Why Are Supermarkets So Behind the Times with E-Cigarettes?

Why Are Supermarkets So Behind the Times with E-Cigarettes? thumbnail

Wed 25 Oct 2017

Since the 1990s, high streets of towns up and down the country have gone from bustling trading areas, full of independent craft shops, plantnists, greengrocers, tailors, locksmiths and cafes, to quiet streets of charity shops and pound stores. This is due to many factors, including the increase in out of town shopping centres, internet shopping, and of course supermarkets. Many of these “superstores” are borne from their large-scale American counterparts, after a hugely successful growth period in this sector throughout the USA from the 1980s.


This one stop shop for all goods spelt the death-knoll for large high street multi-product brands such as Woolworths, as the ever expanding floor space encroached into the market of well… everything.


Despite this, there is a noticeable change in the makeup of a high street in recent years, as well as a glaring emission from the supermarket. I am of course speaking about electric cigarettes. Aside from the dated, expensive cartridge e-cigs, and the odd pen type which became the go-to product around 5 years ago, you cannot find for love nor money a decent e-cig, tub of juice or any kind of paraphanalia behind the white-out cupboard at a supermarket kiosk.


How can this be? Supermarkets have never been known as early adopters. Even if a business and its products are as “retail” as they come, procurement departments with low margins to operate within would rarely take a chance on an unproven opportunity.

The irony of this is that supermarkets WERE early adopters to vaping, before the term vaping was in the public consciousness. Yet supermarkets have remained stagnant, facilitating the growth of exciting new shops, on pretty much each and every high street.

The growth in sales of larger mod type e-cigarettes with tanks and juice, in contrast to the decrease in sales of cartridge based vapourisers is staggering. When factoring in the increasing amount of people vaping and the ever growing volume of shops, it seems all the more baffling as to why supermarkets haven’t made the most of their footfall and gone down the route of having a section dedicated to some of the best gear the vaping world has to offer. They have the purchase power, they have the customer base, they have the space, e-cigs have a proven track record, suppliers would do anything to have their product in a supermarket… I could go on and on.

It also can’t be argued that it is a decision on any kind of moral basis either since they all sell cigarettes, and as discussed still sell the more primitive products as they have for some 10 years.

Perhaps there is another reason. In fact, I have two theories;

Firstly, I still know some people of the wiser generation who still use cartridge based vapourisers and refuse to change. Although in decline, they still generally sell well, they are easy to use, and are still a relatively cheap entry into vaping for anybody looking to cease smoking. The high street shops are no longer really stocking these products in any kind of volume and so the supermarkets are content with this market.

Secondly, what the high street shops are stocking is a huge range of everything, and perhaps that is one step too far for a supermarket. As discussed in my previous article on branding, although there is a proven track record of vape sales, there isn’t as of yet a truly established brand that a supermarket would look to depend on for secure contracts, safety certification and being able to meet varying demands. Once these big brands develop, you can bet your bottom dollar that the supermarkets will make their move. Again, we should celebrate and embrace the range of produce while we can!


Written by ELFC content creator Alex Blatherwick


Further reading: Is Investment in Branding Going To Be the Biggest Challenge for Manufacturers?

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