How brands can win the digital shelf with the UK’s 3rd largest grocery retailer
In our latest UK online grocery deep dive we take a look at Asda, the third largest online grocery retailer in the UK and one of the “big four” grocers alongside Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. Asda’s differentiating focus is on value, aiming to beat out its competitors with prices that are known to be lower. Asda’s strategy poses inherent challenges for brands trying to sell on Asda.com:
- Asda has a huge range of value-driven own brand labels that threaten shelf position in both the category and in search
- Asda heavily pushes promotions which means brand visibility is diminished if the product isn’t on special offer or tagged with a “Rollback” price
- Shoppers feeling the cash crunch will turn to Asda for its perceived value and favour brands which provide the most bang for their buck
Read on to learn how to overcome these challenges to win the digital shelf on Asda…
Asda online: key facts and figures
A brief history of Asda:
- 1949: Asda is founded when the Asquith family merged their business with the Associated Dairies company of Yorkshire
- 1997: Asda launched its Grocery Home Shopping with a food-only focus
- 1999: Asda was acquired by Walmart for £6.7 billion
- 2008: Asda added non-food to its online offering
- 2011: Asda launches Click and Collect (they now cite over 15 million orders per year and same day collection accounts for 30% of all orders)
- 2014: Walmart opened a technology centre at Asda’s head office in Leeds focused on monitoring traffic and interactions across its websites with the aim to provide “a more efficient and streamlined service for its online customers worldwide” (Source: Asda)
- 2014: Asda builds a shopping list mobile app to help customers budget more effectively
- 2016: Asda reports that 98% of homes in the UK are served by asda.com and george.com (their own brand clothing label)
Today Asda is the 3rd biggest supermarket by market share - it was second biggest until 2014 when it was usurped by Sainsbury’s.
In terms of website traffic, however, Asda is slightly ahead of Sainsbury’s, garnering about 12% share of online visits.
In March 2022 Asda reported that its online sales were 5% lower in 2021 than in 2020 but remained 75% higher than pre-pandemic sales. Now like all of the big grocery retailers, Asda’s current strategy is to push the omnichannel experience. In May 2022 Asda selected Blue Yonder’s order management to accelerate its omni-channel transformation, allowing Asda to
- Process orders faster
- Provide shoppers with real-time inventory visibility
- Connect with the supply chain to fulfil demand across channels
- Dynamic time slot options for home deliveries and click and collect
Asda’s aggressive pursuit to be UK’s best value online grocery retailer
Asda has a long history of recognition for its low prices. In the 2021 Grocer Gold Awards, Asda won the prize for Lowest Priced Supermarket, the 24th time it's won the accolade (it also won Online Supermarket of the Year for the second time).
Asda’s built up its range of value brands based on the company’s own data about its customers and the UK population in general. For example, Asda’s Pulse of the Nation, an “online research community” of 10,000 shoppers that uses surveys to better understand shopper concerns and purchase patterns. Their most recent survey found that 9 in 10 consumers are concerned about inflationary pressures to their budgets and 87% are worried that grocery prices will increase this year. Asda also commissions a monthly Income Tracker through economic forecasting firm Cebr which found in March 2022 that the nation’s lowest income families had 74% less disposable income in March compared to the same time last year. The report also showed that household spending power was down by £40.38 per week to £205 – a drop of 16.5% year on year and a record low.
Asda has consistently used this data to support the development of its own brand labels. Most recently this was its budget-friendly Just Essentials range of 293 products which will replace its existing Smart Range line. Asda also revealed in April 2022 that it would “drop and lock” the price of over 100 popular family items like fresh food, cupboard staples, soft drinks and frozen products.
The challenge for brands is how to compete in the face of growing competition from Asda’s private labels and other brands that can win on pricing and promotions at the online supermarket where value is everything.
Know your retailer: decoding the Asda Algorithm
Winning on Asda is all about mastering the two fundamental rules for eCommerce sales:
- Increase traffic to your product pages
- Create product pages that convert
Let’s look at how this works for Asda…
Getting Traffic on Asda
In order for people to view your products on Asda, they need to be able to find them.
- Are your products in stock in the first place?
- Can you be found through Asda’s category taxonomy?
- Can you be found on search?
- Are you showing up for all the correct filters?
Availability: Protect Out of Stocks
In order for people to buy your products, they need to be in stock and available to purchase in the first place. Availability is key to not only sales but also visibility and customer loyalty. Asda doesn’t appear to penalise out of stocks in search, and often shows out of stock items in the top spots. Shoppers are prompted to “See alternatives” when a product goes out of stock. So even if your brand is in the top spot, Asda’s call to action is to seek out an alternative, which could be a competing brand or one of Asda’s own brand labels.
When Barilla Spaghetti went out of stock, Asda’s “alternatives” included competing brand Napolina and Asda’s own brand label.
Asda SEO: Winning on Search
If you want to rank at the top in Asda organic search then you have to understand how Asda’s search algorithm works. Retailers don’t tend to disclose the exact details of their search algorithms, but we can infer a few things about Asda from observation.
Retailer search engines explained. Learn more in our UK Grocery eCommerce Overview.
We’ve classified Asda’s search algorithm into the “intermediate” category relative to other retailers like Amazon or Morrisons. Here is what we’ve observed in Asda search:
Asda search at a glance:
- Default sort: Relevance
- Search bar suggestions include: Categories and specific products
- Filter options: Category, Brand, Lifestyle & Dietary
- Keywords and category relevance are major ranking factors
- Asda strongly prioritises products on promotion or products containing a “Rollback” or “Price Lock” badge (emphasising this retailer’s value-centric proposition)
- Asda sometimes but not always prioritises own brand labels
- Asda sometimes but not always includes a promoted product in its search listings
- Asda is able to distinguish spelling variations (“and” vs “&”, “crispies” vs “krispies”)
- Out of stocks do not seem to impact search visibility
- It’s possible that other factors such as sales history also impact search results but that is difficult to affirm from observation alone.
Top tips for mastering Asda SEO:
- Focus your keyword research on long and short tail keywords. Asda’s search bar suggestions and filter suggestions offer clues as to the keywords and categories that shoppers are looking for.
- Win the keyword by including relevant keywords in the PDP. Key areas to focus on in the Asda PDP: Title, Features, Product Information, Brand Marketing
- Win the category by maximising your category and subcategory presence, particularly as Asda includes category suggestions in its search bar, drawing shoppers to the category shelf rather than search results. Make sure you’re located everywhere you should be. Use those category keywords in your PDP, too.
Asda Case Study: Ben’s Original
A search for “microwave rice” reveals one clear winner: Ben’s Original dominates the page. How?
- Including relevant keywords on PDPs to drive search rank relevancy for example “microwave” and “microwavable”
- Being present in categories related to Microwave Rice, e.g. “Pilau & indian Microwavable Rice”, “Microwavable Rice & Grains”, etc
- Having most of its products on promotion or with a “Low Price Lock” badge.
Ben’s Original also illustrates how it's possible to win on search despite not necessarily being visible in the category. For example, although Ben’s Original dominates the search page, clicking on “View the shelf” reveals that the brand is only in the top category spot through sponsored links.
Use Asda’s multiple touchpoints to drive the sale
Don’t forget the myriad ways shoppers can find your product on Asda beyond category listings and search results. Here’s a run-down of all the ways Asda can show your product to shoppers:
- Sponsored products
- Display ads
- Special offers
- Branded search recommendations
- Branded filter suggestions
How to create Asda Product Description Pages that convert
Getting traffic to your PDPs is just half the battle. How do you create outstanding product pages on Asda that will convince the shopper to add the item to their cart?
- Make sure you’re using mobile-optimised images
- Use Informative images that show the product and packaging
- Provide a rich product description
- Cultivate a large number of positive reviews
How to Compete with Asda Private Labels
The pandemic helped usher in a shift to private labels as preferred brands haven’t always been on the shelf, and tighter pockets mean shoppers are looking for value - especially at Asda where value is its number one USP. Asda’s 20+ own brand labels include Asda Extra Special, Asda Smart Price, Asda Farm Stores, and Plant Based. Asda’s website is inherently geared towards promoting its own brands, focusing on the value-added benefits of its own brand labels at each opportunity; Asda brands dominate the home page and are prominent in search bar suggestions. These private brands are particularly dominant in price elastic categories where substitutability is high and brand loyalty is low, such as fresh produce and cupboard staples like pasta and rice.
Category position also tends to favour own brands though it seems to affect some categories more than others. For example…
First presence organic position of Asda own brand label in category results:
- “Sharing Crisps” - 1 (first 4 spots are Asda brands)
- “Vegetarian Frozen Food” - 2 (5 of the Top 10 are Asda brands)
- “Ice Cream Tubs” - 30
- “Dark Chocolate” - 1 (first 2 spots are Asda brands)
- “Pasta” - 1 (first 11 spots are Asda brands)
There’s a greater opportunity here to compete on search, as search results seem less apt to put own brands in the top spot, particularly in certain categories. For example…
First presence organic position of Asda own brand label in search results:
- “Crisps” - 32
- “Veggie burgers” - 3
- “Vanilla ice cream” - 4
- “Milk chocolate” - 25
- “Pasta” - 2
Our top takeaways for beating Asda’s own brand labels:
Build stories about your brand that challenge Asda’s private labels, whose product pages are often very spartan, using just one image, and a short description. Check out how Walkers’ tells their story and how it’s way more compelling than the Asda option:
Remember content is everything. Tell your story with great content including images and product descriptions. Given Asda’s propensity for minimal product pages, you have an opportunity to stand out by creating compelling content that convinces customers why they should choose you.
Use keywords to your advantage. Asda does not appear to consider their own brand labels a high ranking factor in search, making it possible to outrank Asda by creating more detailed keyword-rich content that not only helps to tell your story, but also target the search terms that Asda shoppers are looking for.
Organic search rank for keyword “milk chocolate”. Asda’s own brand doesn’t appear until position #25. Other brands have managed to outrank Asda’s own brand label by optimising their product pages with more keyword-rich and story-driven content.
Measuring Digital Shelf Performance on Asda
As always with a retailer like Asda we recommend having a measurement strategy in place so you can easily monitor performance on the key drivers of traffic and conversion.
- Availability - Are your products in stock? Can you anticipate stock issues at Asda ahead of peak occasions?
- Category presence - Are you showing up in the right categories and subcategories on Asda?
- Search performance - How many products are appearing in the Top 3 or the Top 10 organic search results?
- Granular keyword data - Which products are ranking for specific keywords and how high do they rank?
Want to see the FULL UK Grocery eCommerce Overview?
This e-commerce guide for UK food and beverage brands provides an overview of the online grocery market, covering 8 major retailers and deciphering their nuances. Discover who, how, and what you can influence for retailer SEO and conversion.