Business development · 13 September 2016

Brand loyalty lessons from Sainsbury’s now infamous meal deal

Sainsbury's
Where will people get their meal deals now?

The recent furore over the controversial Sainsbury’s decision to renovate its meal deal offering has been deafening.

Sainsbury’s insistence that the new sandwiches are “better quality and better value” has done nothing to appease the masses. The supermarket has scrapped sandwich triples and its Taste the Difference range from the deal and, reportedly, the plastic forks from “On the Go” pasta pots, and people aren’t having it.

The subsequent social media melt-down generated the following headlines: The Telegraph’s “Sainsbury’s ‘£3 meal deal’ change prompts fury among customers”; the Metro’s “Sainsbury’s just massively changed their £3 meal deal and people are not pleased”; and the Huffington Post’s “Sainsbury’s Meal Deal Change Is Leaving People Absolutely Furious”.

Something tells me that Sainsbury’s is big enough to absorb the shock of a few office workers going elsewhere for their sandwiches, but I think there might be a lesson for small businesses in this sorry tale.

If you do a quick Google search on brand loyalty, one thing that comes up again and again is ‘consistency’. In other words – you can’t just completely overhaul your product offering overnight and expect love and admiration from the very same customers whose favourite sandwich you’ve just panned.

According to marketing experts, Andrew Pickering and Peter Gartland: “Loyalty is formed out of the habits and rituals our consumers have with our products and services. If we make changes, we break that routine and loyalty is lost. The trust is lost.

“Change is necessary sometimes, but not always appreciated by consumers. To maintain that loyalty we need to be building a brand people love.”

Especially in the digital age, it is a tall order to build trust in a company as, according to a survey by 24/7, around 47 per cent of customers would take their business elsewhere within a day of poor service. In addition, customers are more likely to promote negative experiences over social media than positive ones – and this can have a knock-on effect with other potential customers.

This means that, if you decide to make changes to your product offering, you need to be fairly confident your customers will be on board.

However, it’s also really important to avoid letting your business stagnate – people have shorter attention spans these days, and according to Market Track a staggering 80 per cent of people would be swayed by a compelling offer elsewhere. In addition, in the US 30 per cent of consumers will switch brands just for the novelty of something new, according to a survey by market research experts GfK.

Sometimes, change is necessary to keep your business afloat in challenging times, or to keep your customers interested with a new product offering. But how can you avoid leaving your customer base feeling betrayed?

“In a world of automation, the challenge is to be more real, not more faceless and corporate,” advised Andrew and Pete. Spend time on market research, engage with your clients – ask them about any upcoming changes on social media, conduct surveys, let them feel involved. It’s likely to be something of a balancing act.

And take a lesson from Sainsbury’s – don’t radically overhaul your offering unless you’re confident your brand loyalty can take the hit.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Business Advice. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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