In the UK, it’s estimated that one in three people collects something. The jury’s out as to why so many do it, but theories range from loyalty and personal attachment right through to obsession and existential anxiety.
Whatever the reason collecting exists, it’s something that’s innately and solely human: it’s not limited by age or gender, and it’s driven by the satisfaction of completing a “set”. Seizing on this idea for the summer is Marks & Spencer, which is running a masterclass in simplicity: one that will certainly drive sales at a time when M&S needs them more than ever.
M&S’ “Little Shop” is a collection of 25 miniature plastic versions of its most popular products. These tiny items are given away to shoppers every time they spend £20 or more in store, and they’re blind wrapped, meaning customers don’t know which mini product they’ll get until they tear open the packet.
Offering collectable freebies with products is far from a new idea. We’ve had our cereal box toys for decades, while Happy Meals are still built around plastic freebies. But in the 90s, British-specific giveaways were at their peak.
Walkers offered Tazos – limited-edition Pog-like discs with notches around the edges – which were all the rage in playgrounds, and capitalised on the popularity of both Looney Tunes and Star Wars with 50-piece sets. Around the same time, Sainsbury’s immortalised the Euro 96 England team in coin form, which were inescapable collector’s items at the time (but are now pretty worthless).
However, in the UK, giveaway items like these have never had anything to do with the companies selling them. M&S’ range is superbly brand centric: the well-made and finely detailed products are predominantly M&S-specific products, such as the iconic Colin the Caterpillar cake and a bag of Percy Pig sweets. These headliners are complemented by basics like milk and pizza, as well as a range of superbly middle-class items, like Cornish Cove mature cheddar, cauliflower popcorn and Peruvian coffee beans.
M&S isn’t the inventor of this idea; it follows an initiative pioneered by Australian supermarket Coles, which rolled out its own Little Shop in 2018 and followed it up with a “second season” in July. However, it’s probably the best brand in the UK to do it, as its food range is both iconic and highly thought of.
To give the idea the biggest impact possible, M&S has partnered with Instinct to launch the concept “with an integrated communications campaign, spanning celebrity endorsement, influencer partnerships, press office and a VIP, family-friendly launch event to generate hype”. Alongside countless well-loved YouTube and Instagram accounts, Louie Spence has fronted a video for Little Shop. As one viewer noted: “You can’t buy what he’s on at M&S, sadly.”
The benefits of the initiative – which, like Coles, is all but guaranteed to have a second run next year – are vast.
Just a little bit more
M&S’ food venture is famously known by many as a place where people go to shop for “their bits”: a main shop will usually happen at a lower-priced supermarket that offers a much wider selection of products. M&S is still a high-end brand in the eyes of most: somewhere for treats, the £10 meal deal, or fancy extras that can’t be found anywhere else.
Here lies a problem for the company: people often spend regularly, but in small amounts. By luring people into this fun initiative that centres on iconic products, the benefits are threefold.
- Firstly, the £20 minimum spend will regularly push people to add a few more things to their basket to qualify for the unknown prize;
- Secondly, it makes the 25-strong range of products even more desirable: Little Shop’s inclusion of strawberries may convince people to get their fruit in store, or even their milk;
- Finally, M&S is stopping other, similar brands from taking its share of the luxury foods market. Waitrose, which Marksies regularly goes toe-to-toe with, could surely lose some market share this summer, while high-ticket products at regular supermarkets (e.g. the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range) could also be affected by Little Shop.
Driving footfall through in-store exclusivity
Unlike nearly every major supermarket in the UK, M&S is yet to sell its produce online for home delivery – though it’s not far off, having brokered a deal with Ocado. With this initiative, people are given yet another reason to go into store, at a time when M&S has announced the closure of 110 stores during 2019 (85 full stores and 25 Simply Foods). Many M&S food courts reside inside full stores – higher footfall will also be driven through its clothing and accessories business, too.
The company may be behind on the experiential shopping that’s needed to cater to the customer of the future, but it’s a step in the right direction. In fact, the Little Shop initiative has a further experience-led idea built into it.
Building a community
While there’s been a lack of any real change in Simply Food’s decor, layout and approach over the last few years, M&S is adapting its store network to Little Shop, if only for the short term, by building a customer-first, physical store-led community initiative into the giveaway’s launch. Parents and kids alike are being encouraged to take part in its swap shops, taking place in M&S locations around the country throughout August.
It makes an experiential event out of the whole thing, guaranteeing local convenience, as well as near certainty that people can get what they want. And, of course, it’s a perfect opportunity to sell one more time.
Introducing the brand to the customer of tomorrow
The family-friendly element of Little Shop is perhaps the greatest weapon in its arsenal. Not only is it an idea that makes parents excited, but kids are introduced to the M&S brand, and its wares, through toys.
In the same way that Tazos and Euro 96 coins are treasured by their collectors even now, these mini products will undoubtedly be kept hold of by thousands of people who put the time, effort and money (an absolute minimum spend of £500 to get all 25). They’ll also act as the purest form of nostalgia: old products, in old packaging, which may still be in production by M&S 20 or 30 years in the future.
Little Shop, big impact
M&S’ Little Shop will certainly adapt in time – critics have attacked its egregious use of plastic at a time when recycling and climate change is at the forefront of society’s collective mind – but minor changes, in time, will be all that’s needed to silence these negative voices.
For great ideas, simplicity is key. Little Shop has a simple goal: to get people into stores, at a time M&S can’t compete online and needs the footfall more than ever. With a keen focus on the bottom line, the brand and basic human psychology, the high-street staple has the opportunity to create more Little Shops – whether annual or seasonal – and really bond with its customers.
However, everything must come to an end, and whether it does or doesn’t run the Little Shop again, there’s still so much to gain. If the final results of this campaign prove that offering additional value encourages more regular shoppers and at a higher basket size, M&S can look at new, sustainable ways to provide desired incentives in a way that could potentially stifle, or even reverse, its current fortunes.