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When it comes to retail, getting the small gestures right can be the key to success

One of my earliest memories is shopping with Mum at Sainsbury’s (UK supermarket) and the comforting smell of freshly baked bread. A small retail gesture by a supermarket that’s now de rigeur, but back in the 1970s it was a new retail experience, as supermarkets gunned for small high street producers like the local baker. The smell of fresh baked bread softened the edges of these multi-retailing machines and helped put shoppers at ease in a new shopping environment.

Walking around my local Woolworths this week, the smell of freshly baked bread took me back, I contemplated the retail experience of supermarkets in 2020. Over 40-years later, it’s really not changed much. Which proves how enduring the supermarket model is. Fresh produce at the front to attract you in, freshly baked bread smell to make you feel at home, aisle upon aisle of well merchandised pre-packaged goods and frozen section at the back. You could walk any supermarket in the world with your eyes closed. No wonder shoppers are in sleep-mode for over 80 per cent of their supermarket shop.

I’ve always believed great retail is the sum of these small insightful retail gestures. In supermarkets it’s the aforementioned smell of freshly baked bread, fresh produce front of store, well merchandised shelves. But I also believe retail can be elevated and transcend culture. If great retail is the sum of small retail gestures, then retail experience that taps into culture is all about the defining gesture.

If I were to say ‘Sausage Sizzle’ or ‘Special Buys’ most people would immediately know we’re talking Bunnings and Aldi respectively. These brands are built on small insightful retail gestures but have transcended culture with defining retail gestures the Aussie public love. The brands get talked about, taken to heart and its earned media gold dust.

But there are other great Australian retail success stories, like JB Hi-Fi, I’d argue haven’t quite found their way into culture. I don’t think they’ve found their own defining retail gesture.


Taking each of these retailers in turn.


The Bunnings ‘Sausage Sizzle’ is a part of popular culture in Australia. It has even become the bellwether during Covid-times of a return to normality as the sausage sizzle reopens state by state.

Bunnings is so much more than the ‘Sausage Sizzle’. It’s a slick retail operation that gets so many small retail gestures right: product range, well-merchandised, easy to navigate, a destination and lifestyle shopping experience with a power claim that stuck in the shopper psyche (‘Lowest Prices are just the beginning’ – even as they gradually pull back from it).

But it’s the humble ‘Sausage Sizzle’ that really gets people talking and cemented Bunnings’ place in Australian culture. Bunnings is a great example of an Australian retailer getting it right with Australian shoppers by understanding what they want and delivering. But it hasn’t worked everywhere – even the ‘Sausage Sizzle’ couldn’t prevent Bunnings falling flat in the UK.


Aldi has succeeded where Bunnings failed, in that they’ve not only translated their retail model to multiple markets but also earned their place in popular culture in those markets with a retail defining gesture ‘Special Buys’. There is so much they’ve got right. Tonally with their brand comms, being willing to take risks and the countless small gestures that make up their retail experience. But it’s ‘Special Buys’ that really get people talking and has driven their earned media. Which is essential to finding that place in culture.

JB Hi-Fi

JB is arguably Australia’s smartest retailer. Even without the record sales during Covid they were growing rapidly. JB recognises its target audience wants discounts and low prices. The whole retail experience from haggling over prices, to hand drawn posters and the sensory overload of the jumbled categories scream we’ve got low prices. It also makes people feel comfortable, a friendly experience not a gigantic mega-corporation.

JB’s smarts come from these small retail gestures, that combined make the retail experience effective. Their knowledgeable staff are certainly a key component of success. However, to my mind JBs don’t have a defining retail gesture that really taps them into culture.

As the retail sector comes under increasing pressure, getting the small gestures right is essential to success. Creating a defining gesture and finding a place in culture that is talked about in 40-years is the real retail gold.

By Simon Porter, managing director Havas Commerce


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