An article by Graham Ruddick about the state of the Tesco empire in the Sunday Telegraph business pages of 30 September 2012 began with the paragraph:
‘Philip Clarke, the chief executive of Tesco, is walking around one of the supermarket group’s stores in Essex with his UK management team.’
And that sums up what is wrong with Tesco these days and why they are unlikely to return to the high-power success they enjoyed for so long.
CEO walking round the store: brilliant. With his management team: pointless.
I Offered to Walk Him Round
A few weeks ago I wrote to Philip Clarke and offered to walk round my local store with him, unannounced. I did this more in sorrow than anger, as I have had a soft spot for the retailing giant for a long time and have enjoyed the Clubcard points and rewards.
I am not a fan of any shopping, as readers will know. (See blogs on offer below)
However, I felt that the top people were not aware of what has gone wrong: service. Pure old fashioned customer service.
I received a reply from someone far further down the Tesco food chain who regurgitated a lot of waffle about offers, price variants and retail-speak. But he wouldn’t actually go and look at it on the ground, not in a suit and disguised as a real shopper.
What Has Gone Wrong?
Had somebody come with me, I would have started from outside by trying to enter the same door that people were coming out of. Great ‘fun’ and no choice. They have provided only one door.
Then I’d have pointed to what is whimsically called Customer Services with a semi-permanent queue that often blocks other aisles. This is because it now deals with everything from returns, to check out problems to lottery tickets to payments to Tesco Bank. And it doesn’t open till 8am. Why not?
We’d then have wandered the aisles, me doing a shop and trying to work out the kind of alleged offers and cons featured not that long ago on BBC TV’s Watchdog programme about sharp practices.
It’s unlikely the fruit and vegetable area would be full and inviting. In fact on a recent Friday evening, there was alomst no fresh fruit displayed at all. I’d point out how Morrisons now present fruit, vegetables, salads in an appealing, never-empty way.
The chances of the aisles being cluttered with trolleys is high. My companion may point out that things just fly off shelves into trolleys so fast because they are so popular, but that would be a distortion. It’s that they have no programme for clearing the clutter.
On the way round we would be assaulted by endless announcements meant for staff, about getting on a check-out, or wet-spill somewhere. These staff messages usually repeated badly score highly on the irritation charts.
Why can’t individual staff be bleeped and directed somewhere rather than intrude on customers’ thoughts and patience.
The old Tesco promise to force people to wait short times at tills has long gone. Instead they point people to the self-service with all it’s technical problems and expect us to pay the same price for doing it ourselves.
Shopping Is Not Therapy For Everyone
Our world assumes that everyone enjoys shopping and that retail is the new religion for the majority. So it may be, sadly, but there is a sizeable minority who do not conform, subscribe to or obey the general imperative.
And we have to eat, drink, be clothed and need other products, too.
Getting out of the store is a high priority for many people. There is already copious research on how British people have fallen out of love with queuing. Tesco ignores that.
There is no sense of urgency in most till operators. Of course they must chat appropriately, especially to people they know. And most of them are pleasant, polite, helpful and courteous human beings.
A few milk the talking sociability with friends; there should be an instruction to keep things moving. Anything else is sloppy management.
And the actual check-out. Nobody from Tesco high command has been to an Aldi check-out and seen how swift it is every time. Bagging away from the tills and staff who shift quickly are a joy for those who have other things to do with their day.
And the ludicrous Tesco check-out space (a mini shelf) for goods to pile on as you bag them! It has been deliberately reduced in size. Ridiculous.
Ridiculous that customers put up with it. Oh, of course, many now don’t. Which is why Tescos has the air of a once-proud warship now destined for the scrap heap of history.
All the ads, price gimmicks and reduced-product-sizes-for-the-same-price in the world are not going to turn it around. Decent customer service just might.
But what do I know. I’m only a customer, not ‘an expert’ in a suit, just trying to wheel my shopping out the same door that other customers are entering by.
Check-out other Grumpy Old Shopper pieces (if you’re not in a hurry):
Grumpy Old Shopper 5 – Centres, 20 April 2010
Grumpy Old Shopper 4 – Christmas, 23 December 2009
Grumpy Old Shopper 3 – Mysteries, 29 October 2009
Grumpy Old Shopper 2 – Supermarkets, 2 October 2009
Grumpy Old Shopper 1 – Announcements, 10 August 2009
Filed under: Blogs: My Own
When something goes wrong people can do one or more of a number of things about it: they can walk away; live with it; buy a new one; read the manual or start all over again, reboot it.
In both the political and the real worlds, it should be possible to do the equivalent, without losing sight of history, tradition and the baggage we all carry. Some things are worth persevering with; some not.
It just becomes necessary, when things seem so unsolvable, to start again. When the nightmare is so bad it overwhelms your sanity, wake up.
European Ship Is All But Lost At Sea
As quite clearly nobody in charge has any real idea what to do to get us all out of the mess we’re in globally, it may just be time to reboot the world economy, and particularly the European part. Global finances are in such a mess, that solving the Eurozone nightmare will only help a small part, but then, it’s something.
And it will help us save ourselves and our grandchildren’s futures. I don’t believe it’s better to hang together than to hang separately. We don’t need to be hanged at all.
Instead of saying: ‘if the Euro fails then the EU fails and that mustn’t happen’, lets’ say: ‘so be it. It has failed. It’s dead’. The EU is a monster of officialdom, bureaucracy and anti-democracy that is out of control. It’s a concept born early in the last century. It is now an outdated solution. It’s a sinking ship; time to read it the death rites before we are sucked down with it. Twentieth Century problems have moved on; a new solution is needed for now and the next few decades.
In their book, The Great Deception (2003), Christopher Booker and Richard North wrote: ‘Sooner perhaps rather than later, the fantasy of the great ‘European project’ would crumble into reality: destroyed by all those contradictions which in its mad ambition it had failed to foresee and which it could never have hoped to resolve’. That reality is arriving now.
The vanity of its chosen currency is the Euro. That is unravelling fast. One size cannot fit all, so let it go. Yes it will be painful for the rest of the world, but what we’re enduring now is hurting, disruptive and dangerous. So end it. Start again. reboot.
Let those countries who want to share a common currency, go ahead. And if they have to merge economic and fiscal policies to make that work, it’s their choice. Let the rest create (go back to) their own currencies, valued against others in the international baskets according to their own debt. GDP, productivity, employment, assets and management.
As the European mountain of smoke, mirrors and mud disintegrates to be washed away on the tide of history, really smart politicians should be setting a new agenda built not on sand but the rock of individual nation states cooperating according to their interests.
Following BBC Panorama revelations (3 Nov 2011) about the thousands of people who scam, lie, deceive to steal housing and housing benefits, Council Tax reliefs, income support, disability allowances and even Blue Badges (welfare criminals), we struggle to pick up our dropped jaws and take in the brazen cheek of people from home and every corner of abroad who have decided they can dip at will into British taxpayers’ largesse.
There is a solution, at least in part.
Set a date sometime in 2012 and say on that date every single benefit will stop dead. No exceptions.
Then, we can reboot.
- Between now and then, those who think they are eligible can reapply.
- Their dependents can reapply too.
- They will all be photographed and fingerprinted, so there are no more multi-aliases, no more claiming for people who are out of the country, deceased or never existed in the first place.
There will be those who say an ID card will solve all. They are wrong. That will be another source of fraud in many cases.
Rebooting will cause a fuss, of course. There will be a lot of bleating about civil liberties, human rights and indignity. But better to get it over with now and then we can get on and build a welfare support system that helps those who need help, not those who help themselves.
Photo: US Coast Guard
Filed under: Blogs: My Own
Just back from the garage, having been towed by the ever-helpful RAC. I’m hundreds poorer. The problem? Both coil springs gone.
Why? I’m told that modern, lightweight cars are unable to cope with increasing pot holes and excessive speed humps, the so-called ‘sleeping policemen’.
Let’s leave aside the poor quality of so many roads, repaired in grudging fits and starts by overburdened taxpayers generally getting very little for their road/fuel/repair taxes. Yes, pot holes play their part in racking cars, but It’s speed humps that cause the greatest damage.
The theory, like so much in our world, is that traffic-calming by dangerous obstructions are a good idea. They slow traffic in residential and school areas, since patently some people refuse to obey speed limits by signs and cameras. If I there is proof that the life of one child was saved by these humps, I’d change my tune to demand just fewer of them.
So, it makes sense to keep traffic at a ‘safe’ speed. It’s just that officialdom has gone overboard, as they always do. Why are so many streets hobbled? The shape, size, depth and viciousness of these humps has to be endured to be believed. Of course, there has to be balance between the need to drive around, and the well-being of local pedestrians and buildings.
But what about the damage to necks, backs and well-being of drivers in general? Don’t local residents need relief from these restrictions? The frustration, anger at the way these things are littered, the unavoidability of them and their inadequate warnings? Nobody bothers about that.
Filed under: Blogs: My Own
Centres of excellence, of learning, of entertainment, of towns and villages, of people’s hearts and well-being. Centres are good. Shopping Centres are not. I understand the need for retail (see all previous blogs on shopping). I understand that most people seem to need retail therapy more or less constantly on tap and can’t resist any retail opportunity, virtual or real.
Good luck to them and all the jobs that go with that. Building fine shopping malls in our cities, no problem. Centralise them so they stay in urban areas to ensure the survival of vibrant town and city life. That’s great.
However, why do they all have to be indenti-kit, only minor variations on geography, heights, size and number of attached car parks? The shop outlets inside are ALL THE SAME IN ANY AND EVERY SHOPPING CENTRE.
All the major stores have to be there, often on several levels with ways in from different directions. All selling the same products as not only their own branches, but also as branches of their rivals at home and abroad. Their market research tells them that it is essential they are in a mall if another company is. So there we have it, the vicious circle of centralised shopping theory.
There seems to be no way back from where we are now. Small, independent retailers with unique, local and sometimes quirky flavours are not only few and far between, but if they prosper at all, aim to become a national chain with ambitions to have a presence in every shopping centre themselves.
And car parking? All identical design again, soulless concrete deserts, monitored by big brother cameras, charging by the minute. They are essential and unavoidable, public transport never being able to render cars obsolete in such places. But they exploit captive shoppers ruthlessly, it being impossible to visit all these shops without parking.
Seat to sit down? Fat chance. However old, decrepit or weary people are, the seats are not provided in anything like sufficient numbers. Not all partially disabled people are in wheelchairs. Not all families with toddlers and children can keep moving all the time. Even in stores, the seats for partners to sit on while things are tried on, are almost non-existent.
The problem is that much of the working, daily world is made for and by people who are fully mobile, completely fit and inspired by the opportunity to offer up money in whatever city they find themselves, reassured by the sameness of it all. If only the planners would spare a thought for that handful, that brave minority who are reluctant shoppers, and just give us plenty of free, guaranteed available parking and seats everywhere to let us sit and moan and whinge and whine and rest our poor feet.
That way we might feel more like buying a shirt, a jacket, clothes for all the women in our lives of all ages, a meal, another mobile phone, a round of coffees, shoes, the latest TV screen, snacks, CDs and a holiday today. Then we might have the energy to face either coming back again or going to another replica centre to buy a shirt, a jacket, clothes for all the women in our lives of all ages, a meal, another mobile phone, a round of coffees, shoes, the latest TV screen, snacks, CDs and a holiday tomorrow. And for ever and ever. Amen.
Filed under: Blogs: My Own
Why doesn’t the Trade Descriptions Act apply to motorway service areas? When they say tiredness can kill and you pull in off the excessively queueing, repairing, accidenting motorway to refresh yourself, how can what you find there be described as services?
Queues to get in, if a coachload or six of football supporters or geriatric clubs (and I admit I’m not exactly young) have just arrived. Queues to get beyond the cramped, oppressive foyer. Queues to get into the toilets, and queues to get out. For many, it’s queues within as there are not enough workable, decent cubicles.
Queues for overpriced, plastic food and drink, much of it laid out on slabs of past-the-best display in the most unappetising way imaginable. And then of course, queues to get out of the building, and queues to drive off the campus and get petrol and get back onto the motorway where queuing should be in the Highway Code.
Even on the toll motorway of the ghastly M6, where you pay a massive amount of money to travel on a beautiful stretch of well-maintained road (actually, just like you thought all those petrol and road licence taxes might pay for), and pull into a promising newish, clean services to get some speedy, clean, unhurried services to send you on your way, smiling what do you find? Why, only the coachloads of football fans who knew you had come off the main motorway and thought you’d miss their blocking your way in, round and out.
No, it’s not queues that are the big problem. They are an essential part of mobility that we need and crave as humans, and after those taxes milked from us, it’s actually our right to be mobile. It’s the fact that a stop at the motorway services is little more than a retail opportunity (see all Blogs about the hells of shopping), when you just want to rest between Point A and Point B. You don’t want to pick up your week’s groceries, buy your Christmas toys, games, books, CDs and DVDs, play fatuous video games, pay to sit in an electric armchair, buy flowers, contribute to a charity or join a motoring organisation half way through a journey. Or generally indulge in anything beyond basic retail therapy.
But clearly you do, though, in your millions want to do all these things and have made it very worth while for all these companies to cram into these hideous places and invite you to spend yet more money. The problem is that I don’t, so can you please keep off the roads when I’m going from one shopping location to another via a stretch of motorway? Or I may end up seeing not a retail therapist, but a sanity-specialist. Thank you.
Filed under: Blogs: My Own
We all have to carry car insurance. We know that. Most people obey the law.
However, it has become a permit to print money for the insurance business. All this searching websites, making comparisons, getting the best deals. You go with something that looks good, and find you are actually insured by a company you either haven’t heard of or don’t want to be insured with anyway.
You pay your fine and take your points, made ever more inevitable by the cancerous growth of speed cameras across our once fair land. You understand that they sit on your licence like a deadweight for 3 years. You have to declare them, you are aware of them. But after 3 years, your licence is cleaned.
BUT NOT FOR INSURANCE COMPANIES. No, they want to know how many points you have for FIVE YEARS. Why? Presumably to charge you more for longer.
I used to think loyalty paid, but obviously in the past decade, loyalty has become a historical quirk. I moved to CIS when my children were young drivers, as they were the only ones who offered to insure my youngsters at anything like an affordable price. Since then, I have moved insurer every year or two, paying to preserve my no-claim discount. Now we are told that is another racket, and we’d be better off not bothering with that extra surcharge.
They have records of everything, all insurance companies. Details of your car, and any car you are going to buy. All in their systems. Alongside your points and claims you have made or had against you.
On most proposal forms, you do not have to list such old claims (because they know), but when you have renewed or started a new policy, they can then charge you more because a) apparently you are a bigger risk and b) you didn’t tell them (because there was nowhere to tell them on the form and you knew that they know anyway!).
Racket? Don’t get me started.
Filed under: Blogs: My Own
Nearly Christmas. The nightmare of pre-Christmas is almost over.
The clearing up, sorting out, storing good-idea gifts, credit card bills and all that will form the post-Christmas nightmare, so I can worry about that later.
This year we have shopped more on line. My long-suffering wife has shopped a lot in the traditional, tortuous, frustrating and hideous ways. Usually doubling up the cost of things with car parking charges and coffees. But I have done a lot of internet shopping to help out. Well, I’m concerned to do my bit, after all is said and done.
It should be simple on line. Comfort of your own room, laughably slow broadband speeds. Choose your stuff, your bargains, your three-for-ones, your suggested (by your kids) pressies for the grandchildren. A few clicks, credit card details, and wait for the deliveries.
BUT IT NEVER IS THAT EASY. Cards and numbers that don’t match up. Security questions and passwords forgotten. Why do you need a password and registration with a company that either you will never do business with again, or will be gone to that great Woolworths/MFI in the sky by next year? Two capitals and two lower case, two numbers – yes, they’ve got all that. But still their stupid system will not accept it. And if you have to ring up anywhere… just taking you through a few questions for security. Don’t you get sick of confirming the first line of your address, your mother’s maiden name, your favourite holiday destination and what you had for breakfast three months ago!
Deliveries? Don’t get me started. Don’t ever go out from early morning till late at night so you can receive your parcels from what used to be the Post Office or some other carrier. If you do go out or they think you are out or pretend that they think you are out even if they can see you through your window, you’ll get it left across the road with people you might or might not trust. And then have to make fatuous seasonal conversation with them – yes, it’s very cold, yes the family are coming home, yes I love Christmas too, they should have it every year!
Or you have to queue up longer than a Tesco checkout at this time of year at what is whimsically referred to as a sorting office. Still making the same mindless, self evident comments to fellow queue sufferers (and if they know you at the desk when you finally reach it, to them as well) – yes, it’s very cold, yes the family are coming home, yes I love Christmas too, they should have it every year!
And supermarkets again. I’ve shared with my wife the misery of Marks and Spencers quality-end produce and Tesco for those last minute things (nearly £200 worth!). If I hear once more a single refrain of the all time Christmas classic favourites in a shop, I will rip somebody’s head off.
But hey. It’s Christmas. It’s the reason for the season, isn’t it. It’s what makes the economic wheel go round. So pass me a scrap of wrapping paper – I’ll start a new shopping list for that gap between Christmas and the New Year.
Filed under: Blogs: My Own
I ought to explain my aversion to shopping. I was born and raised above my father’s shop, we were a retail family and I am proud of his success through hard work which helped to make me what I am today! One of my friends (one of three) has pointed out to me that with my background, my loathing of shopping is a mystery.
Well, what I dislike nowadays is not retail itself (essential part of our economy and enjoyed by millions and gives vital employment in difficult circumstances to millions more), but that it is made into a lifestyle, a religion, a culture in its own right and we are all expected to worship at the shrine.
Anyway, in the spirit of open-mindedness, I thought an ideal part-time little earner for me would be to BECOME A MYSTERY SHOPPER!!!
There are various packages you can sign up to on the internet and receive training! What, training to be a shopper? Well, it’s an art, apparently, going into a given shop or restaurant or other outlet at the request of their head office and buy things from a list. All anonymously. They need all ages, all shapes and sizes, even grumpies.
You must never reveal you are a mystery shopper, must only make notes when out of sight of the shop, must remember names and details of who served you, and rate their performance afterwards. Sounds easy. You get to keep what you buy or eat (!) and might even be paid a fee. An earning opportunity, too.
You have to actually bid for each separate job, and these agencies exist to make it easy. I looked into it. A small fee… OK, guaranteed money back if not happy. OK… then there is tax to add on. Did they forget to say this? Of course. Do it through Pay-Pal, should be safe.
It is fairly clear at once this is not going to be a great learning-about-life opportunity. You need to live in a city with sufficient outlets that subscribe to this way of raising staff performance. We don’t. You need a whole new email address to handle all the endless messaging. You need stamina galore, patience in industrial strength and a deep love of shopping that is another of the unexplained mysteries of life. And it’s not really a revenge-opportunity on certain shops, certain staff, after all.
OK, just ask for the money back. Easy. Just fill in a detailed form asking for more information about you than you had to give to sign up in the first place. And send it to arrive at an address in CANADA before a certain date. Easier not to bother, which is, naturally, their earning opportunity.
So, I am talking to a friend in California about using his address for a similar scheme here – The Revenge Shopping Agency – get your own back. Become a Mystery Shopper with my ten week intensive training programme; shop till you drop and rate everybody and everything; then complain and take it all back and get large refunds, complain about stomach aches in restaurants. And if you don’t think this is for you, you will discover the mystery of my money-back scheme into the bargain.
Go on. Spoil yourself!
Filed under: Blogs: My Own
Clearly, we all think we are brilliant drivers and why are the roads choked up with so many idiots? Obviously we can’t ALL be brilliant drivers, but the fact is that there are a lot of idiots out there. Other drivers usually cause accidents. And severe damage to the patience and well-being of sensible drivers.
Take the speed limit pushers. I was caught by a big brother camera (a future blog) doing 37 mph out in the country where some mindless bureaucrat had arbitrarily decreed a 30 mph limit (another future blog). I got taxed sixty quid to help fund yet more cameras (yet another future blog) with three points on the licence I have had since I started driving when I was 17, and I am now over 60 (and another). So now I am scrupulous at driving spot on the speed limit.
A vehicle behind me might be a long way back when I glance in the mirror, then suddenly he’s chasing me right up the rear bumper. He’s above the limit or he wouldn’t have closed the gap on me. Where’s big brother now? Where are the points on his licence and his sixty quid contribution to yet more cameras? He gets away with it, ultimately because I am sticking to the limit and he is forced to as well.
At the other end of the scale is the poodler who is out for a Sunday drive (remember when we used to do such things for entertainment?) or someone talking so absorbed to a passenger that he is unaware he is doing 10 mph. He gets through the lights ahead on green, the last one, and I have to stop and wait on red, fuming at his back receding down the road. He is blissfully unaware of his speed, or even that he is driving a car. The crowning touch is often that I watch from a side road as his cousin doing an identical talking/poodling thing joins my road or a JCB or a learner driver!
And which bit of the Highway Code permits cyclists to ride on all pavements, cross all red lights and have absolute right of way at all times and in all circumstances?
And indicators! When did we get told by big brother government to abandon use of the indicator? I must have missed it, because 90% of drivers no longer indicate intention to turn off a road or, worse, off a roundabout.
I was actually directly behind a police patrol car recently, while he waited to join a busy roundabout. As car after van after lorry changed lanes and left the roundabout, only one in ten indicated. I thought, at last, the police will see it and DO something. Blue light flashing, pull one over, give him a ticket, most criminals are caught because they come into contact with the police through some aspect of motoring. He could find drug couriers, dustbin overfilling criminals (now there’s a future blog) or solve a cold case crime as well as show everyone that indicating intentions are essential.
Instead he stays waiting at the junction far too long, oblivious to anything. Why? Because he’s talking to his passenger and both of them must have had a mind-lapse and thought they were in the aisle of a supermarket doing the shopping/talking thing. (See Blog on Supermarkets).
Filed under: Blogs: My Own
The best thing about a trip to a supermarket is getting back home again having done it. Pack away all the stuff and breath a sigh of relief. Let the heart rate calm down to normal again.
Throw out all the old stuff, past the sell-by date stuff, and replace it with the new. Chucking some of that out will be next week’s job, but for now a virtuous feeling of satisfaction pervades. One New Year we will resolve to buy more appropriately to our needs and decide every meal, every cup of coffee, every snack a week in advance.
Obviously supermarkets give us what we want, which is why they succeed. I love the loyalty points, the bulk convenience, the special offers and the chance to recycle something in the car park.
But the actual torture of getting stocked up in a supermarket… oh dear.
We have Morrisons up the road, Asda on the way to Tescos. Sainsburys is miles away, but they all have certain features in common.
First impossibility is finding a trolley that doesn’t give the pusher a hernia. Is it really beyond the wit of modern engineering to make a trolley that actually steers? Seems to be? Second challenge to patience is the endless assault of repeated announcements (see blog Grumpy Old Shopper 1 – Announcements).
Then, every time I face it, I am forced to wonder why so many people go to a supermarket to exercise their social lives. Is that really what they do for fun? Do they have no other lives?
But do they have to stand around blocking aisles while they drone on about trivial nothings to people they may see frequently? In the supermarket? Oh excuse me, while I just reach across your ludicrously piled trolley and your gassing bodies to reach a box of eggs. Then pardon me while I put my body and veering trolley through a slalom down the aisle that you are declaring a no-go zone for sensible shoppers. No please don’t let me stop you telling your entire life story/job description/annual holiday/medical details that should be private between you and your GP or your psychotherapist.
Even worse is when these people frequently want to talk to me! Either they know me or think they do. I came to shop and get out with a fragment of sanity left. I didn’t come in here to tell you my entire life story/job description/annual holiday/medical details or to listen to yours. Or, worse still, to hear the entire life story/job description/annual holiday/medical details of the person you were just talking to!
There is even more worse than that. Get me out of here, I’m an old celebrity, but I can’t get out without the absurdity of the checkout. Modernised supermarkets where they want you to buy so much you fill a car, offer a jokey, tiny area after the till to get all your stuff sorted and bagged badly while fumbling for credit cards, loyalty cards, counting bags.
The biggest horror of the check out, of course, apart from the queue is finding the people in front of you are the same ones who blocked your progress and are now telling the check out operative the entire life story/job description/annual holiday/medical details of themselves, everybody they met and you as well…
The only announcement I long to hear in a supermarket is: “Execution Squad to Aisle 3, selfish people blocking the passage of sensible shoppers on time-sensitive budgets, that’s Execution Squad to Aisle 3, selfish people blocking the passage of sensible shoppers on time-sensitive budgets. Thank you”.
Failing that, perhaps they could impose higher charges on shoppers who are in the store to talk, and lower on those who are there to buy.
Filed under: Blogs: My Own