The Illusion of Loyalty (Or why I shop at Sainsburys)

Samuel Brealey
4 min readAug 22, 2018


There is a persistent belief in the world of Marketing that consumers share Loyalty with certain brands. I do not believe this is true. For the most part.

The concept of Loyalty in Marketing is an understandable one. Brands and the products they serve are very important to us Marketers and Advertisers. They are the bread and butter of our careers. We truly care about our brands. But we aren’t normal people, except when we are.

Like all people, Marketers are normal when they are not at the office. They have habits and routines throughout the day that they simply do not think about. For example, the milk has run out. What should I do?

What should I do? What follows is a sequence of complicated neuro behaviours that follow a certain customer profile journey. The hipster guy is more likely to whip open his imac in a coffee shop and have a google for the most lactose free, enviro-friendly milk he can find. He’ll contrast and compare products through digital channels. The company that appeals most to him will be the one he chooses. To match his lifestyle consumer profile.

The middle aged, middle class white woman from Surrey will embark on a different journey entirely. Her life is defined by a quest of social superiority, she will drive around her community in her luxury car looking for a luxury brand of milk that truly speaks to her. Usually at a premium price.

None of what I just said is true.

It is true in the minds of naive Marketing men and women who think humans follow incredibly complex patterns of behaviour to come to a decision.

Humans don’t do that. We want simplicity, infact we yearn for it. Our lives are busy enough without companies trying to get in our way with their silly pipe dreams. Marketers need to realise the importance of this, we need to get back to the basics of traditional theory and practice. Making life easier and better for customers, at a profit for our brands.

Loyalty is the problem, not the action or the idea of gaining customer loyalty but the very word itself. Most customers are not interested in loyalty. Infact, I would argue they rarely think of it as a concept at all. Loyal perhaps to their jobs, careers and family but little else, in reality.

The question of Loyalty is a question of semantics. I would argue, a fundemental misuse or “fluffy-fication” of a word. Loyalty is a word that inherently conjures up those who hold steadfast beliefs. Loyalty to one’s family or to their spouse. It’s an incredibly deep emotional connection that humans share with each other. It’s also something we share sparingly.

If we are loyal to so few people; only those who really matter in our lives.,then what on Earth possessed Marketers into thinking they could replicate and encourage this in products or services?

Many industries have quite natural loyalty, bank customers for example are not loyal out of conviction but out of habit and more often than not it’s simply because they can’t be arsed to change banks. Not many people are that bothered as long as they can access their accounts easily and maybe get some financial reward for it like higher interest or cashback on bills.

That last sentence exposes yet another flaw in the ideal of customer loyalty, is it really loyalty if you have to essentially bribe your existing customers to stay with perks?

That’s not mentioning the long debunked idea of it being cheaper to retain customers than to get new ones.

Loyalty is not the easy and magical fix that it was sold to be.

A better word, is convenience. A word that I believe encompasses all the fundamentals of Marketing. Product, price, place and promotion.

Think for a minute, not as someone who works in Marketing or Advertising but as a regular person. Think deeply about your customer journey and your own loyalty I’m sure the answers will be remarkably simple, selfish and maybe even down to lack of thought, ie habitual behaviour.

It’s okay, we’re human after all.

That is why I shop at Sainsburys, it is around the corner from my house and is open almost 24/7. The milk is always well stocked and a pint isn’t too badly priced either, could be cheaper and if there was a local option that was then I would take it. The milk will last a few days and that makes me content because I can eat cereal in the morning and have copious cups of tea after work.

And there you have it, that is a real life example of loyalty and customer journey. The product is reliable and safe, the pricing is appropriate, it’s easy to access in a place that’s convenient for me being just around the corner and it’s clearly advertised in the shop when I walk past the windows.

It’s true that a sample size of one isn’t a sample at all but so much of what we do can be looked at through our own eyes, with just a bit more healthy scepticism and realism. We don’t need to do extensive studies where we often tend to try and justify an approach rather than being scientific about it.

When the milk runs dry, I know where to turn.

To my knight in shining armour, who is just around the corner. Sainsburys.



Samuel Brealey

Better Marketing, means better business.