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Sobeys adds customer insight tool for vendors


Sobeys has launched a customer insight program so suppliers can analyze data from the retailer’s loyalty programs.

Using an analytics tool called Self Serve, and working with the loyalty firm Aimia, Sobeys says it and suppliers will be able to use customer data to make smarter decisions about in-store assortment and promotions.

Sobeys unveiled the program to 270 suppliers on Monday during a national vendor meeting.

In a statement, Peter Gleason, Aimia’s president of intelligence shopper solutions, said customer data has already been applied by retailers in the UK, Australia and Switzerland, resulting in what he called “more meaningful offers and a better shopping experience for customers.”

Gleason did not say which retailers Aimia has helped in those countries, though it works with the British supermarket chain Sainsbury.

Aimia owns the Aeroplan loyalty program in Canada as well as Nectar, a loyalty scheme in the UK. Sobeys began working with Aimia last June, when the company was still known as Groupe Aeroplan.

Speaking about the initiative yesterday, at the CIBC Retail and Consumer Conference in Toronto, Sobeys president Bill McEwan, said he wants as many suppliers as possible using the Self Serve tool. He emphasized Sobeys does not intend to make a profit from suppliers on it.

“As long as we cover our costs we have no intention of selling data as a commodity for profit… We want the broadest possible adoption of it by our vendors in co-operation with our category managers so we can earn our profit the old-fashioned way, by selling more of the right products at the right time,” he said.

Discussing Sobeys upcoming strategies, McEwan said the grocer plans to stick with the food-focused strategy it adopted 11 years ago. “We have been very, very clear about what we are and what we are not. We are a food retailer… I know for others that has come back into fashion.”

He explained that over the past several years the company has worked to bring more stores up to standard, reorganized operations into two units (one in Quebec and the other for the rest of Canada), and upgraded its distribution network.

McEwan predicted that over the next five years Sobeys will grow at the same rate or faster than during the last five years and that innovation and productivity gains will drive growth.

He also touched on the possibility of acquisitions, stating that: “Rather than wait for some magical solution and a big acquisition that absolutely fits our food-focused strategy, what are those elements of consideration that can fit with out strategy, what are those things that are slightly different that don’t compete with our strategy but can enhance the execution of our food-focused strategy offering?”

Two examples of that may be Sobeys deal to supply Target Canada stores with food next year and its purchase in December of 250 Shell gas stations in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

“Make no mistake about it, the Shell acquisition is exactly consistent with our food-focused, multi-format strategy,” he said, pointing out that the cross-promotional potential with gas stations and convenience stores is “fascinating.”

“In fact, as new entrants come into the province of Quebec, as competition increases, we will look back on the Shell acquisition and the cross-promotional volume building and customer retention capacity associated with that as being a very significant competitive offset,” he said.

In a question-and-answer session later in the conference, McEwan, who recently announced his retirement, was asked to share some insights from his career.

After noting that working at Sobeys has been “fun” he added: “What I have learned is that I have a keen disregard for those who have a higher regard for other markets outside Canada than they should, and that Canada distinguishes itself as a pretty solid retail industry, and I’m not just talking about food.

Later he added that: "The other thing I’m intolerant of is when people in other businesses talk about how unattractive retail is. I just respect their right to be wrong about that.”

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