The world of British supermarkets has undergone major convulsions in recent years, with old certainties changing as a host of young contenders emerge to challenge the established superpowers of Morrisons, Asda and Tesco.
Admittedly, the process may not be quite as exciting as it sounded in the first paragraph, which was composed under the influence of too much Game of Thrones.
But it is true that the supermarket landscape is in flux. One way in which big brands have responded is by placing a renewed emphasis on customer relations and CRM, as they attempt to slough off their reputation as faceless corporations and form strong links with British shoppers.
Waitrose – the upscale grocer that is acting as one of the contenders to the likes of Tesco, winning market share and opening new sites – recently reaffirmed its commitment to accessible, inspiring marketing.
Marketing director Rupert Thomas described the shift in approach as being an attempt to move on from direct selling to ‘inspiring’ customers, shaping how they think about food and their leisure time.
“The role of advertising is shifting. We want to help people make great choices around what they do and who they shop with. It is less about selling and talking to consumers about products or services they should be buying,” he told Marketing Week.
CRM could prove to be crucial in this change. While it is obviously important that retailers bring in good staff to produce the kind of engaging content referred to by Mr Thomas, a well-integrated relationship management system will make it easier to keep track of how people respond to this new approach.
It will also free up marketers from the burden of technical tasks, meaning they can spend more of their time in generating inspiring and innovative campaigns.
What do customers want?
Working out what customers want is one of the great challenges of marketing – but modern technology is providing firms with a glut of data that can produce insights in this area if managed effectively.
By tracking sales information, responses to marketing campaigns, the popularity of certain products and more, supermarkets or smaller retailers can form a clear picture of the people who use their stores.
Naturally, this will then make it easier to plan changes to advertising or sales functions, by ensuring that firms know how to tailor their approach.
Such a large amount of information can be daunting and difficult to manage; after all, having a large amount of information is pointless unless you have the framework in place to draw intelligible statistics from it.
A CRM database can make this a lot easier, by placing all the data in the same place and providing ready-made analytics tools to explore it.
The holy grail for many retail companies, particularly those that are used on a regular basis such as supermarkets, is brand connection – creating a link between customers and their service that means they are the first stop for somebody’s needs.
However, producing this kind of link is difficult given how competitive the market is, with firms such as Aldi attracting a lot of shoppers because of their willingness to undercut the prices of competitors.
In such a situation, the only way a firm like Waitrose can compete is by generating strong brand awareness.
“People see us as a trusted source of information and a place to go for inspiration on everything, from how to cook to what to do with their families. What people buy into with us as a brand is an opportunity to engage with us across a broad spectrum. It’s about trust in the brand,” declared Mr Thomas.
To create this kind of relationship, it is vital that businesses have a clear idea of how they have interacted with customers in the past, which is where CRM can offer a great deal of help.
By tracking all previous conversations had with or campaigns targeted at individual shoppers, CRM can make it far easier for retailers to offer the kind of personalised experience that creates brand engagement.
Finally, CRM can help supermarkets improve their multichannel approach, ensuring that they can offer customers a unified experience across mobile and online.
While the bricks-and-mortar shopping offering is still crucial, more and more consumers now buy their weekly food online, meaning that it is vital they feel like valued customers when purchasing items in non-traditional ways.
As firms struggle to enhance their mobile channel, CRM can make it easier to migrate customer data and manage relationships over the web.