How it all began
Grocery Insight was founded in 2011, but actually began in 2009 with a blog entitled ‘UK Retailers’.
The blog started slowly, charting the rise of Tesco ‘top stocking’ shelves, before moving on to more exciting matters such as the ‘store of the future’ project at Morrison
’s and developments around new Sainsbury’s and Tesco stores from 2013 onwards.
As interest grew, many people used to ask, ‘What do you do?’ after reading our detailed reports, which are still available here (link). We developed our offer to a retail advisory and consultancy-based one, focusing on visiting stores, taking pictures and feeding back on what we see to help our clients.
What makes us different
From the start, our key differentiator, especially in a market where online dominates and everyone is busy looking at robotics and self-driving cars, has always been that physical stores are fundamentally important (and not just because Amazon bought Whole Foods…).
We’ve always held this belief.
Our background in retail – starting in stores and working at the ‘coalface’ on checkouts, filling yoghurts, potatoes, and bread, being in store at 5 am, delivering results without enough hours, and continually evolving on the job – means the ‘reality of retail’ is something we know all too well.
Visiting as many stores as possible remains key (alongside taking pictures!). The only way to truly gauge how retailers are performing is by seeing what the customer sees: judging standards, considering what customers are buying, observing stock levels and presentation, analysing how ranges are displayed, reviewing what the own-label products look like, and, ultimately, comparing them to other retailers, just as a customer would do.
It isn’t just about visiting the shiny new stores, proudly open by wide-eyed executives to demonstrate their progress to everyone. These stores don’t stay new for long; within weeks they become just another place customers do their shopping.
It’s the core stores, small and large, the older ones, the ones where Aldi has opened and taken trade away. It’s every store that bears their owner’s branding; they’re all equally important and they all matter.
The real gift, of course, is going to a store on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday in April and finding something that highlights a change in course from a retailer. This could be anything from a new layout to prioritising their own-label products on the shelf. Equally, poorer store standards and challenges in certain categories are likely replicated elsewhere in the chain. What we do is make all of this mean something, utilising our experience and expertise to find the anomaly and demonstrate how it represents something bigger. That’s insight.
The great Sam Walton was a huge advocate of store visits. He would go to all manner of stores (competitors and his own) with his yellow legal pad and tape recorder (no camera phones then, of course!), writing notes, asking questions and speaking to customers, aiming to have at least one good, transferable idea from every store he visited.
This basic principle around the importance of store visits and obtaining ‘one good idea’ is the same as the principle we operate on. Sir Ken Morrison (a fellow Yorkshireman) was a similarly keen advocate of store visits, urging executives from all retailers to:
Whilst we are not in the league of these retail greats, it has remained the case that the basics of retail still centre on the stores.
An honest, helpful viewpoint
When I started thinking about developing an insight-focused offering, I recall looking around at various providers and feeling that the insight on offer was, at best, superficial. Offering only a fundamental level of perspective, new store visits highlighted things that are present every single day in many stores, and, in fact, are not ‘new’ at all. There was barely any constructive thought or criticism, and almost 100% positive feedback.
Focusing on positives alone just cannot be right. There’s always something to improve in retail; the job is never finished. Give praise where it is deserving, of course, but not just for turning up and doing one’s job, even in a shiny, newly-opened store.
Where can things be improved? What about the scalability of a new store format? Not being contrary for contrary’s sake, but agitating and pushing people to be better and to raise standards.
Where we are now
Since those early beginnings, our business has evolved significantly and is now one that works on a worldwide basis. Our clients hail from retail, supply chain, investors, and marketing agencies, alongside other companies who interface with retail in the back room, so to speak, in areas such as technology, or display equipment design.
Clients engage with us because our opinion is trusted, our expertise is demonstrable, and we’re able to help our clients with the challenges they face in a practical, real-life way.
We have visited thousands of stores worldwide and have the images (and air miles!) to prove it. We provide solutions to challenges with our examples of best practice, and we’re different because we don’t necessarily just ask colleagues their opinion as a traditional consulting firm would. We highlight the issues ourselves. We go out, patrol the aisles, and highlight the problems before they arrive at the executive office. If it’s found in one store, it’s one store too many (…it’s always more than one store).
We don’t just work with retailers, or indeed proudly showcase our images with no endpoint. Our expertise and knowledge are continually harnessed by a fast-moving sector and put to good use by a wide range of companies in both retail and supporting sectors.