Tesco: a good place for the Resistance to start
A few days back, I posted a piece about Tesco’s openly misleading price policy between small and large pack sizes. Thus far it has attracted 140 comments (a record at The Slog) and had just over 1500 hits. When I posted about Tesco breaking planning laws and mysteriously winning new store site battles against the odds at NotBornYesterday four years ago, that too broke all records. A post about Tesco enjoys a unique feature no other type of blogpost can match: it goes on being visited for months afterwards. For a post to get 8% of the readers commenting is an astonishing result: the average is under 1%.
People feel strongly about Tesco. Big T would have us all believe its cod research that proclaims it ‘One of Britain’s best-loved brands’, but I’ve seen the questionnaire they used – and the results – and as a former market researcher, I can tell you it is cleverly bent beyond belief. For example, ‘I couldn’t do without my local Tesco’ is tabulated as ‘strongly like’ Tesco. Liking or love has nothing to do with it: once every other shop has been put out of business, Tesco is a drug whose dependency grows like smack. I wonder how many smack addicts would prefer not to be hooked on smack?
However, this is no reason on its own to target Tesco as an anti-social nuisance in Britain: because it is monstrously big does not necessarily make it bad. It enables busy professionals to shop quickly and efficiently at all hours, and for the very careful shopper it has some exceptional offers to cut the cost of living. No, the reason I am suggesting Tesco to Sloggers – and anyone else who wants to join in – as a great starting point for concerted action to restore Britain’s values is because I know the company to be cultural and commercial anti-matter on a number of levels. So before suggesting the course of action to take, I’d like to quickly run through these.
1. Tesco and other supermarket multiples played a major role in destroying the profitability of farming and consumable manufacturing in Britain. After the abolition of Resale Price Maintenance in 1961, the multiple supermarket sector began a meteoric growth pattern that continues to this day. Once they between them had a clear majority of the grocery market and enormous buying power, they rapidly began to hold to ransom (aka screw) manufacturing and farming suppliers. They developed own-label (using manufactured brand owners’ short-term greed), made suppliers pay for promotions (but took all the credit) and introduced the infamous ‘case discounts’ system – a means of funding their own advertising budgets that was only marginally above the Mafia as a model for doing business. Tesco were leading lights in all this.
2. Tesco thus played the largest role in turning a UK balance of payments surplus in manufactured food products into a massive deficit over 40 years. First, by reducing the manufacturer monies for export marketing; second, by increasingly importing exotic, high-value foodstuffs; third, by putting indigenous farmers out of business; and finally, by having the largest brand share in grocery retailing and the most aggressive new-store opening programme. While lately, all the multiples have developed the fiction of favouring local produce, this is really rather like Edward VII returning to his wife when he became King, after forty years of bonking every society mistress available: it is a gesture – and not a particularly nice one at that.
3. Tesco has, more than any other supermarket brand, destroyed the local shopping communities of Britain – in precisely the same way as Walmart (now Asda’s owner) has done in the US. They continue to trot out rationales suggesting they don’t do this, but to be frank here, they are an insult to one’s intelligence. I have just completed a personal study of fruit & veg, newsagent, take-away, convenience store, stationery, clothing, hitech, and bookshops in an area that was recently Tescoed local to me here in Devon. It’s only a qualitative sample, but 100% reporting of a significant drop in sales since Tesco’s arrival does not leave much margin for error: Big T decimates local stores, bankrupts retail landlords, discourages small concerns already raped by business rates, and turns small, friendly and manageable communities into tumbleweed junctions inhabited by Third World and Cancer charities.
4. Tesco has allegedly done a great many store-siting deals that involved brown-paper envelopes. The ‘allegedly’ there is of course vital for legal reasons, but I can say that the fecundity of feedback about this topic over the years has led many observers to assert that there is no smoke without fire. Personally, I couldn’t possibly comment. But a close acquaintance of mine has on several occasions remarked that “since the multiples began chucking funny-money around, it’s made it a damn sight more expensive for the rest of us who would prefer a level playing field”. I’m not sure the playing fields of Eton are level, although it would be nice to think so: however, Camerlot’s recent relaxation of the rules on land development tends to militate against such wishful thinking.
Thus we can see that Tesco has worked against good, fresh, British food, diluted the manufacturing base, cost UK plc billions in lost trade, reduced the quality of life in small communities, and contributed to that need for ethical cleansing identified by The Slog recently. So all in all, I think it needs a damned good thrashing.
On any given day – depending on whether I’m writing about EU fraud or our dogs – The Slog gets around 7-9,000 hits. With additional pinging, emailing and lots of urrl leaving around the newspaper sites of Britain, there is no reason why a shoal of at least 20,000 emails shouldn’t hit the Tesco head office at some time during the first two days of next week. They should say this:
‘We, the concerned citizens of the UK, hereby announce our intention of pointing out every example we find in your stores of dishonestly misleading prices, in particular the heinous practice of deliberately pointing customers at poor-value alternatives between small and large pack sizes.
‘We shall report these instances to local MPs, the DIIS&R, local TSOs, consumer watchdogs, the BBC, and any other medium available until you stop doing it.’
If enough Sloggers are up for this, I will pull every string I can get to get national media coverage of the event. I would also ask any and all Sloggers with similar contacts to help me in this regard.
The event should be coordinated through Twitter – everyone with an account should tweet about it – and also Facebook.
All this will be strengthened as an action if we have a central and memorable brand name for it. The call to action I want to use is:
‘SHOP THE TESCO TRICKSTERS’
I’ll look at the comment threads tomorrow, and then make a decision about whether to press the button.