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Waitrose aims to be contrary, Price tells 2013 IGD Convention

Published:  23 October, 2013

Doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing and creating magic when customers enter stores are key tactics at Waitrose, according to managing director Mark Price.

Speaking at the 2013 IGD Convention, Price told delegates how Waitrose had to reinvent the brand in recession. The perception that its wealthy customers were unaffected by the downturn was wrong, he said. Twenty two per cent said they were unaffected but the remainder were challenged.

Price revealed how the retailer set about changing - rebuilding volumes by focusing on pricing, ranges and services.

It included the launch of Essential Waitrose, which has grown to a £1 billion brand in just over four years.

Reinvention also spanned opening new stores and entry into the convenience market with the Little Waitrose format and more recently a horticulture range has been added.

"They are range extensions that feel very natural for your customers who do not feel you are straying into territory you have not strayed into before," said Price.

Waitrose also wanted to provide a sense of mystery, he said. "What we want to create is magic that when people come to Waitrose they will get something new." However, newness would be backed up by infrastructure, he added.

Five years ago, Waitrose launched 1,000 products a year, now it launches 5,000 products every year. Price said they were Waitrose-branded products but the retailer was "just as committed to suppliers". Other points of difference include putting welcome desks into stores to offer click-and-collect and flower and gift-wrapping services. Price said Waitrose was putting more services onto these desks designed to "thrill our customers".

He revealed Waitrose was also learning more about foodservice and will open a restaurant in one shop in 2015. "We do the opposite of what everybody else is doing," he claimed.

The retailer's new MyWaitrose loyalty card, for instance, offers customers a free cup of coffee, a free newspaper when they spend £5 and 10% off selected products.

Price acknowledged the power of "random acts of kindness" and showcased how it is incorporating those in its strategy. It gave away free 400g Toblerone bars to MyWaitrose cardholders on Father's Day when they spent £40 or more, for instance; and offers free delivery online when shoppers spend £50.

Philanthropy and being contrary go hand in hand, according to Price. He said Waitrose was giving more to local good causes because "community matters" and it is spending its Christmas marketing budget to help those more in need. The reinvention is working. For every month of the past 53 months Waitrose has outperformed the market and its competitors, said Price.