Asda explains its bold attempt to involve customers in decision-making

Asda explains its bold attempt to involve customers in decision-making

LONDON - Empowering the consumer has become the fashionable strategy of 2009. In the past two weeks alone, Vodafone has unveiled its fresh 'Power to you' brand positioning and Yahoo! has launched an ad campaign with the tagline 'It's you'.

Now it seems that Asda, too, is following the trend.

Asda's president and chief executive, Andy Bond, believes that businesses are being forced to adapt to a new era of ‘democratic consumerism' which has emerged from the ‘digital explosion and the trust vacuum'. He says people are ‘more connected than ever before, and they are putting their trust in themselves and each other'.

In response, the retailer has revealed a long-term strategy designed to engage with customers to regain lost trust and, ultimately, inspire greater loyalty.

As part of this strategy, Asda has rolled out three initiatives. First, the company is to build on its existing Pulse of the Nation shopper panel of 18,000 people to ask them for their views on the design of upcoming George clothing ranges and new food and household lines. It has named this open-door policy ‘Chosen By You'.

Bond says Chosen By You is a ‘radical step' for Asda, marking the first time consumers have been involved in the early product-design process. The company plans to seek the panel's views every six weeks as it prepares additional George clothing ranges.

However, he admits that consumer input will have to be balanced with Asda's overall brand promise of every­day low prices.

Nonetheless, Anthony Thompson, managing director of George, believes there are significant in-store marketing opportunities for Chosen By You. He says that Asda could highlight the ranges chosen by its customers with item tags along the same lines as those used for ‘booksellers' choice reading recommendations'.

The second initiative is the ‘Bright Ideas' cash-reward scheme, which Asda is set to introduce next year. This will offer participants up to 5% of any money saved by the retailer if their idea is put into practice.

Asda marketing chief Rick Bendel will develop a campaign for promoting Bright Ideas next year. ‘We absolutely need to market this because we want to engage with as many customers as we can,' says Bond.

The third prong of the supermarket's strategy involves giving consumers unprecedented access to its business and employees. Asda's key buyers and head-office staff are posting regular updates on an ‘Aisle Spy' blog, and it has set up web­cams streaming live images of a dairy supplier, a carrot-processing plant and the Asda House head office.

According to Bond, Asda has ‘nothing to hide', but he insists that this digital transparency does not mean ‘handing over our crown jewels to our competitors'. However, the initiative does raise the question of just how far the retailer is prepared to open up.

For instance, the big supermarkets have been under pressure in recent years to improve the welfare standards for animal products used in their basic food ranges. Bond says Asda would ‘have to consider what customers want', but suggested they were more likely to demand transparency on his personal expenses than a webcam in the slaught­erhouse or boardroom. ‘If people want to see my expenses, bring it on,' he adds.

The Asda chief also acknowledges that the internet has given members of the public the power to make or break his company. ‘As a business operating in this environment, you can't cheat, you can't spin, you can't hide,' he says. ‘With­in seconds, customers can compare notes, demolish price structures, destroy marketing strategies and tell the world to shop elsewhere.'

He also accepts that ‘there is a risk' attached to Asda's strategy. ‘For sure, some of the things we will get wrong as well as right,' he says. ‘If something does come out that is not good, we will deal with it. I am pushing this personally, not just as a business. I believe in the values of our company.'

Asda's concessions to cons­umer empower­ment are certainly brave. However, if they help the retailer to shore up customer loyalty, its compet­itors could soon be following suit.


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