The Association of Convenience Stores was doing its best, this week, to put a brave face on the inquiry. It described the provisional findings as a "curate's egg" (see p26). For ACS and independent convenience stores generally it looks like a rank rotten egg to me.
We already knew the waterbed effect had been rejected. That banning below-cost selling and vouchering would be ruled out. What we hadn't predicted was that a distinction would be drawn between out-of-town supermarkets and edge-of-town, paving the way for more.
The reclassification of the 'competitor set' (the definition of a one-stop shop) will in theory allow the likes of Somerfield, Spar and other symbols to compete for larger developments. The most likely beneficiary, however, is retail giant Marks & Spencer.
Likewise a fascia test may limit the growth of Tesco Towns and offer consumers a greater choice, but a greater choice of... big supermarkets. Tesco was also broadly vindicated. A 3% jump in its share price said it all. And it has deep pockets to defend, case-by-case, the threat of forced landbank divestments. The report even suggests moves by the big four to buy further
c-store chains would not be dismissed out of hand (p4).
But the supermarkets are not out of the woods entirely. Tesco and Asda are briefing furiously against an ombudsman. The Commission also mooted the forced sale of actual stores in specific markets. But the biggest bombshell may be yet to come. In an exclusive interview (see p30), Peter Freeman revealed isolated cases of "unconscionable behaviour" among the 11 million emails it investigated, and promised, separately, that the existing mechanism of the code may still be invoked. The gun may still be smoking after all.