A version of this story first appeared in Australia’s Retail World.
Richard Reeves, Associate Director – Consumer Research, The Nielsen Company, Australia
Brand promotions are vital weapons in the sales and marketing arsenal, whether they are price discounts, multi-buys or additional quantity. In Australia, it is estimated that up to 30% of all grocery purchases are made on promotion and trends indicate that this could increase among key retailers. This proportion is similar to the U.K., where one-third of groceries are bought on promotion.
Nearby, our New Zealand kin are serious about promotions, with almost half (46%) of all grocery purchases being bought on promotion – reflecting the strong historical value focus of this market.
Just as there are differences between countries when it comes to promotions, there are even greater differences by category – this can range anywhere from 25% of volume being sold on promotion in one category, to a staggering 75% in another!
Clearly, for the manufacturer and retailer, promotions represent significant investment in time and money. So, the question is, how do these promotions affect the Australian shopper and what strategies or tactics can be employed to increase their effectiveness?
The Australian Shopper
Nielsen research has shown that the impact of the global financial crisis caused Australian consumers to re-assess how they spend and shop. We have witnessed a fundamental shift in shopper sentiment from the spendthrift, debt-driven early 2000s to a greater sense of caution and restraint post crisis. We have seen the rise of the “savvy shopper” who is happy to buy private label in one category and premium priced brands in another. We have also seen private label products being launched successfully in more and more categories. It would appear shoppers are becoming more willing to try and stick with these products where they perceive them to be just as good or just plain good enough.
Shoppers are increasingly using coupons and visiting more stores during their shopping trips as they search for the best value. This behavior has been observed in Australia with shoppers increasing their store repertoire. Furthermore, 30 per cent of Australian shoppers claim “they will still look for cheaper grocery brands even though the crisis is over” (Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Survey, June 2010).
Given the shoppers’ search for value, a promotional strategy looks to be an excellent response. However, relatively speaking the Australian shopper is less sensitive to promotions than shoppers in other countries.
We see in this chart that nearly half the shoppers claim promotions rarely change their brand choices, or they only buy promotions when they already like the brand.
It is a minority who claim to regularly buy different brands because of promotions. These results are congruent with the view that shoppers tend to have a limited number of brands that they buy regularly even if their total repertoire is quite broad.
Australian shoppers’ knowledge of the prices they pay is relatively weak with nearly half unsure of what they actually pay.
Nielsen research has found that in some heavily promoted categories such as beer and bread, (among consumers who have some knowledge of price); shoppers believe the promoted price is the normal price – not the shelf-price. So, it appears that the number and frequency of promotions has fundamentally shifted shoppers’ price perceptions.
There is also strong evidence that shoppers are aware that another promotion ‘will be along in a minute’ and are willing to wait. This can be seen across the grocery channel and in other areas such as the petrol market with the “cheap Tuesday” phenomenon, the automotive equivalent of pantry stocking, i.e., filling the tank.
So what options are open to the manufacturer in the face of these almost contradictory behaviors of the shopper, that is, being value-focused, but uncertain of the shelf price? We all know sales increase when brands are promoted, but are these additional sales profitable and is the promotion actually supporting the brand?
Key Considerations for Promotions
- Is the promotion a tactical response to competitor activity? For example, is it a response to a new entrant into the category; or is it to take advantage of above-the-line support? The strength of the brand’s equity and percentage of volume sold on promotion versus its shelf price need to be understood. Relatively speaking, stronger brands tend to sell more at full price than their weaker competitors.
- Does the promotion increase the number of households buying the brand (household penetration) or does it increase the amount spent on the brand per household (Average Weight of Purchase – AWOP)? If it is the latter, the promotion may be rewarding loyal buyers and protecting share, but may undermine a brand’s price premium in the long term.
To understand if the additional sales are coming from new households (increased penetration) or increased AWOP, one needs to use actual purchase data from services such as Nielsen Homescan.
Nielsen has found in a number of categories that there are a proportion of shoppers who only buy on promotion. We have seen this group to be as high as 60% in some categories. While shoppers are loyal to specific brands, when their preferred brand is not on promotion it’s likely a competitive brand they know and may be partial to is. The role of the preferred brand in this situation is to ensure the competitor is only considered and not purchased.
This presents a dilemma for the brand. Above-the-line support may be needed to help reinforce the brand and its unique position, but if funds are diverted from in-store promotional support, it will lose significant share. Innovation within the category may be the only way to break the promotional cycle.
- How does the brand repertoire change when on and off promotion?
- What is the depth of the price cut, and how deep does it need to be to be effective?
- Is it better to have more frequent promotions with smaller price reductions or the opposite?
- Is the promotion reflective of historical practices? For example, if the brand has always had a promotion at Easter. Is this really the best time for the promotion?
- Is the promotion communicating the right message about the brand?
- And finally, will the promotion generate additional profit, as well as generating additional volume?
We know shoppers are looking for value, or at least value among their preferred brands, so communicating the promotion and using the best triggers is vital to maximize its impact. Therefore, are gondola ends and shelf labels enough to drive awareness of the promotion; or is it worth considering additional communication channels?
Given the importance of promotions, it is vital to treat them with the respect they deserve, as their correct use can drive the brand and profitability. Conversely, ill-considered promotions can weaken a brand and undermine a company’s bottom line. So, the question remains: Can you identify what purpose your promotion is serving?