Why our benefits products need to be like the Sainsbury supermarket


 I was undertaking my weekly grocery shop in my local Sainsbury supermarket in Brentwood. It struck me that I have always shopped in this place. Why, and what lessons could be learnt that applies to reward offerings? The store gives me good value, consistency and familiarity.


Too often employee benefits are seen as an afterthought, an “add-on” to our pay strategy.  We can do much better than that. Employee benefits are an important signpost of both our employee proposition and organisational culture.  


Strong branding, good value, consistency

Sainsbury prides itself on its strong branding, good value and consistency. This is exactly what our benefit portfolio should be offering.  Our benefit products should reflect our organisational culture and values. Employee benefits provide a signpost to both employees and external stakeholders of organisational values. 


Good value is important. By which I mean the benefit is valued by the employee and drives business value creation by supporting and sustaining value added employee behaviours.  Consistency is also important. Employees should know what they are getting and benefit costs should be stable unless a revision is taking place. Consistency should also extend to culture. Giving a consistent and congruent benefits message supports and sustains our cultural memes


Product placement – the irritation factor

If you do your shopping like me, you are on autopilot; you know what you want and where everything is. However, every so often a ball comes from left field. The supermarket has moved my favourite jam. Panic.  I have to look around to see where it has been placed.  More often than not I see something I have not noticed before. Perhaps I will try a new jam? This again is like our benefit offering. On occasion we should move things around, shake them up a bit.  Just to get our employees thinking a little differently. 


Big data is watching you

I use a loyalty card at the supermarket. It is not the most streamlined of user processes.  However, it does mean that Sainsbury knows what I buy and when.  It can offer me money off coupons on things I normally buy and even tempt me with offers of things which I have not tried.  It knows what brand of aspirin I take, the stages of my children growing up and even how often I entertain It does not, in my view, make full use of this data; but it will.  These are valuable approaches we can use to enhance the personalisation of our benefit offering.  We can use the HR data to offer changes in risk benefit levels or pension and financial advice. All this is available and value added. It moves employee benefits from something staid to a dynamic, interesting, value added process supporting business success.


Visualisation and info graphics

I do not know, but if I was a betting man, I would place a wager that Sainsbury marketers and merchandisers use visualisation and info graphics to better understand the very large amount of data they hold. I can see in my imagination maps of the UK stores, showing geographic variations in value added products, perhaps with an Acorn (consumer classification) overlay. 


This is exactly what we should be doing with our employee benefits. Collect the data. Turn it in to meaningful visualisations.  Use these both as analytical tools but also to inspire creativity and innovation.  After all, why not?



There is a great deal to be said to applying the Sainsbury or Wal-Mart approach to our benefit products, services, and communication. The supermarkets make a great deal of money out of offering their customers what they want when they want it, at the optimum price. No doubt we can apply some of these lessons to benefits to build value, add credibility and build business success.