Earlier this month, Morrisons announced that it would be launching an in-store bar in its Guiseley branch. The bar – named ‘Barista’ - will stock local ale alongside Italian wine, bottled ciders and lagers; shopping is thirsty work, after all.
The news was met with mixed reaction on social media, with some people worried about the potential to encourage drink driving (particularly given that Morrisons typically trades through out-of-town supermarkets), as well as what some consider to be the ‘excessive’ drinking culture in Britain today. For those individuals that would be keen to wet their whistle on the weekly shop however, there was widespread positive reaction.
No doubt Morrisons hopes this ends up being a move that is likely to drive more shoppers in-store: a factor that’s weighing on the minds of all major grocery retailers as they try to combat the growing incursions of e-commerce and discounters into the food retail sector.
Pulling in the punters
However, this isn’t the first time that alcohol has been introduced to the weekly shop. Waitrose launched its first in-store wine bar in 2014, and Whole Foods is an established drinking location in the US, with one bar even described as ‘absolutely the best bar you will ever find inside of a grocery store’; one which, perhaps reassuringly, offers food alongside your beverage to ensure that stomachs are being sufficiently lined.
Breweries and wineries – like Majestic Wine - have built a business model around inviting customers for tastings, offering free or low-cost samples of their product to customers in advance of them committing to a purchase. In this sector, research in the US has shown that after a tasting, a shopper is 93% more likely to spend an additional $10 buying an extra bottle of wine, and 92% more likely to repurchase the wine in the future. Offering the opportunity for shoppers to try before they buy in supermarkets is likely to have the same impact: ker-ching. But this is not just about product. In this instance, it’s clear that Morrisons is also seeking to create a more enhanced customer experience; one they hope will resonate with and be valued by customers.
It’s no surprise that supermarkets are receptive to the gravitational pull that exists between alcohol and food. Earlier this year, the journal Nature published a study that found brain cells that promote hunger are activated by alcohol.
Research also consistently shows that we’re more likely to splash out under the influence. So much so that there’s even a specific app designed to stop it: DrnkPay is an app that connects your credit and debit cards to a breathalyser, so it knows how much you've drunk and limits certain purchases if you have had too much. E-commerce site, Lyst, has previously reported rocketing sales of dresses and high heels after midnight on Fridays – with the popularity of dresses going up by 320 per cent as ladies take to their laptops after a few wines.
So, is encouraging squiffy supermarket sweeps ethical? For most, I suspect it will offer a welcome incentive to actually do the weekly shop. Our welfare and risks to drink driving will always be threatened by the availability of alcohol, but – as it is at Friday night in the pub – consumption is an adult choice taken with full comprehension of the risks involved.
Grocery retailing is largely about buying the right products and selling them to people in shops with appropriate levels of pricing and service. Convenience is definitely important, and the option to buy an alcoholic drink offers another reason to visit – just as an in-store café does – but is unlikely to revolutionise the retail market.