offering about 40 lines, a move which Murphy says gives it the chance to compete with the other multiples' deals. "Sainsbury is caught in the middle, and offering a range of bogofs is their response to offers like Safeway's Hero Deals," he adds. The chain says it is using the promotion as a way to change customer habits, attract new shoppers, reward existing ones and tempt people to try new products. "Bogofs give customers a sense of a bargain, something for nothing, and it's a lot more physical than a money off promotion," says a spokesman. Iceland is also going in hard with scores more bogofs and chief executive Bill Grimsey recently admitted that the chain needed to woo back shoppers after it temporarily scaled back the strategy last year. The company currently has about 60 bogofs across both own label and branded products and marketing director Sara Jamison says they are keen on them mainly because the concept is simplistic and customers respond well. "When we spoke to customers they told us that bogofs were important to them. Provided we get the mix right, they work very successfully." Jamison adds: "Other supermarkets have made the conscious strategic decision to go down the EDLP route but are starting to bring back deals to bring excitement into the store." Murphy of TNS agrees and highlights Tesco as an example of a company that combines both effectively. He says Tesco significantly moved away from promotions in 1999, but has slowly re-introduced various offers until it now has almost the same number of deals it originally had. Tesco's head of price and promotion, Janet Smith, says it considers price position to be most important, but that promotions can still play a part. The company currently has between 30 and 60 bogofs on offer but Smith points out that good strong offers are only half the battle. "Although promotions like bogofs are a great mechanic, customers will quickly notice if you don't have the right price. If you can have both, then that's the nirvana everyone is looking for." Bogofs are a major part of Somerfield's strategy and the company offers a range of deals, not only on strong branded goods, but also on staple items like poultry and meat. A spokesman says: "Customer research has shown them to be one of the main motivations which bring people in." Safeway and Asda on the other hand both claim not to offer many, if any, bogofs. Safeway has Hero Deals each week, along with 50 other key price promotions, promoted via their leaflets. And a spokeswoman says bogofs may be popular but that there are better deals around. "Bogofs are a popular method to drive sales but are not necessarily profitable, we prefer to focus on product and price. We have our own distinctive pricing, we do what we want to do, but we don't think bogof is the way forward." Asda, on the other hand, prefers the consistency of EDLP, and dismisses bogofs, insisting its policy has increased market share and reassures customers without the "yo-yo of ever changing promotions". But confusion surrounds Asda's current policies. The Grocer's weekly Promotrack survey shows Asda's still doing plenty of bogofs. And Murphy of TNS says: "Since launching their roll back strategy, Asda haven't talked about price that much. They've not gone hell for leather to talk to the consumer. It's difficult to see what sort of policy they currently have, although you sense they may soon come back with something." But will the bogof continue into the 21st century? Not according to Alison White, sales director of retail strategy company, Logobrand. She is less than optimistic about the promotion's future: "It doesn't increase purchasing, particularly in areas like toiletries." She points out it can cause sales to suffer in the short term, with people bulk buying, and not coming back for more."It is an effective tool to get people through the door and to capture the public's attention." She adds: "Sainsbury for example is using it as a mechanic to compete with the other supermarkets, but we will have to wait and see how it works. "Overall, I think bogofs have seen their best days." {{COVER FEATURE }}