Trashing the brand: what on earth does Sainsbury’s think it’s doing?

Companies spend decades building a brand. Over the years big UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s hasn’t done a bad job.

It lost its number one spot to Tesco but hung in there and has, more or less, fended off the challenge from Aldi and Lidl. Therein, maybe, hangs a tail.

Go to a Sainsbury’s store in London now and there’s, basically, no-one there. Checkout are closed or removed, shoppers have to load all their items themselves, however many they have. In one medium-sized store today there were three staff on front of house duty, one manning a closed checkout (allegedly) and two dealing with increasingly irate customers trying to self-scan and pack (You need a member of staff there if you’re buying paracetamols, let alone cannabis-flavoured tequila.) The person on the checkout was on a toilet break, demoralised staff said, and these were strictly rationed. No wonder he or she was gone for a while.

The manager? There wasn’t one. He or she was either hiding or they’ve been made redundant too.

And half the shelves were empty…

Sainsbury’s is putting its money into price cuts to try to match, on some products, the aforementioned Aldi and Lidl. It’s betting the ranch on its Nectar loyalty scheme, aping Tesco’s Clubcard.

But it’s still making money, lots of it (£327m, down from £854 admittedly in 2021 but these store changes must be costing a fortune.)

CEO Brian Roberts’ pay has moved up from a modest £4.9m to £5.2m (as profits fell, nice work if you can get it.)

And the good old Sainsbury’s brand? Now transferred from Wieden+Kennedy to New Commercial Arts? If it survives this current round of digital transformation it’ll be a wonder if it lasts until 2030. Has CMO Mark Given twigged this yet and mentioned it to Roberts?

But who’s to blame? Lots of big British companies are trashing their brands (we’ll look at more or them in due course) as so-called digital transformation takes its toll (usually it’s just an expensive way of trying to cut in-house costs.)

We note that the Sainsbury’s board boasts the services of one Jo Bertram, in her day job MD of Virgin Media O2. Jo is there, according to the website, “to explore new ways to use digital solutions to make shopping easier and convenient.” So that’s why the customers are so happy! Virgin Media, you’ll recall, is a byword for blue chip customer service.

PS Clubcard and Nectar are a con anyway, Which? has found. Oh dear.

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