Sainsbury’s’ takeover of Home Retail Group: changing the face of convenience retail?

Posted on by Gareth Evans

Last week it was confirmed that J Sainsbury PLC’s takeover agreement with Home Retail Group PLC had been approved by the UK Financial Conduct Authority.

Is this a case of two businesses facing market share erosion from major competitors (principally Aldi, Lidl, Amazon respectively) combining forces to stem the tide? Or are there other factors at play? What can the retail sector at large learn from the steps being taken by these giants to evolve?


The term ‘grocer’ is fast becoming irrelevant in reference to the major supermarkets. The incremental increase in sales of non-food goods across the sector – and the online sale thereof – are trends with which Sainsbury’s has arguably struggled to keep pace.

Let’s take their TU brand as an example. Originally a clothing-only label, it was then diversified to include homewares and other non-food ranges. Latterly this was reversed, with TU being refocused as a clothing-only line again, driven by celebrity endorsements (Gok Wan) and marketing that drew more cues from the world of fashion than grocery, or indeed multi-category retail. In 2015, TU’s online store was launched – the last of the original ‘big 4’ to make it’s clothing available online.

The huge range of non-grocery products offered by Argos – and consequent buying power across a vast array of categories – will instantly enable Sainsbury’s to broaden its offering. They will quickly leap ahead of the immediate competition in terms of range, and therefore, convenience, whilst meeting the established expectation of younger (and future) shoppers to be able to buy everything in one place.

From a bricks and mortar perspective, this will mean huge opportunities to make their vast physical retail footprint – increasingly an expensive luxury – work much harder. By placing Argos Click & Collect locations inside increasingly unpopular large out of-town uber-stores, the business can both put excess space to more efficient use, and drive footfall by significantly broadening consumers’ ‘reasons to visit’.

From an online perspective, Argos’s delivery infrastructure will enable significant improvements to  Sainsbury’s’ service offering. Though the plan will be to close some of the 750 Argos stores, those that remain open represent an opportunity to leverage Argos’ pioneering ‘stores as catalogued warehouses’ model to meet the distribution demands – and delivery expectations – of customers now used to the Amazon way of life. Faster delivery + better product availability + choice of returns channels = happier customers. Will we see a genuine competitor to Amazon’s ‘Prime Now’ same day grocery delivery service?

And while we’re talking digital – perhaps Argos’ well documented adventures and experiments with in-store technology might mean that finally the convenience retail environment is updated to reflect the needs and behaviours of its customers – with Sainsbury’s leading the way.

Another driver could be the ongoing race to meet the ‘death of the middle’ head on. With Lidl & Aldi (at one end of the value spectrum), and Waitrose (at the other) all performing well, the ‘big 4’ have been left somewhere in the middle to fight it out. Of those, Sainsbury’s is the only one still showing growth but with Morrisons’ tie up with Amazon putting 4% on share value, it seems  now is the time to take bold, positive action in steering this UK institution to a firmer footing. Also YouGov’s Profiles tool shows that Argos customers are most likely to shop at Tesco – could this be the biggest attempt yet at stealing Tesco’s market share? And how will Tesco fight back? The Tesco Direct ‘standard’ delivery offering of 2-5 days is likely to come under consumer scrutiny with much quicker delivery from competitors shifting perceptions of ‘acceptable’.

This move seems to answer the growing number of threats coming from all angles in a rapidly evolving convenience retail market. Of course, it comes at a huge financial cost to Sainsbury’s. Only time will tell if is a stretch too far, or a perfectly timed commercial rejuvenation that sees Sainsbury’s take on all comers and win. With the outcome on consumer confidence following the Brexit vote still not clear, the timing seems risky. However, given that most of the changes above will take as long as Article 50 to activate, it’s too early to tell. One thing is for certain though – the takeover agreement will have put the whole sector on high alert for both defensive and offensive opportunities to diminish the threats that this new convenience superpower could pose.

Orange or not, the future looks bright for consumers as competition for their attention, approval and hard earned cash continues to be driven, in part, by time-poverty’s inevitable bi-product – the need for convenience.

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Why brands should treat their Twitter accounts like flagship stores

Posted on by Amelia Ebdon

It’s 11pm and I’m in another passive aggressive Twitter conversation with an online retailer whose delivery times have let me down. As the TV plays on in the background, I frantically refresh my notifications, waiting to be awarded the social media victory that five days of delayed couriers so rightly deserves. Last week it was a rail network, next week it may be my bank. Such is life in 2016.

Twitter customer service | Cogent Elliott

With more and more brands trading in traditional customer service call centres and email exchanges for the public behemoth that is social media, Twitter has become the go-to platform for consumers to openly unleash their frustrations. Although this may feel innovative, modern and ‘down with the kids’, are all these brands actually equipped to handle it?  It’s one thing for a brand to have a Twitter presence because they feel they should, to cover all social media bases and be there to respond for the fear of missing out; and another for a brand to be equipped to succeed at Twitter customer service.

Having worked on the Twitter customer service team for a well-known high street food outlet as a graduate, you would think I would have a bit more sympathy for the people on the other side of the screen, and it’s not that I don’t have sympathy (honest), but I just don’t like feeling as though my complaint is being brushed under the carpet.

Granted, ignoring a tweet is easier than ignoring an exasperated ‘real life’ customer, but the principles are the same. You wouldn’t open a flagship store on Oxford Street if you didn’t have the resources, stock and processes to assist every customer who walked through your doors – so why have so many brands rushed into opening Twitter accounts? And why are so many still using it as a broadcasting platform rather than somewhere to meaningfully engage with their customers?

Brands typically rank their social media performance on response times and number of replies, but it doesn’t have to be about speed and volume. What happened to the customer is always right? Where is the sentiment tracking? Customer service on Twitter should be as considered and helpful as if you were visiting that bricks and mortar store. I want to walk through Twitter’s hashtag laden doors, be greeted with a smile emoji and asked ‘is there anything I can help you with today?’

Of course there are brands that do it well. Marketing Week positions the financial services sector as the best performer for Twitter customer service, whereas grocery and clothing retailers fall short – sectors where you would expect brands to have confidence in their tone of a voice and engaging content well suited for social.  They are brands that have met 1000s of ‘physical’ customers every day since the dawn of shopping.

It seems simple. Any company that has an active Twitter account must have the team behind it. The team to maintain the brand tone of voice, the team to create the engaging content, the team to do the right reporting and the team to respond to every message as if that little profile picture has miraculously materialised in front of them.

A clear and thorough Twitter management strategy, with robust protocols in place, paired with interesting content that customers actually want to interact with, could be the ‘easy’ win that takes a brand from receiving angry Game of Thrones gifs to pictures of happy cats. And who wouldn’t want that?

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Using hard data to tell the right story

Posted on by Amelia Ebdon

It’s no secret that content marketing can fall victim to statistical assumption. There is too often a mismatch between the content that a brand’s marketing team thinks that their customers wish to consume versus what the brand’s data shows they are actually consuming. This can lead to content strategy being built on presumed theories and gut instincts rather than observed outcomes and objective data analysis.

Blended Content | Cogent Elliott

Granted, sometimes gut-feel may be accurate, but it will also sometimes be inaccurate and, most often, it will be somewhere in the middle – the content that is produced ‘works’, but it could arguably work much harder. Experience and insight clearly demonstrate that data analysis significantly improves the quality, ranking and share value of a brand’s content, allowing links to be picked up ‘naturally’ and improve overall organic listings over time

In a recent research project, Buzzsumo analysed over 1 million pieces of content and found that over 50% of articles get 8 shares or less. This suggests that the majority of content being produced isn’t travelling any further than its initial broadcast. Consumers aren’t engaged enough to share the content with their own communities or to create their own conversations around it. So, why is it being published in the first place?

Perhaps content marketers are meeting the internal demands and culture of a senior team focused on numbers, competitors or shareholders rather than the need of the consumer. Is content being produced to meet internal targets, to use a particular technique or technology or to meet a KPI of visibility or volume? Are marketers creating content that someone in the business wants, but consumers don’t necessarily? Maybe content teams are falling into the trap of treating themselves as the audience instead of paying attention to what their actual audience respond to.

The question then arises, how have we got to this point? As marketers we are used to handling and interpreting data on a daily basis so why is content strategy any different? We have to dismiss the perception that working out what the data is ‘saying’ will be too complex or time-consuming – and that acting on the results may be intimidating or laborious. We have to place current and prospective consumers front and centre in any process that determines what content should be. ‘Interesting’, ‘engaging’ and ‘compelling’ should not be subjective measurements; they should be validated and measured against hard data.

We have to face the fact that the story our audience wants to hear may not necessarily be the one that we were first intending to tell.

Learn more about how to use data to inform your content marketing strategy here.

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Chris Evans’ Top Gear ride stalls through a lack of authenticity

Posted on by Gareth Evans

Among the spate of high profile resignations grabbing the headlines this week, perhaps the least surprising is the departure of Chris Evans from Top Gear.

Despite his early rallying cries and protests to the contrary, the viewing figures were a robust enough KPI to suggest the show’s new presenting team hasn’t been cutting the mustard among viewers – and even the most amateur social media sentiment tracking showed that, unfortunately, Chris Evans was a major part of that.

Cogent Elliott | Automotive Communications

The self-proclaimed ‘Human alarm clock for the UK’ has inarguably had a lot of high profile success on radio & TV both first time around (The Big Breakfast, TFI Friday, Virgin Radio) and more recently (Radio 2, The One Show).

So what went wrong?

In my view it’s to do with authenticity. Clarkson, May and Hammond weren’t always liked for their presenting styles, which range from bawdy bullishness to happy-go-luckless joviality. Clarkson in particular polarises audiences, with many people avoiding Top Gear specifically because of him. One thing couldn’t be denied though – their pedigree. All three cut their teeth as automotive journalists in one guise or another, and brought knowledge, experience and opinions that could be trusted and shared by petrolheads and casual viewers alike. Top Gear is a car show first, entertaining ride second – and the careers of the presenters reflected that.

Outwardly it seems Chris Evans’ claim to automotive fame is liking expensive cars, and having enough money to buy lots of them. Whilst this has lent itself to some worthy endeavours – CarFest, most notably – it’s not something that Clarkson, May and Hammond’s 5.8 million viewers could identify with. Beyond his love of cars, Evans just didn’t have the authenticity that his predecessors’ motoring journalism history brought to the show. Enthusiasm, a ‘mad-cap’ style and a history of rebellion were not sufficient parallels with the previous presenters to keep the viewers engaged.

This should serve as an important reminder to brands, especially automotive brands. As this article in Dealer Marketing Magazine suggests, brand authenticity is a ‘non-negotiable’ for the coming generation of car buyers. It is absolutely critical to connect in a meaningful way with drivers in order to earn their interest, engagement and loyalty – something Mr Evans (no relation) has, unfortunately, failed to do.

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Brands: what kind of Glastonbury headline set is your next campaign?

Posted on by Gareth Evans

Cogent Elliott creative communications agency | Glastonbury Marketing

The first images of the waterlogged Glastonbury site were hitting our newsfeeds, before a single note had been played. This weekend 150,000 thousand people will show the kind of passion, commitment and uninhibited enjoyment that brands can only dream of. It’s all about the music, and no amount of rain, mud or gangrene will stop the Glastonbury faithful from immersing themselves in the moment.

As I jealously scrolled through this year’s line-up, two questions struck me. 1) where are all the thumb-stoppers? And 2) Are this year’s headliners a direct response to the strong reactions whipped up by Kanye in 2015?

Before I explore either of these, let me caveat my thoughts:

1) I’ve no doubt negotiations for the headline spots start more than 12 months in advance, which probably answers Q2 – but bear with me!
2) The majority of tickets are sold before the headliners are announced, so any effect will be on sales of tickets for next year’s Glastonbury.
3) If ticket sales are affected, it’s unlikely to affect the number of tickets sold – but may affect the profile of people who see Glastonbury as ‘for me’.
4) Any claims I had to understanding – or liking – the music currently considered ‘edgy’ or ‘cool’ (showing my age) have lost all credibility. Though it pains me to admit it, my finger left that particular pulse long ago.

If the headliners are one of the criteria against which a Glastonbury is judged and chosen, let us draw comparison briefly with brand marketing campaigns.

In 2015, Kanye West delivered a performance dripping in ego and pomp, making bold claims and covering Bohemian Rhapsody unabashed. A rapper/R&B star (whatever he is) was a bold and unusual choice of headliner, but arguably in tune with the zeitgeist of the day (if not always in tune with his sample-heavy backing). It divided opinion and drew discussion and debate from all corners – from po-faced music journalists to social media lurkers – everyone came out of the woodwork with a view on THAT performance. How many brands would dream of generating that level of discussion around their brand?

Cast your mind back to Protein World’s ‘Beach Body Ready’ campaign last year. Personally I don’t endorse the message, but the £1 million in direct sales and 400% ROI is hard to ignore.

By comparison, let’s consider the Pyramid stage headliners this year. The edgiest is probably Muse. Personally I’m a fan, but I know virtuoso space-glam-prog rock isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Equally dripping in pomp, but far less likely to polarise and motivate the same strength or volume of opinion as Mr West.

Other than that, there’s Adele and Coldplay. Both hugely popular (arguably populist) choices. Perfectly valid choices as headliners of a major festival based on record and tour ticket sales – and as likely to be starred in your Spotify account as to appear in your Dad’s CD collection.

And even the most hardened music tastemakers, obscurity-chasers and know-alls have a Coldplay song they’ll tap their foot to.

Adele seems to match her mega-mass appeal with a grounded authenticity and self-awareness – “I can’t write another breakup record. That would be a real cliché” – alongside that inarguable natural talent that seems to set her apart from some of her contemporaries. This increasingly unusual combination earns nods of approval from all quarters, from serious muso types to ‘radio on in the background’ memorable-tune-appreciators.

Arguably, such appeal is the ultimate aim for brands – consistently likeable and liked by a huge audience, loved by many and appreciated by the rest. This rarely happens over the course of one campaign, of course, which begs the question…

Will your next campaign turn up unexpected with the bravado, behaviour and bold claims that divide opinion and get everyone actively engaged, splitting the audience either side of the proverbial fence; or will it seek to build universal, inoffensive likeability that most find hard to decry?

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Tesla should tell more stories for its new mass audience

Posted on by Gareth Evans


Perhaps the biggest discussion point in the world of automotive over the last couple of weeks has been Elon Musk and the launch of the new Tesla Model 3. Charismatic business leader dressed in black makes relaxed, funny, engaging speech in front of whooping, hollering crowd to launch a new product which will bring hitherto ‘futuristic’ technology to the masses, today. Sound familiar?

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Believe in Blue

Posted on by Hannah Clarke

Belive in Blue PicCollage

Today is the day of the launch for Believe in Blue – a campaign setup in partnership with Police Federation of England and Wales.

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Because Client First simply means Client First

Posted on by Mike Phillipson

Client first

It is only the start of the year and just when we were talking about making things simpler, already a lot of people in the London creative communications community have been getting hot under the collar.

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Travel sector: using a data led content strategy to become a welcome travel companion

Posted on by Gareth Evans

Holiday planning

The decorations are packed away, and the last turkey sandwich has been dutifully polished off. It’s back to work for Mr & Mrs Generalpopulation, only now there’s nothing to look forward to; nothing keeping us going through the long dark evenings as the misery of the inevitable diet takes hold.

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Mailbox – Life Made Beautiful

Posted on by Richard Payne


Birmingham has undergone something of a renaissance over the past few years, transforming itself into a truly cosmopolitan and vibrant city. Yes, you heard me correctly. Birmingham.

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