Sainsbury’s ‘50p challenge’ not such a challenging concept!

Gillian Hamill questions why the news that Sainsbury's would like customers to spend 50 pence more per shopping trip has been perceived as 'desperate'

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1 October 2014 | 0

The sad tale of a misplaced poster over at Sainsbury’s in the UK has not gone down at all well with customers! Intended as a motivational tool for staff, the poster headlined “The Fifty Pence Challenge”, asked staff to “encourage every customer to spend an additional 50p during each shopping trip between now and the end of the year”. It quickly went viral after an eagle-eyed shopper snapped it and posted it online.

Many were intrigued as to how Sainsbury’s intended to achieve this feat. Indeed no doubt there’s many a retailer who would be only too delighted to copy their strategy.

Well, the good news is it’s probably a lot more simple than you might think! Quite simply, talk to the customer. But not just that, talk to them specifically about the goods they’re putting into their basket or trolley that particular day. If this sounds a little contrived, it’s not. It’s actually quite easy to do in a naturalistic manner. ‘Oh, that looks nice. What way would you normally make that?’ etc. Basically, the conversational possibilities are endless, once the person serving you actually takes an interest.

It’s otherwise known as the classic art of the upsell. You might well be thinking what’s the use of that when the customer’s already checking out their goods at the till? Of course, many people at that stage might not take the effort to go back for an additional top-up item or special promotion, but you’d be surprised. Only last night I was purchasing a mini 18.7Cl bottle of wine in a supermarket, when I was asked did I know there was a special offer available if I bought six full-sized bottles? Frankly, it was a bit of a long stretch given my rather meagre original purchase, but nevertheless I admire them for trying! I’d rather that than someone who was completely unenthused about their job and not interested in engaging on any level. It obviously works sometimes and probably even better if there just so happens to be an enticing offer available at the point of sale. For this strategy to be really effective, it would help to have empathetic staff who can read people’s moods and know if they’re unto a winner or not!

Of course, some people feel uneasy about a poster that ‘customers were never meant to see’.  They don’t like the thought that instead of engaging in genuine interaction with them, their checkout assistant might just be seeing euro-signs flash up in front of their eyeballs when they engage in a little light-hearted pitter-patter. However I don’t see any good reason why the two notions can’t be reconciled. There are many staff members in shops all across Ireland who are genuinely pleasant and friendly to their customers. In fact, many get to know their customers well and they become friends. But if they care about their jobs, they’ll also want their store to sell more too.

I think it’s heartening to see a multinational realise that ultimately, you can spend a fortune on marketing campaigns and store design, but at the end of the day, you’re only as good as your people. That said, it would quickly become irritating for customers if a store went into upsell overdrive, but 50p doesn’t sound like an unreasonable target. Some commentators have described the internal communication as ‘desperate’ but surely any retailer who ignores this basic truth about the impact staff exert on their bottom line, would be in the most desperate position of all?

At any rate, not everyone will been irritated by the move. No doubt Tesco HQ will be relieved to see more attention switched to Sainsbury’s today. Not just through the 50p challenge mishap, but by Sainsbury’s market performance announcement, which shows Tesco is far from  alone in being squeezed by the advancing discounters.

What Twitter has to say on the #50p challenge:

FoodTrade ‏@foodtradeHQ 

If Sainsburys customers spent 50p/wk at an independent grocer, #localfood would be £36m bigger by Xmas. #50pchallenge

Jonathan Beer ‏@jonathan_beer 

Hat’s off to Sainsbury’s for the #50pChallenge. As an unexpected glimpse into their internal culture, I think it shows respect and maturity.

Lauren Cain ‏@_LaurenCain_ 

So this is how #sainsburys planned on getting that extra 50p from its customers… #50pChallenge

50pChallenge

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