What’s in the middle at Lidl?

Why Lidl's middle aisle works for the masses.
Written by Stuart Watson, Partner & Creative Director at Nomad.

British retail had a much better Christmas than anyone predicted. NEXT always seems to do OK, but this year even M&S had a decent time of it. In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, you’d expect stores like Lidl, Aldi, B&M and Poundland to do well just because they’re cheap. But there’s more to it than that.

Disposable incomes are spiralling down but aspirations only ever go up. Just because times are hard doesn't mean people don't want to have a laugh and buy treats. If anything, they want it more.

It’s a counterintuitive opportunity that middle and upmarket retailers, even if they’re doing alright, might be missing. These “discount” brands that understand, respect and, most importantly, love their customers have been thriving for years. At first glance, you might not notice the lightness of touch, wit and warmth that permeates their branding, buying and even corporate communications. But it’s there and it’s working.

The first Lidl opened in the UK in 1994. By 2008, there were 500 and now there’s more than 800. Its calling card is the middle aisle – affectionately known as “the middle at Lidl” - where you can find anything and everything.

Like a demented Woolworths but funnier.


At Christmas Lidl GB sales were up 21% compared to 2020, it was the fastest growing ‘bricks and mortar’ retailer. So what are they getting so right?

The best way to understand why Lidl smashed Christmas 2022 is its Christmas jumpers. Everywhere sells Christmas jumpers now, polyester, sparkly and for the most part horrible (which, of course, is the point). Lidl went next-level nasty, knitting its logo into the pseudo-Nordic design. The first day these brilliant monstrosities hit the middle aisle, they were flogging one every two seconds for twenty-five quid a go.

Lockdown has given a shot in the arm to bricks and mortar retailers offering a service and an experience to a generation of people who’ve twigged that online shopping isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (It was notable that the pure play fashion behemoths – ASOS, Simply Be, Boohoo – all did poorly last December). When money’s tight and the weather’s awful people need stuff to do that doesn’t cost the earth. With B&M and Poundland on a high street, a Saturday afternoon potter around the shops needn’t cost a fortune and keeps the kids off their screens for a few hours.


The store experience isn't polished, it’s grubby and a bit chaotic but it's hilarious. Costco – which, if you haven’t been to one, is like a sprawling supermarket-come-warehouse-come-car boot-sale – is a legit day out. You can spend an hour just ogling the massive tellys. I defy you to leave without a giant tub of Flumps or some weird-flavoured popcorn.

If you think you're too posh for it, more fool you. Lidl’s home fragrancing, The Luxury Collection, which does serviceable Jo Malone rip-off scented candles for £3.49, has been fully embraced by well-to-do West London fashionistas and the Chipping Norton set. Seriously. I’ve seen it on Instagram.

It’s a heady mix of nostalgia and zeitgeist too, which is catnip for feelgood conversation - what marketers used to call ‘word of mouth’. Sure, you can get a cast iron skillet for a tenner or a four-man tent for £25, but finding the biscuits you used to scoff while watching Grange Hill when you were 10, stocked next to some absolutely mad K-pop merch is a buzz.

Even in corporate communications – the place personality goes to die – their senior suits dare to venture a gag every now and again. Poundland’s Commercial Director, announcing their £5 frozen Christmas dinner, said “This is no cracker joke”. Good try, but arguably the better lol was the customer-facing tagline, a brazen rip off of the famous M&S Food line, “This isn’t just a Christmas dinner – it’s a Poundland Christmas dinner!” You can almost hear them giggling in head office.

These brands have twigged that judgement-free shopping is where it’s at in 2023. In the 1980s and early 90s, bargain basement stores like NETTO and Jack Fultons were embarrassing and sad. You’d never take your PE kit in a Jack Fulton’s bag, you’d have to nick one of your brother’s Burton ones. But the vibe at places like Lidl and B&M is that everyone’s enjoying themselves, and fun is always cool. I may be overreaching here, but for customers counting every last penny as they go around filling up their trolleys, there’s an inclusivity and a dignity to these brands that feels super modern.

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