I picked up what I hope will turn out to be a welcome and positive news story for the retail sector from Sainsbury's this week, they say they've decided to merge the parent brand with the Argos brand on a single platform in order to;

"Sainsbury’s says making shopping more convenient is a key pillar of the plan, with investment in the areas that the customer most cares about - and is prepared to spend on. By integrating its digital and physical shopping experiences it will, it says, be able to serve customers whenever and however they want. Customers will be able to log in through a single account, finding products and services from across the group".

Obviously the whole sector is being pushed further into innovation, mainly because of the upstarts in what was discount land e.g. Aldi, Lidl, and now the further deterioration of it's older competitors Tesco, Asda (Walmart), Morrisons, and probably more relevant to the Sainsbury customer, the ongoing woes with M&S.  

Whilst I get that this is simply part of a much bigger restructuring and turnaround program which clearly has everyone's support, I find it somewhat odd that key to this turnaround is doing something that should already be part of an integrated platform. 

Sainsbury's acquired Argos, Habitat and Homebase in 2016, and then splashed out buying loyalty card Nectar in February 2018 what on earth did it think was a key priority?

The reality is, after a number of years trying to grow through a variety of acquisitions let's be honest and recognise this is more to do with saving cost and restructuring, whilst trying to use tech headlines as a way of delivering on those cost saving initiatives rather than a real focus on the customer.

A few years ago I delivered a 'digital' project in tandem with Argos who were based in that newly built city of the future 'Milton Keyne's', when it came to testing our initiative to reduce cost, drive engagement, and provide more consumer insights than the company could deal with we hit a major stumbling block.

All testing had to be done externally due to internal firewalls - WTF!

Now i'm not saying I understand everything that's going on behind the scenes but what used to work in retail isn't the norm anymore, sure Sainsbury led the way in video content for recipes, but it's always been a one way conversation - social media isn't about YOU!.

I took a look at the social media presence for Sainsbury, Argos, and Nectar who between them have circa 3m+ followers on Facebook, 'Twitter' have circa 500k, and 'Instagram' has 300k,  from what I can see they're being used like most other retailers which is to advertise and promote themselves, or used as a crisis management tool for service/product issues.

Take a moment to consider the following industry stats;

  • Less than 2% of Employees regularly share or create employer related brand content.
  • Over 33% of Employees are unclear on what to post and how it could benefit their employer.
  • There is a 561% increase in audience for your brand message when shared by employees vs sharing via the corporate channel.
  • 90% of your employee network is new to your brand meaning you are opening up previously untapped audiences.

Social media isn't just about follower numbers, as 'free to use' platforms go they're fantastic for building relationships, but as in the real world you get out what you put in. 

So when we see retailers (and other businesses) using these platforms as a way to deal with crisis management, or transferring the 'advertise, promote, me, me, me, me' thinking then I wonder if anything is really changing?

How about investing in up-skilling your employees to use social media as way of really providing an authentic voice, rather than the corporate message, or an extension of your customer service department, how about using that training to activate at least 10% of the aggregated 200,000 strong workforce to give a non brand police view of the really good reasons to work and shop at each of these companies?

Now that's industry changing, low cost innovation.