Morrisons’ Failings Revealed by new type of Market Research Study

The underlying problems facing supermarket giant Morrisons are much greater than a lack of an online service or too few convenience stores, which the company is blaming for its continuing poor sales performance, according to new research published by social media insight specialist, SpectrumInsight.

The SpectrumInsight study revealed extreme negative emotional consumer reactions to Morrisons existing stores and own-label food, especially. SpectrumInsight’s founder and director, Mark Westaby, explains: “Extreme overall negative consumer emotion tracked much more strongly for Morrisons than any other UK supermarket in 2012. When studied more deeply we found growing levels of disgust for Morrisons stores and own-label food, in particular, which conventional consumer satisfaction surveys would most likely have missed. Never mind online services and convenience stores, this tells us that Morrisons needs to get its act together on the basics of grocery retailing.”

SpectrumInsight takes advantage of consumer views and opinions that fall mainly outside what can be captured by typical, sample-based research. The company collects this ‘out of sample’ data from social media, such as Twitter, which it then analyses for emotion-related content associated with brands. When SpectrumInsight compared consumer views and opinions using its approach the results revealed a clear and significantly growing problem for Morrisons against other UK supermarkets.

Westaby continues: “Social media and rapidly changing population demographics are de-stabilising traditional market audiences, as a result of which conventional sample-based market research is increasingly under-estimating or even missing critical insights. Using ‘out of sample’ data, which conventional research typically ignores, dramatically increases the probability of capturing these crucial signals. Had ‘out of sample’ data been used by the financial sector we would almost certainly have avoided the banking collapse and the financial crisis would have been prevented or at least minimised, so its importance should not be under-estimated.”

By analysing the spontaneous language used by consumers on Twitter SpectrumInsight can capture consumer views, opinions and feelings close to or even at the very point of brand experience. The company determines the emotional content of consumers’ comments on social media such as Twitter by analysing words that fall into psychologically meaningful categories, enabling it to gather deeper insight than is possible with traditional market research methods.

What’s the difference between social media insight and traditional research?

What’s the difference between social media 2 3

Traditional sample-based research

  • Needs independent, random samples from homogeneous population
  • Cannot address ‘outliers’ – the ‘critical’ minority
  • Relies on historical, cognitive-based responses
  • Typically takes a long time
  • Data limited by questionnaire/framework
  • Data fixed to prescriptive agenda
  • Expensive, especially to gather data

Social media insight:

  • Sample is self-selecting – captures the critical or ‘out-of-sample’ minority
  • Based on real-time, real-brand experiences
  • Captures the ‘emotional moment’
  • Can be turned round in minutes
  • Almost limitless data
  • Data based on consumer agenda
  • Data can be revisited or gathered as and when required
  • Inexpensive – data costs low or even zero


Tracking feelings, thoughts, personality and behaviour through words.

The words people use reflect underlying feelings, thoughts, personality and behavioural tendencies. With SpectrumInsight’s text-mining ‘dictionaries’ we can

  • Determine emotional sentiment
  • Happiness
  • Anger
  • Surprise
  • Contempt
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Disgust


Tracking social media over time we can assess real-time consumer responses to ALL marketing and brand activities, eg advertising; Press announcements; Crises and mini-crises.

In today’s highly connected world these are commonplace but some are bigger than others…

From March 2011 to September 2012 there were 4 million tweets about the major UK supermarkets

  • Tesco
  • Sainsbury’s
  • ASDA
  • Morrisons
  • Waitrose


Customer service issues are bigger than the surveys suggest.

Extremely negative customer opinions by location:

Extremely negative customer opinions are widespread

  • ASDA: most urban areas
  • Morrisons: NW England, W Midlands, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London
  • Sainsbury’s: NW England and London
  • Tesco: NW England, S Wales, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London
  • Waitrose: London

Which brand has the biggest problem?

Extremely negative customer opinion trends:

Jan to Sept 2012

Morrisons trend is worrying!

According to Dalton Philips, Morrisons CEO, Morrisons must

  • Compete better with promotions from rivals
  • Improve the message to customers of “key points of difference” (Dalton has expanded the supermarket’s focus on fresh food)
  • Sort to demographics, ie more value-based in the North

According to Clive Black, analyst at Shore Capital

  • Morrisons is ‘disenfranchising’ its core customers
  • Moving too far too soon from its value roots (especially its core northern customer base)

Who is more likely to be right?

Analysis of ‘disgust’ reveals that stores are an issue but the biggest problem is Morrisons food – and there is no clear demographic divide… not good for a grocery retailer!

Our advice to Morrisons?

Never mind water-sprayed herbs

Get the basics right first!

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