Tesco CEO Dave Lewis has told HQ staff to reconnect with what’s happening on the shop floor. It’s about time, says Catherine Shuttleworth, CEO of Savvy Marketing. Big grocers like Tesco need to rediscover the value of ‘back to basics’ retailing.

The news from Tesco this morning that it is sending head office staff back to the stores is as curious as it is worrying. It says something about the state of national opinion on Tesco that this has made headline news. Some industry commentators are hailing this as a visionary move by Tesco - so am I the lone voice that thinks that maybe this is a recognition that actually the road to recovery will come by going back to basics? It makes me consider the very real cultural challenges that have developed at Tesco in the past 18 months.

It’s a universal truth that good retailers really understand their shoppers and good buyers really understand their categories. To get that understanding it’s vital that you talk to the people that matter the most - the customer. Ironically, Tesco are the owners of more customer data than any of their competitors through Clubcard, and I think that’s where the problem lies. No matter how good the data is, it can’t really tell you why customers have abandoned you to shop elsewhere.

To find that out you have to talk to them, watch the way they shop. When you shop your own stores every week you might face head-on some uncomfortable facts, like when you can’t buy your favourite cereal three weeks running because it’s not on the shelf. Only then will you realise that availability is a real pain, not just a target number. When you spend £10 a week more than you expected on your usual weekly shop you’ll know how inconsistent pricing is. When you shop your competitors’ stores too, you will see with your own eyes what they are doing differently to you and why that might be appealing to your customer base.

Looking at things through your own eyes every week and creating your own opinion is so much better than looking at one-off pics on twitter and using that as your source of store analysis.

Of course, lots of this happens in other retailers - and often with suppliers too - and that’s why it’s hardly a ground-breaking idea. What’s encouraging is that the new man at the top is taking immediate and positive action, putting the shopper directly at the centre of its business - not just in terms of Clubcard data, but crucially by re-establishing genuine empathy among those at head office with real shoppers’ challenges and issues.