Supermarkets - What's more important than price?

Supermarkets who continue to invest in campaigns related to lower prices are failing to recognise shoppers are smarter now. And that other things are important to them anyway, perhaps even more important that prices; shock horror!

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So said Albert Einstein

For many years now, leading supermarket chains have invested serious advertising spend to convince us shoppers that each of them is cheaper than the rest.

In the early years (1882 – 1945) there was a sign outside Sainsburys, Drury Lane store that said ‘Quality perfect, prices lower’. Much more recently, (1959 to 1991), the same chain told us that ‘Good food costs less at Sainsburys’. In 2002, their line was’ Making life taste better for less’ and currently, they are telling us to ‘Live well for less’.

The recurring theme? Prices lower and costs less.


In 1992, the Asda strapline was ‘Pocket the difference’. They’ve also shouted ’Permanently low prices – Forever’, 'Always low prices’, ‘More for you for less’ and ‘Why pay more'. Today, the Asda strapline is ‘Save money, live better'.


And Morrisons has tempted us with ‘Eat fresh, pay less’. And today they have ‘Price crunch’.

The recurring themes? Low, less and save.


What about the mighty Tesco. They’ve had ‘Checkout 82’ featuring you’ve guessed it, lower prices. Then in 2011, ‘The big price drop’. But now they are thinking differently. Michelle McEttrick, Tesco's group brand director, says: "We are being very disciplined not to spend money to tell people things they already know. If there is an offer on a leg of lamb, we are not going to talk about that if our competitors are also going to talk about that a few pages later [in a newspaper]".

Tesco aims to differentiate itself from competitors by moving away from advertising price deals on certain products, instead trying to build a brand personality. McEttrick says: "Tesco’s thousands of stores are where people get to experience our service, products, the brand every day. That is so much bigger than a TV ad".

Well done Tesco. You are at last trying something different. An alternative to shouting price, price, price.

Here’s the thing: For many years shoppers instinctively knew where things were cheaper, but the fact is that price wasn’t and still isn’t everything: Otherwise the supermarketing landscape would look very different.

Things have changed

But what has changed nowadays is that whichever supermarket you thought was cheaper has been challenged by the discounters, who themselves have taken the title of ‘Actually, we are cheaper’. So if shoppers used to believe the major supermarkets were offering lower prices, more for less, etc. Now they realise that somebody else is cheaper still, and that their prices are even lower.

The point is that the supermarkets who continue to invest in campaigns related to lower prices are failing to recognise shoppers are smarter now. And that other things are important to them anyway, perhaps even more important that prices; shock horror!

The challenge is that shoppers can’t often tell you what’s really important to them. They don’t explicitly say things like ‘We want to shop with like-minded humans’ or ‘I’ve trained my brain to shop in this store chain. The others all seem a bit strange and unfamiliar’. So they 'create' responses such as 'I want lower prices' and 'I'd like a bigger range'.

There are some market researchers who go out and speak to shoppers and consumers who are compete strangers to them. And here's the sad part, these researchers blindly believe everything they are told and then report this back to their clients. In summary, you end up with major retailing decisions being made on the combined rationalised 'guesses' of complete strangers. Now that really is insanity.

About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

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Phillip Adcock
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

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