Of all the analysis, opinion and comment that has emerged from Tesco’s recent announcement of record breaking £6.4bn losses, one snippet has stuck in my mind. Tesco offers a bewildering array of 28 varieties of tomato ketchup, while in Aldi there is just one choice, in one size. It may be too simplistic to blame all Tesco’s woes on red sauce, and certainly a loss of relevance and identity, over ambitious expansion, confused pricing policy and weak management have equally contributed to the supermarket’s decline. But I cannot help but think that close to the heart of Tesco’s woes is this choice overload, which has led to a confused and frustrated consumer.
For time-constrained shoppers, bombarded with information on a daily basis, both off and online, a glut of information is leading to ‘choice exhaustion,’ clutter and indecision. This ‘information overload’ is one of the trends discussed in our Global Retail project, Redefining Retail Places, which looks at the 10 Trends reshaping the Retail landscape around the world. Consumers and potential consumers are now bombarded with, but are also seeking out (as we are by our very nature, inquisitive beings) a huge amount of information, data and knowledge from retailers and friends alike. We are facing an ever-increasing multidimensional exchange of information. And this exponential growth in available information is fundamentally changing consumer behaviour around the world.
While consumers are getting better at managing and processing the huge amounts of data out there (partly through the use of photo-sharing websites such as Pinterest), there is also a trend towards ‘curated consumption’ which has been latched onto by some retailers, displaying pared-down merchandise as a way to attract consumers with a ‘showroom’ experience.
I, for one, now crave a limited selection when making a purchasing decision, whether it be tomato ketchup or a pair of jeans, and increasingly expect the retailer to do most of the curating for me, in terms of only showing me good quality products at a reasonable price. Retailers that are proving particularly adept at ‘curated consumption’ include &Other Stories, the latest brand from H&M, which mimics the styling of fashion blogs to create a website and store concept that engages with how the modern consumer is inspired. The chain has taken note of the way in which the consumer uses blogs and social media as fashion inspiration, and incorporated these aspects both in store and online to create a highly curated user experience that aligns with the lifestyle of its target customers.
Tesco operates in a different sector which (despite the success of limited lines retailers such as Aldi and Lidl), by its very nature needs to provide a certain amount of choice to its customers, who desire the convenience of a one-stop shopping experience. But it gives me hope for the future of the UK’s largest retailer that it has announced plans to pull up to a third of the products off its shelves. A streamlined product line, with fewer, well-chosen items on display could well pay dividends, and kickstart a recovery operation that is far from beyond a retailer with a store in every postcode, and the history, brand, service and scale to fight back.