Oliver Wyman Report:
Customer perception of Retailers in Poland
Stand Out or Fade Away
Polish grocers need to be clearer about the advantages they offer consumers
Poland’s grocery market has grown into one of Europe’s largest after years of rapid growth. But now it’s maturing, and retailers can no longer hope to boost revenues simply by setting up shop in an underserved neighborhood. Instead, they need to figure out how to differentiate themselves from the competition through attractive prices and promotions (“value” dimension), as well as the “offer” they provide in the form of quality, range, and service.
To decide where to focus their efforts, retailers first need to understand their market positions as perceived by consumers. To help, Oliver Wyman has produced its first Customer Perception Map (CPM) for the Polish grocery market. Based on a comprehensive survey, this places all the country’s significant grocers on a chart to show how they are perceived in terms of offer and value. (See Exhibit 1.)
Exhibit 1. Customer Perception Map (Explanation & application on Polish grocery market)
The map contains a couple of clear warnings for certain types of Polish food retailers. Supermarkets mostly have not yet set out significant differences that might attract customers away from discount stores. And convenience stores are seen as overpriced, leaving them vulnerable when better-value stores open nearby and cancel out their key advantage of proximity.
Such weaknesses could be fatal if not remedied. In retail, as in many other sectors worldwide, businesses that fail to generate a strong customer perception find themselves unable to differentiate themselves from their competitors – a dangerous, unsustainable position. On the other hand, businesses that achieve strong perceptions in both value and offer typically prosper and grow rapidly. So, Polish grocers’ individual success or failure at differentiation will have a big influence on their fate in the coming wave of consolidation we expect. The Polish grocery market is highly fragmented, and over coming years weaker stores are likely to be swallowed up by stronger ones. The further “northeast” on the CPM a grocer is, the more likely it is to be an acquirer rather than one of the acquired.
Different formats, different strengths
In mature Western markets, retailers typically display clear distinctions, both intra- and inter-format. Hypermarkets have a strong offer and medium perception of value, but often require a lengthy drive to reach and impose long waits at cash registers. Supermarkets might be weaker in both price and offer, but are often easier to get to and attract shoppers with enhanced customer service. Hard discounters are very strong on value and medium on offer. Convenience stores, in contrast, are pricey and have a weak offer, but compensate with proximity.
Polish grocers, which have enjoyed overall market growth for a couple of decades now, have mostly not yet felt the need for differentiation. While discounters and hypermarkets are perceived clearly, retailers in other formats show much-less-pronounced distinctions. Convenience stores are traditionally important for Polish consumers, and they have advantageous locations. But they are perceived as having a mediocre offer and poor value, putting them at a disadvantage if discounters or other competitors open stores in convenient locations.
Supermarkets, despite having been present in Poland for several decades, have not yet established an offer proposition that differentiates them in customers’ minds either from convenience stores or hard discounters. One exception is Piotr I Pawel, whose wide range of high-quality own-brand products has given it a superior perception for its offer. But in general, supermarkets have just average scores for both value and offer.
Modernization brings new pressures
These weaknesses in customer perception are damaging at a time when profit margins are already coming under pressure. Partly that’s a result of the maturing market, but it’s also due to the success of hard discounters, which has prompted other stores to sell a larger share of their products at promotional prices. In addition, a new tax law has a potential to further squeeze margins of bigger players due to differentiated tax rates it introduces based on revenue size.
Moreover, the market is converging to the structure found in Western Europe, which is more dominated by big chains and features fewer kiosks and corner shops. Poland has plenty of operational optimization potential across all important plays (assortment, pricing, store operations, inventory management, freshness, …): those retailers that succeed in delivering sustainable operational improvements stand to benefit from a lasting competitive advantage and attract extra funding from local and foreign investors.
So, supermarkets and convenience stores need to act to boost customer perceptions if they want to survive the coming battle for market share. Possible tactics include clear price architectures that make customers feel they are paying a fair price for a given quality of product – our regular store visits highlight a persisting lack of clarity in many Polish grocery stores. Own label can help if it is competitive and complements the universal brands available, but also provides for healthy economics for the business. Promotions should be carefully designed so that they boost spending on products at regular prices and do not sacrifice margins. Escaping a promotion trap, when yellow signs are all over the shelves, is an essential survival question for many Polish retailers these days.
At the same time retailers need to constantly ask themselves whether they are giving customers what they want. The CPM survey – of a representative sample of more than 4,000 consumers – also asked consumers the most important criteria for a store. It found that Poles’ biggest priorities are the usual – non-discounted – prices of products; the range and availability of products; and products’ taste, hygiene, and freshness. (See Exhibit 2.)
Exhibit 2. The most statistically important criteria for Polish customers (nationwide)
||Quality & Service
||The usual prices of products when they are not on promotion
||The range of non-alcoholic drinks and mixers
||The taste, look and freshness of fresh F&V, meat, seafood, and deli items
||The price of branded products
||The range of specialty or premium
||The range of service counters
||The price of food cupboard products
||The range of food cupboard products
||How clean the store is
||The price of premium products
||The overall availability of products
||The quality of the staff
||The price of basic items I buy all the time
||The range of alcoholic drinks
||The level of service at the counters for deli, meat and bakery
Customer perception will not be the only influences on financial performance. Changes in stores’ design and location can strongly impact sales and profitability, as can the impact of competitors’ moves. In the long run, however, a successful retail business in Poland will be defined by how it satisfies its customers aspirations better than – or at least as well as – the competition. As factors such as geographical proximity fade in significance, grocers will need to invest in their stores in ways that make them stand out.
Exhibit 3. Which is your nearest supermarket? (Top 20)