LONDON: The chief customer officer at Asda, one of the UK's "big four" supermarkets, has backed a change in its marketing approach to reverse a decline in like-for-like sales in the first quarter.

Barry Williams suggested that the supermarket sector as a whole had lost sight of the customer.

"Our marketing will have a noticeable, if not radical, shift, as I firmly believe a lot of retailers, including Asda, have spent too long talking to one another, [as] opposed to communicating with the customer," he told Marketing Week.

"Price will remain a focus in our marketing," he added, "but we want to communicate that our value stretches beyond price and into quality, technology and the in-store experience as well."

His comments echoed those of Andrew Higginson, head of rival chain Morrisons, who earlier this year told the Advertising Association's LEAD conference that, too often, supermarkets were guilty of not listening to their customers.

The "big four" spent their time comparing prices and claiming to be cheaper than each other. But, Higginson said, consumers know none of them are the cheapest, and that was why many shoppers had moved to discounters.

Andy Clarke, Asda's chief executive, outlined some of the steps being taken to reconnect with customers, including a £21m investment in improving store hours and a near doubling of the number of "click and collect" sites.

He also announced the opening of the UK's first intelligent "click and collect" pod in St Helen's next month.

There was also new research indicating how the economic downturn that began in 2008 continues to affect consumers, with 83% saving discretionary income rather than spending it.

The worst of the downturn may be helping lots of people – Asda's income tracker showed the average family is now £16 a week better off than at this time last year – but, for many, it doesn't seem that way. Indeed, some 43% of shoppers feel they have less money now than before the 2008 recession.

Data sourced from Asda, Marketing Week; additional content by Warc staff