Fresh produce, ease of finding products, fast-moving lines, and friendly staff – These are the qualities that make a top ranking supermarket, according to a recently released survey by Which?, a United Kingdom-based consumer reports organization. Topping the charts was Waitrose & Partners, which ranked highly in all categories except value for money. Asda, one of the “big four” supermarkets in the UK, performed the worst in the survey.
Asda, understandably, rejected its lowly status, pointing out that 70% of the Which? Panel surveyed hadn’t visited an Asda in the last six months. “We don’t believe their findings are a true reflection of the experience of our 18 million weekly shoppers,” said an Asda spokesperson.
Did Asda have a point? Prompted by this discrepancy, the team at BasilLabs decided to look more in depth at supermarket preferences to see if our findings would provide more nuanced insights. What we wanted to know is: Why did Waitrose perform so well, and what do consumers really think about Asda?
Our analysis was powered by BasilCX, our in-house engine that aggregates and transforms millions of online, geolocated reviews and social media posts into concise analytics through AI. We focused on a selection of London supermarkets:
We visualized the locations of each supermarket with different colored dots – purple for Waitrose, green for Asda, blue for Lidl, orange for Marks & Spencer, red for Sainsbury’s.
Across all locations, we found that “Staff and Service” was the most frequently mentioned topic by consumers, with nearly twice the number of mentions as “selection,” the second-most mentioned topic.
The major question our team had was whether Asda and Waitrose were truly so different in consumer experience. In our work, we have consistently found that consumers often find value in different aspects of their shopping experiences. For example, as someone who values the convenience of nearby public transportation or easily-accessible parking above all else, I find myself shopping wherever is most accessible. Differences in price or whether produce is organic aren’t high on my list of priorities.
Which?’s survey focused on the following categories:
Our methodology is different from conventional survey practices. We don’t ask participants to rank supermarkets according to categories. Rather, we collect what shoppers are already saying about each store and let them tell us what they value. When isolating Asda and Waitrose, we found that customers focus on the staff, price, selection, parking, and freshness, albeit with different sentiment levels and number of mentions.
For example, as the chart comparison of the two brands shows, parking was mentioned 6.7% out of all topics mentioned for Waitrose and 10.74% for Asda. Price was mentioned 8.78% among Waitrose reviews and 16.19% for Asda; however, Waitrose averaged a -0.1 sentiment score on a scale of -1 to 1 for price while Asda averaged +0.6.
Generally, our findings matched Which?’s report for certain variables but not nearly to the extremes that a 1 to 5 star scale generates. Similar to Which?’s report, we found that consumers had more positive experiences with the freshness of produce at Waitrose locations, but it was Waitrose’s offerings (e.g. deli counter, upstairs dining, pharmacy, bakery) and the staff and service (e.g. friendliness, helpfulness, professionalism, availability) that truly captured positive feedback from consumers.
Interestingly, freshness of produce, while a staple of the Waitrose brand, was not a major differentiator in consumer feedback of the two supermarket chains, suggesting that Asda consumers are more interested in other aspects of their shopping experience, such as convenience and price-friendliness and, regardless of any true quality differences in freshness between the brands, were satisfied with the freshness of produce levels at Asda locations.
This finding demonstrates one of the key differences between Which?’s and our study. As the Asda spokesperson stated, only 30% of survey respondents had visited Asda in the last six months but all respondents were asked their opinion on Asda on a multiple choice scale.
As one individual wrote in the comments section of the Retail Gazette’s article covering this story: “I am not surprised Waitrose comes out on top. Shoppers there are much more likely to be Which? members.”
Our analysis mitigates these methodological issues and evaluates customers who actually shop at Asda or Waitrose locations and leverages AI to evaluate their open-ended text responses. This means that while our analysis may include overlap of customers who went and reviewed both Asda and Waitrose locations, our study focuses on consumer experience from actual customers location by location.
Each of these topics holds different levels of importance to customers, and some are more business-critical than others for different brands. For example, the scatterplot suggests that improvements in “Staff and Service” may improve in-store consumer experience more rapidly in Asda locations than Waitrose locations. Knowing the ROI of these associations store-by-store helps managers, marketers, and real estate teams make confident, informed decisions on their ad campaigns, decide where to place their next retail location, and optimize their in-store offerings.
We’ve just scratched the surface on what’s possible. If you’re interested in taking a closer look at our analysis or want to learn more about how your retail locations match up to your competitors, connect with us below!