When research becomes a distraction

Research that underplays the importance of price and overplays the value of value, is not helpful, even thought it always generates a headline.

Consumers do indeed want more than just low prices when they shop, but I can confidently bet that research into what consumers say they want and what they actually do will always be at odds. Retailers know this. Doesn’t everyone?

The truth of course can be hard to find because grocers can only influence what happens at the shelf up to a point. They can choose whether to highlight price over other values such as uniqueness, quality, sustainability, seasonal relevance, ingredients and so on, and there is now no shortage of technology that enables those retailers to tell a compelling story at the moment of truth, not least electronic shelf edge labels. The combination of factors they choose then becomes part of an individual retailer’s brand and seeks to differentiate with the competition.

The importance of price however, should not be underestimated and while researchers and retail analysts may want to focus on non-price related factors, retailers themselves know full well that they have to play hard and well on price. And indeed they already do; most are able to optimise price at every SKU and to protect those prices through intelligent markdowns and dynamic pricing for items that, for instance, are near sell-by date but nevertheless are still in demand.

And AI can now make sense of the otherwise bewildering array of data that the lifecycle of a SKU now throws up. The point is, retailers can now make decisions on sourcing, allocation and assortment, prices and promotions, cross-channel picking and replenishment that can be so finely tuned to demand, that we are heading for predictive forecasting that will finally get under the skin of what consumers want.

Whether we can finally find the formula for all the factors that go into a decision at the shelf edge remains to be seen. We are not there yet, meanwhile price remains the key determinant.

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