Uncomfortable market positioning

The Waitrose store in Peterborough, Cambridges...
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Price wars

Writing the other day about supermarkets and what one in particular can teach us about comfort reminded me that our up-market supermarket in the UK, Waitrose, is now competing on price, or at any rate telling us that they are no more expensive than Tesco on a range of products. I think this is a big mistake though understandable in a time of austerity and a depressed economy.

Perceived quality

As many would know, Waitrose is the supermarket offshoot of the John Lewis Partnership, which is a chain of stores renowned for the quality of its goods and the quality of its services. I know a few people who swear by John Lewis and wouldn’t do their birthday or Christmas shopping anywhere else, or indeed buy their TV or dishwasher or pashmina scarf from any other shop.

Waitrose has always carried this ethos through to the supermarket environment. The Waitrose image is of quality and while customers always understood that they might pay more, that cachet of comfort has always ensured loyalty of customers who like to feel different. I hope the chain management doesn’t lose sight of this in their desire to compete with the big players in food retail. After all, a lot of people buy into image when they are shopping, otherwise Gucci wouldn’t be such a successful brand, and IPhones and Macs would be less popular given that there are cheaper quality smart phones and computers on the market which deliver the same services. Of course the loyal Apple following might see this as controversial, but I am complimenting Apple on their image, market positioning and closed exclusivity of software and apps management.

Know our minds

I believe we in business all need to know where our place is in the market, and indeed to work at our positioning. If we are providing a service we need to make sure it is distinct from and better than everyone else’s and in my view the last thing we want to do is be cheap.  We just need to be different and high quality as Waitrose has always been, and if they have any sense, will continue to be.

What do you think?

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Why quality is important – lessons from BMW and Waitrose

I had a strange dream last night. I had been asked to work at a trade exhibition selling BMW cars. Quite why I am not sure as I am no salesman, but I was asked how I would approach this task, to which I responded that all cars have a wheel more or less at each corner and for the most part were a simple mode of transport. So I said I would concentrate on the enjoyment and wonderful experience of driving a BMW, and of course their reliability, making them better cars and better performers than the rest. That of course is the BMW approach to marketing, and whilst I do not have one of their cars, clearly my subconscious as been imbued with their philosophy.

Some people I know, both clients and family, have been let down recently by people they trusted, and in all cases this has been because they were engaging amateurs and people not up to the task. I have mentioned previously that it is no good employing anyone to provide services to your business who is not a full time professional in their area. Part-timers and co-opted amateurs will not be up to the job and indeed it is not fair to ask them to do it in the first place, because it will all end in tears; ours and those who have failed us, and there will be bad blood.

What I have been thinking about is that we need to engage trusted and recommended people to support our businesses, and we need to be the best in our field at what we do. We need to be different from the rest, to have something special as far as our prospects are concerned so that they want to be our clients. We need to be the Waitrose experience, top quality products and services for which we can charge a decent amount and have our clients or customers and clients come back to us again and again. Jim Connolly would explain it better actually, so why not ask him?

In this difficult market it has been hard to avoid grabbing at every piece of business even where the reward is not great. I have done my best in the last couple of years because it is no good working hard without proper profit. I already provide a quality service. I am going to try even harder to live up to the philosophy of providing perceived quality in the coming years. What about you? What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2009

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