The varying perspectives on Tesco’s 2.6% drop in Christmas sales have piqued my interest. While there’s a clear rationale for the decline, there seems to be something more fundamental behind the woes of Britain’s biggest supermarket.
The ‘do it in a way only Tesco can’ focus has held the retailer in good stead: when it has employed this across all facets of its organisation, it has been unbeatable, from its defining Every Little Helps campaign to the marvels of Clubcard and Tesco.com, as well as its retail format strategy.
But the Big Price Drop captures none of the defining brilliance of these. It is a mere imitator, playing off Tesco’s reputation as the biggest retailer, rather than cleverly working the relevance and reach that differentiate it from the competition.
Just because the desired outcome is often scale, size alone should never be Tesco’s start point. Like its ‘Britain’s Biggest Discounter’ faux pas at the onset of the recession, the Big Price Drop isn’t Tesco in style or smartness - the fit is more Asda or Morrisons - and shoppers know it. For loyalists, the Big Price Drop grates for non-customers it doesn’t resonate.
I’m not suggesting Sir Terry was the wizard behind the missing ‘magic’, but he instilled a non-negotiable demand for excellence bar none in finding the right ‘Tesco’ answer to competitor-defining challenges.
Tesco is used to shouldering criticism. Embarrassment is not an emotion it is used to.
Yet there is an immediate and wonderful ‘only Tesco can do’ opportunity: for years, Tesco’s hardball reputation with its suppliers has been both lauded and feared. The Cokes, Colgates and Krafts of the world have always wanted Tesco to go far beyond the realms of their longstanding current partnerships to ‘really do it differently’ for the sake of the brand, the category and the retailer. The brands bring the specific knowledge and unrivalled shopper excitement opportunities, and Tesco brings the ability to make it ‘wow’ like no other grocer can.
I believe Philip Clarke can reignite that ‘only Tesco can’ mantra by telling his trading directors to get together with their fmcg category captain counterparts and encouraging three things - partnership, trust and risk - in a way only Tesco can.
Darren Keen is managing direct