Waitrose Pick Your Own Offers

Not happy with the sales that your local grocery stores are offering lately? Then how about deciding for yourself what items are on sale each week?

If it sounds like a radical idea that would never fly, then don’t tell the grocery chain that’s just announced it. And if their idea takes off, it might even show up in a store near you.

The British supermarket chain Waitrose has launched what it calls a “worldwide first” – letting customers choose their own sales. The “Pick Your Own Offers” program allows loyalty program members to select ten items from a list of nearly a thousand fresh and packaged products on which they’d like to save 20%, from now through the end of summer. Then, customers will be able to make ten new selections good for the next several months.

And the discounts are on top of the regular promotions and sales that the store will continue to offer.

Just think of the strategy involved in choosing your own discounts. Do you pick the highest-priced items, in order to enjoy the greatest savings? Do you choose your most frequently-purchased products, to ensure your favorites are always 20% off? Do you pick things that are never on sale, so you’re guaranteed a discount? Or the things that are always on sale, to get an even bigger discount?

For deal-seekers and coupon users who are always calculating the best savings scenarios in their heads, the possibilities are enthralling.

“This is a ground-breaking move, giving customers the power to choose the offers they want,” Waitrose Managing Director Mark Price said in a statement. “Customers like straightforward deals they can trust that are relevant to them. ‘Pick Your Own Offers’ goes one step further by putting them in control.”

So far, here in the U.S., the most forward-thinking discount programs have been personalized deals such as those offered by Safeway’s Just for You, which creates customized sale prices for loyal shoppers based on their purchase history. But the store decides that, not you, and you never know what you’re going to get.

Similarly, several stores have offered seasonal lists of “locked-in” sale prices that are guaranteed to stay in place for a period of several months. But shoppers don’t get to decide what’s on those lists, either.

Waitrose is pitching its program as neither mass discounting, nor personalization – it’s “mass customization”.

“When it comes to promotions, the customer doesn’t really have choice,” Price told the Independent newspaper. “Customers get the offers that suppliers or retailers want to offer, so they don’t feel empowered.” But the new program changes that. “Nobody in the world has ever done this and it could be very expensive, but it’s the right thing to do for our customers,” Price said.

Retail analysts and competitors – on both sides of the Atlantic – are sure to be watching to see how the program plays out. The typical system of discounting the same products for the same customers on a cycle of six weeks or so “can be hugely ineffective and inefficient,” Shore Capital retail analyst Clive Black wrote in a note to investors. “The Waitrose program genuinely empowers its shoppers and we will be intrigued to see what traction it gains.”

Suppliers, who are helping to fund the program, will also be watching closely. If it’s successful, Price predicts some manufacturers might boost their discount offers from the baseline 20% to as much as 50%. “I think we could see a huge change in the mindset of how promotions are done… in the UK and quite frankly around the world,” he told the UK trade publication the Grocer.

So the next time you page through your store’s weekly circular and aren’t impressed by what you see, better hope your store is watching what’s happening across the pond. If they are, you just might be creating your very own sales sooner than you think.

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