There has been much jocular banter to and fro at The Slog during the last few days – between those who think having a go at Tesco is tilting at windmills, and rude buggers like me who think doing nothing is no longer an option. It’s all good knockabout stuff, but if I may this Friday evening (a dead time for blog hits anyway) I should like to present a rather more serious case than previously.
First off, of the two most voluble critics of Shop Tesco Tricks, Drain Alert I don’t know at all beyond sensing that he/she has a healthy sense of humour. So fair enough. Duncan Donuts I know slightly as a fine man and sensible bloke who is seriously concerned about our culture; we have differences about many things, but I can’t think of many others I’d prefer to have with me on a barricade. I am a man of snap judgements.
I don’t know about Drain Alert, but I know Dunc lives in London. (If you really want to hit him very hard indeed, I have his address.) However, the point here is that I have over the last decade or so learned at first hand the destructive power of Tesco, because I no longer live in the metropolis, but between two small communities. There is marketing, and there is monopolising. Tesco is a monopolist company.
Let us take some of the crits. “Tesco is no better or worse than the others”. Wrong. Tesco has been at the cutting edge of selling the broadest range under the Extra brand, and zapping the small retailer via its Express sub-brand. It was the first in the 1970s to introduce mafia-style screwing tactics against manufacturing companies. But let’s suppose that they are all the same: why does that make this criticism valid? If we are being attacked by Orange, AOL and BT, is a focused attack on Orange (easily the nastiest of the lot) ergo sum immoral? The argument is daft. In fact – much worse – it borders on being an excuse for doing nothing.
A second set of incoming vitriol suggested that mine was ‘an anti-capitalist rant’. Hmm. Let me explain something here: from Fine Fare in 1977 until Safeway in the mid to late 1990s, I had one or another multiple supermarket brand as a client pretty much without cessation. The word ‘rant’ to describe a calm analysis of how braindead buyer-bullies ripped the profitability out of British food growing and manufacturing doesn’t sit well with my nature. Anger about this (given our current situation as a nation) should not be dismissed as ‘a rant’. Anger has helped achieve almost every liberty we enjoy. My anger is based on personal, professional experience of just how truly anti-social these people can be. ‘Tescophobia’ as a concept is just as dishonest as Islamophobia.
The third most common input was ‘it’s just people trying to make a living, it’s capitalism’. Bollocks. Capitalism never was and never will be based on greed: real capitalism is about risk. There are many in our culture today who think cynicism to be somehow clever. It is in fact exactly what the cheats want to grow as an attitude: the one thing they fear is principled determination. The threat we face in 2012 is that ghastly perversion of capitalism, monopolism. If you doubt this, look at the history of anti-Trust legislation in the US. From the Edwardian era onwards, American legislators realised that the JP Morgans, Fords and Newscorps of this world are out to control and stifle. Stifle the voyager gene, and you destroy the risk element of capitalism. Capitalism is among the finest outputs of a species brain that constantly wonders, ‘What if?’ Monopolism is the devilish residue of the ancient simian brain part that feels constantly threatened.
I was back in Tesco this morning. Only this time, I was on more of a shopping mission than anything else. There now follows a small selection of what I found. But first, let me say this: there are two overriding beliefs shared by most supermarket shoppers. The first is that bigger sizes are better value; and the second is that own label is cheaper than manufacturer brands. Tesco is using both these beliefs to boost its profits.
The Oaktree premium Houmus costs 32.7p per 100 gms. Tesco own-label is 47.5p per 100gms. Napolina premium spaghetti costs 33% less than the Tesco version.
At the meats gondola end, a ‘special offer’ was available on extra-lean beef mince: £4 for 700 gms. Further down the aisle, in the cooler cabinets, was the identical product: but this time the offer was 2 x 500gms for £4. In the yellow fats cabinet – at eyeline level – was the ‘Large’ size of Clover for £2. Down at ankle level was a ‘Family’ pack – twice the size for the same price.
The beer offers at Tesco require a degree in astrophysics to work out the relative value of 300 and 440ml sizes in cans and bottles. Work out in your head – now, as a hurried shopper – the difference in value between 12 x 300ml bottles at £9 and 10 x 440 ml cans at the same price. One version had the price per litre worked out for you; the other one didn’t. How can that be legal?
Tesco is running into difficulty because it has become the victim not of its own success, but its greed. Its expertise lies in food and household, but moving beyond this requires a different level of staff assistance. Asking an assistant to help me three weeks ago choose between three versions of an ‘HD ready’ television felt like asking King Charles II for advice on World War I tank tactics. Tesco has cut staff quality and numbers in a relentless search for margin – in order to give the shareholders what they want. But as ever, this just won’t do: the shareholders are not the customers. Lose sight of the who the customer is, and you are lost.
This was exactly the mistake made by Britain’s food manufacturers in the 1970s. They sold their brand birthright to own-label multiples in return for quick returns to the shareholders. But by 1980, Birds Eye was delivering more in case discounts to the retail trade than it was to those shareholders. Birds Eye’s real customer was and is the kid or mum who feels (and they were right) ‘Other Beefburgers just don’t taste the same’.
To sum up (yet again) Tesco has added massively to our balance of payments problem by reducing the amount our farmers produce, reducing the ability of home-grown food manufacturers to expand abroad, and importing massive amounts of foreign-grown food produce. It has melted the glue of local communities by expanding its ranges, lengthening its opening hours, reducing staff wages, and opening small stores to push the remaining specialists out of business. They should rebrand Tesco – and call it instead Omnivore.
And last but not least, it has reduced still further any remaining trust in UK brands by cheating and misleading customers in search of value; while at the same time raising doubts about the honesty of those local government officers it presses into a sort of vicarious partnership via which social facilities are sacrificed to Mammon.
This is why Shop Tesco Tricks will keep going – as will the dozen or so other, much bigger sites devoted to controlling this appalling monster. So while I’m happy to hear what detractors have to say in terms of databased arguments to challenge what I’m saying, I really am not going to engage with the gratuitous ‘it won’t work/playground antics/what’s the point’ crap.
Enjoy the weekend.