Brand strategies for winning the digital shelf on the UK’s 2nd largest grocery retailer.
In our latest deep dive of the UK “big four” grocers we look at Sainsbury’s, the second largest UK grocery by market share after Tesco. Sainsbury’s has a long history as a grocery behemoth. It was founded in 1869 in London out of a shop in Holborne. By 1922 it was the largest grocery retailer in the UK and remained that way until 1995 when Tesco took over. Still, Sainsbury’s remains a force to be reckoned with. It more than doubled its e-commerce sales in 2020 during the pandemic, achieving the highest growth of any UK supermarket for online shopping.
Customer Service + Value = Key to Sainsbury’s Continue eCommerce Growth
The most successful omnichannel retailers are those who’ve been able to match their physical value proposition with their eCommerce execution. Sainsbury’s has achieved this by matching its core priorities with its online channel:
- Food first with brands that deliver - the core food business remains the cornerstone of its offering and as such as seen the growth in Sainsbury’s private labels, including trending food categories like vegetarian and free from food which we’ll see below poses a threat to brands selling in the same category
- Customer service - by delivering on value and convenience, with loyalty driven through its Nectar points system, and value pushed online through offers, promotions, and tags like “Aldi price match” and “price locked”.
Sainsbury’s post-pandemic strategy has paid off
As with all of the big grocery stores, Sainsbury’s pushed delivery big time during the pandemic, increasing online delivery slots by 50% by April 2020, as well as launching numerous customer initiatives such as contacting 1000’s of vulnerable customers to prioritise for online shopping. They’ve continued their drive towards convenience by launching its ‘super-fast home delivery’ service which provides same day delivery from over 250 UK Sainsburys stores.
The effort has paid off. In FY 2021/22 Sainsbury’s reported that they’ve grown their online grocery market share to become the second largest online grocery retailer, up from fourth pre-pandemic. 39% of all sales came through digital channels, with online groceries accounting for 17% of all grocery sales. Even as customers have returned to pre-pandemic shopping patterns, Sainsbury’s reports that non-food home delivery and Click & Collect demand remains more than double pre-pandemic levels.
Top online stores in the Food & Beverages segment in the UK in 2021, by e-commerce net sales (in million U.S. dollar). Source: Statista
And keeping with their commitment to service, customer satisfaction also grew and remains highest of all the big four retailers.
Sainsburys year on year growth continues to remain ahead of the big players. However, all of these retailers are facing big pressure from German discounters Aldi and Lidl, both of which have seen explosive growth as inflation and soaring living costs have seen shoppers seek better deals.
To combat price war pressures, Sainsbury’s has escalated its initiatives against the German discounters. While Asda has invested more than £90 million to expand its new Just Essentials value range, Sainsbury’s has gone further to invest £500 million in cutting the price of essential items which includes private and name brand labels.
This emphasis on value means that if you’re not a private label, or on offer, or price matched, or price locked, getting seen on the shelf becomes a matter of making your presence known in other ways. In this post we deep dive into the factors impacting Sainsburys algorithm so that you can crack the code and rank ahead of both your competitors and Sainsburys own brand labels.
Decoding the Sainsbury’s Search Algorithm
Winning on sainsburys.co.uk is all about mastering the two fundamental rules for increasing eCommerce sales:
- Increase traffic to your product pages
- Create product pages that convert
Let’s look at how this works for Sainsbury’s…
Getting Traffic on Sainsbury’s
In order for people to view your products on Tesco, they need to be able to find them.
- Are your products in stock in the first place?
- Can you be found through Tesco’s category taxonomy?
- Can you be found on search?
- Are you showing up for all the correct filters?
With an assortment as big as Sainsbury’s, most shoppers default to search to find what they’re looking for, making search among the most important drivers of traffic to your product pages.
Sainsbury’s SEO: Winning on Search
If you want to rank at the top in Sainsbury’s organic search then you have to understand how its algorithm works. Retailers are known for their secrecy around search algorithms, however nwe can infer a few things from observation.
Retailer search engines explained. Learn more in our UK Grocery eCommerce Overview.
We’ve classified Sainsbury’s search algorithm as “intermediate” category relative to other online grocers like Ocado or Morrisons. Here is what we’ve observed in Sainsbury’s search:
- Default sort: Relevance
- Search bar suggestions include: Keywords and (occasionally) branded keywords
- Filter options: Category, Dietary, Brand, Offers
- Keywords and/or category relevance are major ranking factors.
- Sainsbury’s sometimes but not always prioritises own brand labels in search
- Sainsbury’s sometimes but not always includes a promoted product in search listings
- Sainsbsury’s often prioritises items that are on offer, Aldi price matched, or price locked
- Sainsbury’s doesn’t appear to include out of stock items in its assortment, making availability an important part of being seen on the shelf
- 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 Sainsbury’s SEO:
- Focus your keyword research on long and short tail keywords. Use the Sainsbury’s search bar to research keywords for your products (search bar keyword suggestions are typically a good indicator of popular search phrases).
- Win the keyword by including relevant keywords in the product description page. Key areas on Sainsbury’s are the title, subtitle, description, and preparation (more on this below)
- Win the category by maximising your category and subcategory presence - make sure you’re located everywhere you should be. You’ll gain extra oomph when your keywords match the category
Sainsbury’s Case Study: Simple
Simple Kind to Skin Moisturising Facial Wash ranks #1 in organic search for both “face wash” and “facial wash” ahead of Sainsbury’s own brand label which ranks #5.
Copious use of keywords including “face wash” and “facial wash” have helped Simple climb to the top. Note also impactful conversion elements like multiple images and videos, alongside a rich product description.
Use Sainsbury’s multiple touchpoints to drive the sale
Don’t forget the myriad ways shoppers can find your product on Tesco beyond organic search and browsing by category. Here’s a run-down of all the ways Tesco can show your product to shoppers:
- Display ads
- Sponsored products
- Branded filter recommendations
- Branded search recommendations
How to create Sainsbury’s Product Pages that convert
Getting traffic to your PDPs is just half the battle. How do you create outstanding product pages on Sainsbury’s that will convince the shopper to add the item to their cart?
- Make sure you’re using mobile-optimised images
- Include a descriptive title with keywords
- Use Informative images that show the product and packaging - note that not many brands on Sainsbury’s are leveraging Sainsbury’s full capabilities for multiple images and videos. Brands who do leverage these features can gain a competitive edge when it comes to conversion.
- Provide a rich product description
- Cultivate a large number of positive reviews
How to compete with Sainsburys own brand 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 Sainsbury’s where value is one of its primary USPs. Sainsburys own brand labels include “by Sainsbury’s, Be Good to Yourself, My Goodness!, Free From, and SO Organic. Unlike Asda, Sainsbury’s positioning of its own brand labels is more subtle, often interspersed with other name brands. Sainsbury’s investment in price locking and price matching on name brand products suggests that pushing own brand sales is not its number one priority.
Private label presence seems to affect some categories more than others, with variable impact depending on whether you’re looking at the category shelf or organic search results. For example…
First presence organic position of Sainsbury’s own brand label in category results:
- “Sharing Crisps” - 14
- “Vegan” - 4
- “Ice Cream Tubs” - 6
- “Block chocolate bars” - 23
- “Pasta” - 1 (15 of the first 16 spots are Sainsbury’s brands)
First presence organic position of Sainsbury’s own brand label in search results:
- “Crisps” - 8
- “Veggie burgers” - 2
- “Vanilla ice cream” - 10
- “Cereal bar” - 19
- “Milk chocolate” - 23
- “Pasta” - 2 (spots 2-5 are private label)
Our top takeaways for beating Sainsbury’s own brand labels:
Build stories about your brand that challenge Sainsbury’s own brands, particularly as those private label products tend to have sparse product pages. Check out how The Vegetarian Butcher has impacted organic search with much longer, more keyword rich product pages:
Remember content is everything. Tell your story with great content including images and product descriptions. Given Sainsbury’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. Sainsbury’s does not appear to consider their own brand labels a high ranking factor in search, making it possible to outrank Sainsbury’s 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.
Measuring Digital Shelf Performance on Sainsbury’s
As always with a retailer like Sainsbury’s 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 Sainsbury’s ahead of peak occasions? This is particularly important as Sainsbury’s omits OOS products from the shelf
- Category presence - Are you showing up in the right categories and subcategories on Sainsbury’s?
- 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.