Are UK supermarkets facing an identity crisis?


It’s a Saturday morning like any other and the age-old act of traversing the vast wasteland of supermarket aisles has become that much of a mundane chore, that I think we’ve missed what is becoming a glaringly obvious question – are these giants of retail facing some kind of identity crisis? Have they actually lost sight of who they are, and what they started out as?

At one time the ‘Big 4’, commanded total authority over our shopping habits. However, since the price wars of recent years and down turns in economies customers have woken up to the fact that saving a few pence on a £50.00 shop isn’t really good enough. Enter the challenger – the low cost store! “What does this have to do with identity?”I hear you ask. Well, in a word, everything!

In the last 18 to 24 months low cost alternatives have become so popular that the larger chains are finding it ever harder to be on an equal footing. Every week more and more people are choosing to shop at these low cost retailers even though they realise that they are potentially sacrificing quality… but by how much?

Bosses at one of the discount stores claim that their products are consistent in their quality, and for a 10% quality reduction customers are actually saving 30% during the average shop. They’re doing this by avoiding the stereotypical high-street brands and using their own. Do they in reality taste any different? No, but they cost less, and it’s this factor that has lead the big boys to implement more “was £2.00, now £1.50” tactics and BOGOF offers but they’re still falling behind on profits by a rapidly increasing margin.

This is where your traditional supermarket really is losing its identity. In their attempts to save its customer money, they have all become one and the same, save for a few pence difference. According to Mike Dennis, an analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald Research, the Big 4 are facing a true identity crisis and they need to pick a side. Are they going to go with premium items, or are they going to go the way of the discounters and offer lower prices? If they do neither, they’ll have to do something drastic to compete in this increasingly bland environment.

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