Ease the customer down the aisle

Source: BDRC Continental

New research looks at how consumers rate nine grocery retailers in terms of ‘effort to shop’ and finds that the easier the experience, the more likely customers will remain loyal.

The more effort a customer has to put into a dealing with a brand, the less likely they are to be a loyal customer, according to new research. Customers reporting ’low effort experiences’ are more likely to go out of their way to keep using a brand.

Research agency BDRC Continental generated a Customer Effort Score for nine retailers by asking 1,000 customers to rate the ‘effort’ of an experience on a five point scale, where one equals very low effort and five equals very high effort.

The score can be used to monitor a brand’s performance and, along with other measures, identify what makes an experience high effort, so that these issues can be addressed.

The research indicates that brands should focus on making it easy for customers and remove unnecessary obstacles.

The impact of effort is clear and very much in keeping with research conducted within other service environments; customers reporting a ‘very low effort’ experience also express an above average willingness to seek out an alternative branch before defecting to a competitor, if they can’t use their normal store,” explains Caroline Ahmed, commercial director at BDRC Continental.

Iceland and Morrisons perform the best with regards to Customer Effort Score. At least a fifth of consumers at Iceland, (23 per cent) and Morrisons (21 per cent) believe that these stores are very low effort to pick up groceries.

At Iceland, 50 per cent of consumers say it is easy to find their way around the store and 44 per cent that staff are polite and helpful.

The Iceland format is a great example of avoiding unnecessary obstacles and ensuring customers do not have to put undue levels of effort into completing a shop,” says Ahmed.

“People find it easy to navigate the store and importantly it doesn’t take any longer than necessary to shop – more so than any other supermarket in this study.

In customers’ eyes, Iceland staff are also pivotal to making sure the experience is low effort. In 2012, Iceland was voted The Best Big Company to Work For [according to The Sunday Times Best Companies List], and this appears to be translating into how it deals with customers.”

Morrisons performs similarly well, with 44 per cent of consumers reporting that its shelves are always well-stocked and 42 per cent that its stores are clean and tidy.

In effort terms, Morrisons is recognised by customers for presenting well-stocked shelves, avoiding the need to seek out alternatives. With recent announcements of new stock management systems, Morrisons would appear to be in a strong place to continue delivering on this front,” says Ahmed.

The retailer also attracts strong support in the South East, where historically it has a weaker footprint. Sixty-one per cent of customers in the South consider shopping at Morrisons to be a very low or low effort experience; the figure is 52 per cent for the rest of the UK, according to the survey.

Waitrose (left) performed well on emotional dimentions, while Tesco (right) is strong on rational dimentions

Morrisons is reporting a tentative recovery in sales and the brand is investing in its store portfolio, particularly in the South East. This investment appears to be paying dividends, both overall and at a regional level”, says Ahmed.

However, although the research demonstrates that effort affects the extent to which customers feel loyalty to a brand, it is just one aspect of a brand’s overall delivery.

Rational factors, such as offering the best value and opening hours that suit consumers’ needs, as well as emotional factors, such as feeling like a brand cares about its customers and having the best quality groceries possible, are also extremely important.

The research shows that at 39 per cent, effort is the largest and therefore most important individual ingredient in supermarket shopping experiences.

However, the rational and emotional categories still account for 61 per cent between them, which indicates that, although important, effort should not be the only consideration for brands looking to get ahead.

Waitrose and M&S divide shoppers. Although at least half of those in the survey think these retailers are ‘low effort’, both are also considered ‘high effort’ by around a quarter of shoppers.

Although 58 per cent of consumers say that M&S stores are clean and tidy, better rated than any other supermarket, only 17 per cent say it does not ‘take any longer than necessary to get what I need’ and only 24 per cent that ‘it is easy to find my way around the store’. These ratings are lower than any other supermarket in the study.

M&S has emerged as one of the highest effort supermarkets,” explains Ahmed. ”The main obstacle is simply the length of time it takes to complete a shop, and this isn’t helped by problems with navigation around the store and checkout queues.”

These issues detract from what could otherwise be a great experience, considering that M&S is perceived to offer the cleanest and tidiest overall store environment, staff are considered to be among the most helpful, and the shelves well stocked.”

However, M&S is strong in both rational and emotional dimensions, with 48 per cent saying food is always fresh and well within use-by dates and 46 per cent saying ‘I feel like I am buying the best quality groceries/goods possible.’

Similarly, Waitrose performs well on emotional dimensions, as well as effort. Forty-eight per cent of consumers in the poll agree that staff are polite and helpful and 44 per cent say ‘staff look like they want to do a good job.’

In line with brand positioning, Waitrose excels on the emotional dimensions, as well as customer effort; the bigger brands reap the rewards of scale, with top performances on rational factors such as opening hours and the range of basic groceries on offer,” says Ahmed.

Aldi, Lidl, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda are all strong on rational dimensions. For example, 52 per cent of consumers agree that Aldi offers the best prices and 45 percent think it offers good deals and discounts.

Clearly, retailers must think carefully about the effort it takes consumers to shop in their stores, but must also ensure that any changes to improve this are not made at the expense of emotional and rational dimensions.


In August 2013, BDRC Continental surveyed 1,000 UK adult consumers responsible for household grocery shopping to find out which supermarkets they have visited and bought goods from in the past three months. For each supermarket, they were asked to rate their perceptions of ‘effort’ “from the moment that they arrive at the store, to the moment that they leave”. The supermarkets rated are Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Iceland, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl, Waitrose and M&S Simply Food. 

Feedback for each brand includes Customer Effort Score and rating (percentage in strong agreement) with a series of performance dimensions. Each brand has been rated by recent users, but the survey was not restricted to regular users to avoid only speaking to customers who were de-sensitised to particular aspects of a brand. The rating is based upon a typical experience once in a store, not the journey or distance to the nearest store, which is something that the supermarket would have little control over.

Marketer’s Views


Nick Canning
Executive director, customers and people

I can’t say that I’m surprised [that Iceland does well] as we do put a lot of effort into this area. We talk about lighting up the high street as far as our stores are concerned and that is a combination of clutter-free shops and customer service. There’s a big difference when you’ve got four aisles in a shop [as we do], compared to 100 aisles. We recognise that as a predominantly high street retailer, with smaller shops and therefore limited ranges, we’re always going to have slightly different key performance indicators than the major supermarkets. Clearly, there are any number of criteria upon which supermarkets must compete. Range is one of them, as are price and value, but it can’t just be that otherwise everyone would just shop in the cheapest place and that’s clearly not what happens. For us, making sure it’s easy to shop at our stores, that when our customers do come in they get fantastic service and that they can get in and out as quickly as possible is a key part of our proposition.


James Foord
Vice-president of business development

The grocery market is a complicated place. Most of the big stores are incredibly noisy, laden with promotional messages, with big product pallets stacked in the foyer. To a customer that noise can be quite stressful. The growth of online shopping is a reflection of the fact that people are looking for a less complicated shopping experience. What’s not surprising is the growth of the discounters. It’s not just because Aldi and Lidl products are perceived to be cheaper, but they’re also simpler places to shop because there’s less choice. Groceries are a necessary purchase. You have to eat and drink. The perception is that prices are rising and it’s a hassle. More and more shoppers just want to get the shopping done in the quickest and easiest way possible. If you’re shopping for a higher ticket item, like an iPhone, the emotional side comes into it more. Grocery shopping habits are cyclical. Years ago, it was the bigger the store, the better. Now, people are avoiding those huge stores because they don’t want to be tempted.



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