Esso is bringing its long-running Pricewatch campaign to an end next month. Launched as a trial in August 1995 and rolled out nationally in January of the following year, the promotion caused chaos and outrage in the industry, sparking intense price wars as the major oil companies battled it out with the supermarkets and small retailers got caught in the cross-fire.
Esso had seen its market share fall to 16 per cent as the discounting strategies of the supermarkets had seen their hold on the market grow to 20 per cent. The Pricewatch campaign, which claimed that Esso forecourts would be ‘among the lowest’, prompted prices around the country to plummet.
Eight years later, Esso believes it has achieved what it set out to do – establish a long-term shift in pricing policy, which will continue despite the removal of the Pricewatch banners from its forecourts. Other promotions will follow, but have yet to be revealed. However, as in 1995, the supermarkets remain the main challenge in the market.
Gordon Munro, Esso Petroleum’s marketing manager, said: “In 1985 the supermarkets had less than five per cent market share, and that has grown to around 26-27 per cent and we foresee that continuing to grow. We have therefore put good plans in place to respond to the challenge. We have spent a lot of time and effort doing a full strategic review of the UK market and have come up with assessment of our customer demands.
“We know that the customer expects competitive prices wherever he goes – and at Esso we believe we have built up a reputation over the years as a company that will give the customer a competitive pump price. We intend to maintain our reputation and continue to do that. “However, we also believe the customer is looking for more than a competitive pump price. Pricewatch was a promotion – it was a brand. We now believe it’s time to move on to something new.
“When Pricewatch was launched it was a very different retail environment, and it was introduced as a reaction to market forces at the time. It was a commitment to the customer about competitive pump prices, and we believe that in the past eight years that has been highly successful. Research shows that while motorists expect competitive pump prices from us, at the same time they don’t really know what Pricewatch means.”