Post-war, post-rationing 1950s Britain was an era of possibility and growth and the perfect climate for a new retail concept – the supermarket.

An American import, it was a new shopping experience offering groundbreaking self-service, increased size, improved convenience, extended range and better value. It was all-round super and held legitimate ownership of its superlative.

Fast forward 50 years and the term super speaks to an overpowering sameness of commoditisation, of formula, of predictability. If we accept the dictionary definition of super as “superior, of the highest power or degree, first-rate, excellent, the crème de la crème…” the term, as applied to this category, is grossly misleading.

Pedantic? Maybe. But in what way has that place where you do your grocery shopping delivered a superior, first-rate experience week after week? Truth is, the “super” market has been clinging onto a superlative it has failed to uphold for far too long.
But surely it’s the brand that matters, not the superlative? Yes, but here’s the rub: only as long as its relevance and differentiation is strong and delivered spectacularly across the shopping experience. In today’s homogenised grocery category, supermarket owners would do well to return to the original meaning of super.

In the UK, Morrisons is an encouraging example. Having for years provided on-site food preparation, it sought to make a virtue of it and own this difference outright. Selling through its Market Street concept, it has put the heart and soul back into food. That is how it is earning its superlative and, incidentally, the accolade of Britain’s fastest growing supermarket.

Further afield, South Africa’s Pick n Pay is little known in the UK. The success of its 15.1 million sq ft trading space and 350 million transactions a year is founded on a single premise: being inspired by its customers.

Pick n Pay’s mission is to get under the skin of customers; to dig for insights and constantly readjust the shopping experience. That requires deep understanding of all customer segments – there is no single customer experience, but customer experiences. Goodbye homogenisation, farewell predictability.

Little wonder that Pick n Pay’s shopping experience(s) have earned it a permanent place in the heart of the South African community, with levels of bonding and trust we could only dream of.

So there is hope amid the homogenisation. The supers can earn back their superlative, but it requires commitment. A commitment to customer understanding; to an ownably different experience; to constantly improving that experience and, above all, to an outright rejection of formula and predictability.

Now don’t get me started on “hyper” markets…

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