The recession forced a change in promotional tactics but as the economy starts to recovery, retailers are reverting to their old ways. James Ball reports
Supermarkets have generally been consistent with their promotional activity over the past year: they've piled deals high, put more own label in featured space and cut back on the controversial bogof.
But this month's retail Promo Dynamic shows clear signs that the tactical convergence seen so far in the recession is ending and that retailers are returning to their own promotional agendas. This is most obvious at Waitrose, which in contrast to the big four cut back its promotional activity month-on-month by a solid 8.6%.
Earlier this year, CEO Mark Price said that Waitrose would look to recover margin losses from the Essential range elsewhere in the business and this appears to be what it is now doing. In stark contrast with other retailers' tactics, the retailer has also shifted its promotions to lower-value items than last month, probably in response to the greater scrutiny placed on the Essential range in the wake of Marks & Spencer's new price-comparison campaign.
Tesco, meanwhile, has shifted the ratio of branded and own-label offers back towards own label. It is now the only retailer with a greater share of own-label promotions than a year ago.
In contrast, the share of own-label offers in Morrisons has fallen by more than 40% since last year. Branded promotions are often attractive to the retailer as they are funded primarily by suppliers and Morrisons is able to charge for the featured shelf space and it seems set for an extra promotional push after media speculation about further supplier contributions for deals.
Retailers also seem to disagree on the number of offers they want on shelves. Featured space deals at Asda and Tesco have hovered at the 1,500 mark for several weeks and the retailers are pushing everyday price credentials on other items. Sainsbury's and Morrisons remain the most deal-focused with about 400 more offers each.
Supermarket promotional tactics over the past year have been astonishingly similar as recession led to price war. As the recovery stutters into life, that situation is just now starting to change.