What we can learn from Sainsbury's

In 2012, the Cabinet’s Office’s Behavioural Insights Team introduced a brilliantly simple framework for thinking about Behaviour Change, to help government departments develop effective social policy.  The framework is a mnemonic – EAST.  If you want someone to do something, make it Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely.  Social here means “harness social pressure or norms”.  Timely means “carefully choose the moment to influence behaviour”.

Like most others, Sainsbury’s are working hard to broadly stand still in the Grocery market, but they are doing things a bit differently to everyone else, with a clear strategy.  So what are they doing, why are they doing it and what can we learn? 

E is for Easy.  Sainsbury’s strategy talks about making shopping convenient and providing a seamless shopping experience.  And in many ways they deliver.  Argos has enabled shoppers to access a huge range during the supermarket shop - making life easier.  There is a strong focus on queue length, especially in convenience stores.  Very clear navigational signage is best in class – not just signage to find categories but also within categories (the new Vitamins treatment for example).

A is for Attractive.  Sainsbury’s talk about “distinctiveness”.  That includes exclusive brands, fully backed with space and point of sale material, on dedicated Discovery plinths and within aisles.  Tiptree Jam Jar Cocktails, Godiva chocolate, Leon Sauces and Off the Eaten Path (salty snacks) are examples.  Then there’s investment to make whole categories special.  The new Personal Care section at Cobham is strikingly aspirational in mood and feel – well lit, with high quality merchandising, helpful information and lots of product testers.  Spirits also has a different, more indulgent feel.  If enough (exclusive) brands and categories are attractive, the store as a whole becomes attractive. 

S is for Social.  Sainsbury’s stated purpose is to help customers live well for less.  There is a marked sense of social purpose.  The long history with Active Kids and Comic Relief.  Environmental commitments - removing plastic bags in Produce and encouraging “bring your own tray” for counters.  But Social is also about encouraging us (the customer) to feel that people like me, tend to shop at Sainsbury’s.  If twenty years ago, Sainsbury’s sometimes erred towards “snobby” in its body language, it now projects an image which is mildly aspirational but inclusive, so that it just “feels right” to a wide group.  

T is for Timely.  This is about understanding what matters when, maximising the Seasonal aisle and tactical marketing, trying to get shoppers to make a marginal decision this week to come to Sainsbury’s and not Tesco or Aldi.  Who has what for Mother’s Day? Who has what promotion this week?  Sainsbury’s (like Tesco) have an advantage - the ability to target time-bound incentives via Nectar.  The vouchers often expire quickly: five pounds off fifty, but only if you come this week.  Anything that drives a sense of urgency, a fear of missing out, helps drive behaviour change. 

UK Grocery is a tough place to be.  Sainsbury’s are fighting hard to get the behaviour change they seek.  EAST is a helpful way to think about their strategy. 

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.