If we were to look at phrases that have cropped up during the recent recessionary times in the consumer goods sector, “private label” has to be among those at the top of the list.
From clothing to cereals, toothpaste to televisions, there is hardly a category that has not seen retailers trying their hand at creating own labelled products.
The first motivation for most retailers to move into private label is margin. On first analysis, it appears that the branded suppliers are making tons of extra money by being out there in front of the consumer with a specific named product. The retailer finds that creating an alternative product under its own label allows it to capture extra gross margin. Typically the product category picked at the earliest stage of private label development would be one for which several generic or commodity suppliers are available.
At this early stage, the retailer is aiming for a relatively predictable, stable-demand and easily available product whose sales would be driven by the footfall that is already attracted into the store. A powerful bait to attract the customer is the visible reduction in price, as compared to a similar branded product. If the product can be compared like-for-like, customers would certainly convert to private label over time.
However, maintaining prices lower than brands can also be counter-productive. In many products, while customers might not be able to discern any qualitative difference, they may suspect that they are not getting a product comparable to one from a national or international brand. And while private label can drive off-take, the price differential can also erode gross margin which was the reason that the retailer may have got into private label in the first place. Over time, such a strategy can prove difficult to sustain, as costs of developing, sourcing and managing private label products move up.
The other strong reason a retailer chooses to have private label is to create a product offering that is differentiated from competitors who also offer brands that are similar or identical to the ones offered by the retailer. Department stores, supermarkets and hypermarkets around the world have all tried this approach – some have been more successful than others. The idea is to provide a customer strong reasons to visit their particular store, rather than any of the comparable competitors.
Of course, when differentiation is the operating factor, the products need more insight and development, and closer handling by the retailer at all stages. A price-driven private label line may be sourced from generic suppliers, but that approach isn’t good enough for a line driven by a differentiation strategy. In this case, costs of product development and management increase for the retailer. However, to compensate, the discount from a comparable national brand is not as high as generic nascent private label. In fact, some retailers have taken their private label to compete head on with national brands – they treat their private labels as respectfully as a national branded supplier would treat its brand.
So what does it take to go from a “copycat” to being a real brand?
Third Eyesight has evolved a Private Label Maturity Model (see the accompanying graphic) that can help retailers think through their approach to private label, whether their product offering is dominated by private label, or whether they have only just begun considering the possibility of including private label in their product range. The model sketches out a maturity path on five parameters that are affected by or influence the strength of a retailer’s private label offering:
• consumer knowledge and insight
• product design and quality
• supply chain & sourcing
|Private Label Maturity Model|
|Consumer Insight||Little or no structured use of consumer insight for private label||Moderate but regular use of consumer insight||Frequent consumer research specific to private label, actively used to drive strategy|
|Product Design, Quality||Me-too / Knock-off; Moderate quality, may or may not be comparable to national / international brand||Investment in research, selection, some uniqueness in design; structured quality parameters||Oriented to unique development(incl. raw materials) rather than selection; quality comparable to industry benchmarks|
|Pricing||Significant discount over national / international brand (25-30% or more)||Moderate discount over brands (15-20%)||Little or no discount to comparable branded products|
|Promotion||Little visible promotion of private label||Mainly in-store promotion and visibility with some visibility in mail-shots to loyalty database; active selling|