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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 10-Jun-09


Wednesday 10-June-09

Hard sales at Sainsbury's

A problem for supermarkets is how to sell more. They have studied precisely how we buy. They have adverts and offers at critical points throughout the store. But many customers are 'sleep shopping', wandering the store, missing all the advertising. Only 7 words are read during the shopping trip and 80% of our shopping is done subconsciously.

I'm watching a fascinating TV programme about UK superstore Sainsbury's and how they are doing a daring experiment by putting 'ordinary' people on the supermarket floor to talk to customers and see if they can generate extra sales. The star of the show is Barbara, a new employee, who convinces her manager to let her try out her idea.

She acts as a 'store host' who wanders floor demonstrating products (she often pushes a trolley with goods in it). She calls it 'taking the store to the customer.' She sometimes also takes a roving microphone to announce offers and interview people about their purchases.

Worryingly, she was given sales targets for a single product (400 packets of hot cross buns). She wandered around saying 'go on, have a little squidge -- feel how fresh that is'. Great sales technique, of course, and once customers have touched the product, they are far more likely to buy. She's very good and has been in direct sales for many years -- and it shows, as she doubles daily sales of the product.

Within 4 months of joining Sainsbury's word reached the top and she was in direct conversation with the CEO, impressing him with her friendly patter, pushing the sale just enough and telling how she backs off easily if the customer isn't interested.

Given the task of taking the idea to the next base, she looks for recruits from within Sainsbury's staff who can replicate her style. The examples we see are a bit robotic and lack the easy style of the direct selling professional.

Sainsbury's also openly voice their concerns, that customers might be put off by the hard sell. It's difficult to tell when people silently don't come back. Research tells that 2 out of 3 just want to be left alone. The corporate maven holds a focus group from the store where Barbara did the initial experiment, and the results are mixed, with some saying they just want to be left alone.

The bottom line for Barbara's idea is a two week trial across three store that measures both sales and customer perception. What it looks like is that the recruits are either are a bit too heavy handed or back off too much. Even Barbara begins to crack under the pressure of daily sales targets and the pressure of the experimental spotlight.

After much debate, Sainsbury's decide to take the next step and try it in 20 stores. They're very cautious about getting it right and do recognise that they need the right people, trained right and with a significant focus on helping customers rather than blindly pushing products. I thought they'd bottle out, but good for them: they're trying to make it work!

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