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What we can learn from Morrisons

According to the latest Kantar data, Morrison’s have lost significant market share in the 12 weeks to March, versus two years previously.  So this may seem a strange time to look to them for lessons.  But most commentators agree that Morrison’s have done good things during the David Potts tenure, to compete well in a highly competitive market place.  So what can we learn?

“If you know your history, then you would know where you’re coming from.”  When Ken Morrison took over leadership of his father’s company, it was a small group of market stalls in Bradford.  Many aspects of the heritage and culture of market selling are visible in their stores today. 

First, Morrisons display their product like a market trader.  The “Market Street” concept is central to the shopper experience.  Produce in particular is well lit, abundantly and attractively displayed.  Counters are a high priority and displayed with care and professionalism.  In store bakery is prevalent, driving perception of freshness.

Second, Morrisons sell like a market trader.  Tables (including some chilled) are used throughout the store, to catch shopper attention and secure impulse purchase, often with Fresh Bakery treats.  Gondola ends are boldly stacked and marketed, with large brand images, and bright descriptions of the mechanic.   Given Morrisons’ skill in impulse selling, maybe the HFSS legislation is particularly troubling for them? 

Third, Morrisons manage waste like a market trader.  It was always said that products approaching end of life from meat, deli and produce would be used in Food To Go (sandwiches, salad bar, café etc), to avoid waste in the store.  Morrisons’ vertical integration allows them to also control waste further back into production and farming.  For example, if they have an oversupply of salmon, they can and will quickly turn on a whole salmon promotion. 

Overall, Morrisons is different and has had the confidence to be itself.  Others close counters; they re-double effort on them.  Others move towards EDLP, and away from multi-buy promotions, shaken by Aldi and Lidl.  Morrisons stick closer to what has worked for them.  By being themselves, they can compete on their own terms.  For a start, in an increasingly digital world, the buzz of a well-run Morrisons store is a better “reason to actually visit” than the offer in most competitor stores. 

There is a risk.  The Morrisons model is reliant on culture, ways of working, motivating and enabling people with the personality and skill to be like market traders.  If the company is spooked by difficult sales numbers, it must guard against an over-reaction.  The temptation can be to pull back hard on wastage and labour, in an attempt to retain profit.  But half-full tables, half-empty counters and half-empty Produce departments do not work half as well.  They don’t work at all.  It’s all or nothing with this kind of retailing.  You either do it with passion or belief or you don’t. 

Jeremy Garlick is a Partner of Insight Traction, consulting with FMCG and Retail companies.  He was formerly Head of Insight at Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Premier Foods.

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