New boss Dave Lewis this week wrote an open letter to staff asking them to email him ideas on how to turn Tesco around. The Grocer asked Tesco staff to copy us in. Here’s their take, and industry experts too. 

From: David Cartwright, Tesco team leader

Subject: Very stressed Tesco team leader

Hello, well first things first. Talk is cheap and we, the staff and backbone of Tesco, have been told packs of lies and false promises for some time now. Staff are stretched across so many job roles in store, nothing ever seems to be completed 100%. If you walk into any large Tesco after, say 2pm, the shelves are half-empty and the staff are fed-up. All we want to do is take pride in our jobs but how can we when we spend the first few hours on dotcom then keep relentlessly being put on tills, with the store manager walking round looking angry because his store looks like a bomb has gone off. The company keep pushing ‘giving great service’ down our necks but it’s hard to give good service for something you can’t be proud of.

The people that come up with these customer promises like ‘one in front’ and dotcom availability have clearly never worked on a shop floor in their lives and have no idea how much time and effort it takes to keep a large store tidy and full during a busy day.

You don’t make money from empty shelves. Customer perception of some stores must be awful, never being able to find a member of staff to help and only being able to buy 60% of their shopping lists.

I have a discount card and I don’t shop there as when I go shopping I want a shop that has the items I need in a clean and tidy environment. 

Tesco 3

From: Neil Saunders, MD, Conlumino

Subject: Your priorities

Resist the temptation to come up with grand plans, give them fancy names and roll them out via committees, steering groups and working parties. In reality you face a number of straightforward problems that need to be tackled with honesty, common sense and above all, an appreciation of how they will come across to shoppers.

The first is the discounters. The solution: to ensure customers can do their core grocery shopping as cheaply at Tesco as they can at the discounters. This doesn’t mean price-matching every item but it does mean at least having parity on key items. If this means sacrificing margins, that’s a pill you will need to swallow.

The second is communicating value. Tesco needs to make sure shopping cheaply is as easy; currently it is anything but. Tesco use far too many slogans, straplines and promotional tools, most of which are meaningless to consumers.

The third is about where the selling is done. Times have changed. It may be necessary, in some cases, to downsize some stores. A comprehensive review of space requirements is needed and the portfolio will ultimately need to be streamlined. It may well be necessary to develop a new store segmentation model. This should be based on local demand and competition, which would be used to optimise what stock is sold and how it is displayed and marketed in store. 

From: Yvonne, Tesco worker

Subject: Your new job

I have worked for the company for 12 years and have seen many changes in that time. I have been a member of the Forum for much of that time, up to National level and, whilst glad that this process has been refreshed, feel that Tesco needs to be seen to be listening to its staff at shop floor level. We are after all in direct communication with customers and can see and hear what they are saying and, in my store and group, they are saying we don’t have enough stock on the shelves when they want it, the products they buy are being discontinued too frequently, and there are not enough staff to help them when they need it. We have been asked if we are closing due to the significant reduction in staff and stock!

It is all now about number crunching; if we take less money we reduce staff and discontinue stock - the customers don’t get what they want so they shop elsewhere, so we take less money etc etc. If we put people back on the shop floor and bring back what customers want, they will come back to us.


Tesco Extra

From: Bryan Roberts, analyst, Kantar Retail

Subject: Cut the range

The priority is to invest in people in your UK stores. While there are lots of decent initiatives in place and plenty of prettier refreshed stores, there are not enough hours in store to make sure these initiatives are being implemented properly. Tesco’s improvements to non-food, fresh, bakery and in store dining are palpable and make the stores a generally more attractive proposition, but these refreshes need to be cheaper and backed up by higher service levels. Something obviously has to be done on price too, with a basic resetting of price to narrow the gap with discounters and Asda almost inevitable.

We’d also like to see the return of more autonomy to store managers again having greater freedom in ranging and promotions to take on local competitors. The final wish would be to see you take an axe to the range. Many categories in Tesco carry a preposterous number of SKUs - the stores have become confusing to shop and more complex and costly to operate as a result. So a return to more shopper-centric rather than shareholder-centric behaviours would be more than welcome. 

Hammersmith Tesco

From: Claire Nuttall, founding partner of Thrive

Subject: How to give Tesco back its mojo

In your shoes I’d be thinking there’s no quick fix. I would firstly refocus on the hugely evolved nature of family shopping as this has rocked the core model on which Tesco was founded and is so key to getting back on track.

The Tesco brand has evolved into more of a value trading name rather than an engaging consumer brand. It feels it has lost its mojo and purpose. As a shopper I don’t feel the emotion around what the brand is any more, aside from aggressive pricing manifestos, value statements, lots of independent un-joined up initiatives, yet a successful premium brand in food. It needs to clarify what it stands for in the UK as a retailer and in the eyes of its core customers. After all, they matter most.

It needs to become more entrepreneurial and innovative on all levels. It should invest in nurturing engaged and passionate people to deliver the best local and online shopping experience and service ever.It’s a huge mindset shift to start behaving as a hungry challenger leveraging the best in a big infrastructure.

Your whole proposition needs to focus on core drivers of quality, convenience, accessibility, personalisation and inspiration. It’s going to be hard manoeuvring such a huge retail juggernaut as you will require an agile, hungry and entrepreneurial new venture but it can be done and it’s an exciting journey to be on. 

From: David Gray, analyst at Planet Retail

Subject: Don’t go nuclear

Dear David, You might have been given the nickname Drastic Dave in the past but I would urge you not to try to re-invent the wheel. In fact, one of the key things is don’t do anything drastic. Don’t press the nuclear button on price. It’s not in your interests and it’s not in the interests of the industry as a whole. It would be a mistake.

What you do need to do is to look at the brand and what it stands for. If you went to someone in the street and asked what Tesco stood for, what would they say? Yet ask anyone what Waitrose stood for, or what Aldi stood for and they would know. Tesco’s brand marketing strategy has been very confusing.

Focus on the core. Philip Clarke tried to do this to some extent but he also took the business off into other directions, launching things like Blinkbox, which are not core businesses, and you should consider selling them. 

Tesco London

From: Tracy Bishop, Tesco worker

Subject: See for yourself

Hello Mr Lewis and welcome to Tesco, I am looking forward to having you on board and making some great changes to the company. I have worked for Tesco for 14 years and am a very loyal member of staff. The changes I would like to see are the way we train our staff, especially the management. There is a severe lack of training. Staff are just made up to team leaders or managers at the blink of an eye.

Many general assistants know far more about their departments than the team leaders or managers. This leads to no respect for managers as they no longer have the knowledge. I completely understand that the customer is the forefront of our business but staff must also be happy to give great customer service.

Part-time staff are also not as conscientious or passionate as full-time staff so I think more full-time jobs should be offered.

I would like to see yourself and other higher managers come back to the shop floor to see the basics and what really goes on without telling people you are coming so you can see what really goes on. Whenever we have a visit we are always informed so everyone is called in to make sure the store is ready for the visit.

If you could see your stores for what they really are I think you’d be shocked. Night workers are treated poorly and never see a personnel manager, store manager or wages clerk. I think store managers and personal managers should take on some night shifts every couple of months and clock in like the rest of us.

Thank you for taking the time to read my email.

Looking forward to some great new changes within the company. 

From: Andrew Marsden, marketing consultant

Subject: Rediscovering the Tesco brand

The first thing you need to do is to rediscover what the Tesco brand is all about. Tesco has got a real problem on ranging. You have become over-dominant on own label and are virtually telling people what they should be buying. There is a sense of going back to what Sainsbury’s used to be like in the bad old days, when you couldn’t buy brands!

The ranging is really poor and at the end of the day you have to remember that Tesco is a shop and it should concentrate on being a shop.

You have to discover where Tesco stands in the new landscape. There’s a hell of a difference between Every Little Helps and trying to be all things to all men. The current ranging and marketing strategy is confusing to most rather than clear to all.

You urgently need to change the marketing strategy. Tesco always used to have a very strong, marketing-led team in the UK and that seems to have been lost. To get that back you need vision right from the top to ensure Tesco emerges as the new Tesco with a clearer vision.