SYDNEY: Australian supermarkets are using product testing groups as a way to not only gain better feedback from shoppers, but to enhance pre-existing loyalty programs.

Woolworths customers have to apply to join "The Bunch", as the testing group is known – and there is no guarantee of acceptance, Smart Company reported. They are then sent emails advising of Own Brand offers that are registered to their loyalty cards, with the price being deducted when an item is subsequently purchased; buyers are then incentivised to review those products.

"If they like it, we know that we are on the right track, however, if they don't, we can immediately capture, take on board the feedback and work with our product development teams to review the products."

Earlier this year, Smart Company reported that Aldi had received tens of thousands of applications for its testing club – a version that sends 100 chosen shoppers ten Aldi items every quarter to review.

The trend could be seen as a reaction to the ubiquitous sameness of most loyalty programs – or the absence of one in the case of Aldi.

"Testing clubs are a good way of stimulating a bit of hype around the shopping occasion, by both offering free stuff and making it exclusive," noted Bri Williams, founder of customer behavioural specialist People Patterns.

The sense of being a "VIP" customer, whose opinions are sought and acted on, can be a powerful antidote to the more mundane considerations that usually affect shopping decisions.

"Loyalty to a supermarket these days is more loyalty to its proximity and the size of its car park – those are the things that drive customers," Williams added.

Data sourced from Smart Company; additional content by WARC staff