Adam Leyland - Editor

Availability is boring. It’s about moving goods, replenishing stocks, extra facings, trucks, DCs, sales-based ordering, deliveries. Are you asleep yet?

Yet as any retailer knows, availability is probably the most important and definitely the most undervalued facet of grocery retailing. Who cares if a product is new, sexy, award-winning and at a great price? If it’s not available, it’s pointless.

Understanding this has been crucial to any number of success stories in recent years. Case in point. Booker. CEO Charles Wilson has never once talked to me about availability. He talks about ‘cost, price, service’. He talks about ‘focus, drive and broaden’. But the first thing he did when he took control of Booker was to shrink the range and to focus on amazing availability. Booker’s prices aren’t always the cheapest but availability is always the best.

The same focus has driven Steve Rowe’s success at M&S. When he took over the food business, availability was still pretty terrible. And for all the superb NPD, it has been improving availability - linked to a smaller range that is more consistently applied - that has underpinned sales growth.

Now it is instructing Tesco’s reset. As chief product officer Jason Tarry revealed to me in an interview this week, even before the reset is completed and the new store adjacencies are trialled, dotcom availability is up 1.2%. What I like most about Tesco’s approach, however, is its use of a sales-based measure of the 1,000 most popular SKUs… at 9pm.

Most availability measures used in the industry are dishonest. An exercise in self-kidology to rival anything that the big four have practised on the pricing front. Tesco’s dotcom measure was a case in point. The real progress, then, is that the sales-based measure is up by 2.6%, with out of stocks reduced by a third.

Tesco is not out of the woods, but at least it can see the wood for the trees. If you compare and contrast with the empty shelves at some of its rivals - and the head in the sand response from central office to requests from store managers - you’ll find it instructive.