2012: The year in retail

2012 was the year multichannel really went mainstream and stopped being ‘nice to have’. Rather than retailers with comprehensive multichannel platforms being trailblazers, those without are now starting to look like laggards.


Digital has been the most vibrant space in retail this year and the emergence of augmented reality, interactive apps such as Shazam, mobile commerce and geo-location tools have helped retailers bring the shopping experience to life. Mobile and tablet devices have driven the blurring of lines between in-store and online, with click and collect is being hailed as the future for retail.

High-street stalwart Argos is just one example of a retailer overhauling its strategy to move away from its roots and become a digitally focused business, but it’s not just high street retailers looking to build a more convenient and effective operation across all channels. Previously online only retailers such as Amazon and eBay are looking for ways they can reach beyond the digital world with delivery options, pop-ups and integrated mobile technology.

Price Promotions

Price promotions are always a big part of the marketing mix for those in retail but this year was particularly interesting. The number of products on promotion is creeping ever upwards as the major supermarkets attempt to win share. But at the same time, CEO’s of major players in the space, including Tesco’s Philip Clarke and Morrisons’ Dalton Philips, have slammed the very practices their marketing teams were ramping up.


With most of the major supermarkets promising to match each other’s prices and indiscriminate money-off vouchers now ubiquitous across the market, retailers will need to find new ways to cut through next year. Morrisons in particular has made it clear it will develop innovative mechanics that offer shoppers value without hurting the bottom line.


Loyalty’s role in retail marketing has become even more pivotal to brands’ strategies than in previous years. New programmes have sprung up as brands look to build their relationship with customers.


Boots and Nectar both celebrated milestones this year, turning 10 and 15 respectively, showing that done right, a loyalty scheme can move with the times and stay in tune with how consumer behaviour changes. Others, however, like Barclaycard’s original Freedom scheme have fallen by the wayside proving that it’s not enough just to have a loyalty scheme – it has to mean something to consumers.



Tesco dominated the headlines for most of this year, but probably not for the reasons it hoped – giving a lesson if ever there was one against complacency in market leaders. A shock profit warning in January – the supermarket’s first in 20 years – kickstarted an overhaul of every aspect of the business including its brand communications and marketing in an effort to return Tesco to its former glory. All eyes will be on Tesco’s end of year results to see if the turnaround strategy is having an impact a year down the line.


Cultural events such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics created a feeling of pride in ‘Britishness’ across the nation that provided some respite from the doom and gloom and an opportunity for brands to be part of that positive feeling. Much like the Royal Wedding of the previous year, tapping into ‘brand Britain’ also provided retailers an opportunity to cash in on the excitement and boost sales.

Sainsbury's Jubilee

Retailers such as John Lewis made moves to emphasise their British heritage with the roll out of a ‘Made in Britain’ logo and a raft of British-inspired food and homewares ranges also popped up. Union Flags adorned everything from biscuit tins and cushions as retailers looked to benefit from the Brit-fever gripping the nation.

An extra £213m was spent at supermarkets over the Jubilee weekend meaning the celebrations brought in more for retailers than the Royal Wedding.

It wasn’t all smiles though. During the Olympics Games itself, London retailers found trading was sluggish as shoppers stayed at home to watch the sports action on TV and East London took traffic from the typically busy West End stores.


Not unexpectedly, John Lewis has once again captured the heart of the nation with its snowman love story but somewhat unexpectedly Asda found itself in hot water with the ASA and is facing an investigation after a raft of complaints about its apparently “sexist” portrayal of Christmas.

John Lewis 2012 Christmas ad

Morrisons took a more avant garde approach to its portrayal of the day with a wrestling turkey. Tesco’s much anticipated Christmas activity was not the sea change many were expecting from the supermarket but it has certainly warmed up its commutations compared to recent years and laid the foundation for something with more of a bite in 2013.

There are still 19 shopping days until Christmas, and only after the last stores close on Christmas Eve, will retailers will be able to do their sums and see which approach won out.

See all our 2012 round-ups here



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