Customer loyalty long gone in the Facebook age: Countdown

RACHEL CLAYTON
Last updated 05:00 08/10/2017
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Countdown marketing manager Bridget Lamont says customers aren't loyal because convenience always comes first.

ROBERT STEVEN/STUFF
Countdown's ban on single-use plastic bags by the end of 2018 is a move in response to changing customer behaviour.

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There is little to no supermarket loyalty in the New Zealand shopper's psyche, and stores have to compete on more than price, according to one of the major supermarket chains.

Countdown's marketing manager Bridget Lamont said New Zealand had one of the highest rates of cross shopping in the world.

"Over 80 per cent of people would say they've shopped at more than one supermarket over the course of a week," Lamont said.

In a bid to create a new story for its brand, Countdown has hired Y&R NZ as its creative strategist.

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Ten to 15 years ago, the customer had abundant attention and supermarkets easily pushed their brand on people through limited channels, Lamont said.

But social media had given the customer power.

"Today, it's an environment of unlimited distribution with brands really having much less control over communication than they used to and very, very scarce [customer] attention spans.

"It really is a world where brands like us need to think quite differently about the way we communicate."

Countdown's announcement to ban single-use plastic bags by the end of next year may be a testament to the power of customer feedback.

The chain's general manager of corporate affairs, James Walker, said two years of customer research, changing behaviour, and social media feedback, led to the ban.

"We recognised that customers want to trust us," he said.

"We are focusing on doing the right thing and taking action on what customers care about."

Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said Facebook meant customers knew they could get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it, from wherever they wanted.

"It makes the supply chain incredibly complex," she said.

Lamont said there were drawbacks from being on social media but it meant supermarkets could listen to customers about what they wanted.

"Price is one very dominant decision criteria for people. They will chose where they shop firstly based on location and secondly around price."

But she said price wasn't everything.

"The whole concept of purpose is really important and we know that consumers increasingly want clarity on what a brand's purpose is.

"Who are you and what do you bring to me and my life is important in consumers' mind."

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Grocery products and supermarkets were the fifth and sixth most complained about industries, respectively, according to this year's Commerce Commission's Consumer Issues report.

In the year to June, the consumer watchdog received 98 complaints about Foodstuffs brand supermarkets, which include Pak 'n Save and New World, and 66 complaints about Progressive Enterprises stores, Countdown, SuperValue and Fresh Choice.

The report said price was the most complained about topic and Lamont agreed it was something supermarkets couldn't get away from.

But requests for a broader range of health and speciality foods were also sky-rocketing.

"More options for people who have certain dietary intolerances is growing enormously and we often hear calls for, can I have a better range of gluten-free or dairy-free, and we're actively growing that category."

Lamont said there were people who had to eat differently for dietary intolerances, but there was also a general trend towards alternative foods.

"There's the cohort of people who chose to make changes to their diet, like using almond milk, not cow's milk.

"And maybe we wouldn't have known about that if we didn't have Facebook."

- Stuff

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