How Tesco can refocus on its customers

If you didn't hear Tesco's troubled news last week, you must have been living on Mars.

Sarah Todd: chief executive, Geometry Global
Sarah Todd: chief executive, Geometry Global

The happy news for the brand and for all of us is that the chief executive Dave Lewis has committed to the shopper by saying, "For the past six months we put customers back at the centre of everything we do."

If you step back and look at the big picture, you could argue that by trying to simplify shopping, the larger grocery retailers actually lost sight of what customers needed.

Big red price reduction signs and action alleys with acres of BOGOF deals triumphed over creating positive shopping experiences, helpful informed staff offering relevant ideas and inspiration.

Sterile environments were created, forgetting that people shop different categories in different ways with very different emotional needs when buying televisions, mascara, or evening dinner.

Beauty shoppers enjoy the sensorial process – they want to play with products and explore, a totally different mindset to finding something fast to feed the family – yet the environment remained largely the same.

I think retailers also lost sight of the fact that while it's true that customers are in control, we still require a helpful hand when we make choices. Our desire for personalisation and recommendation has been a key driver in the thirst for greater information.

Choosing a television is an investment and people want a feel of what it would be like at home and technical information, to avoid costly mistakes.

John Lewis does this brilliantly, with excellently trained staff – yet still promising value – never knowingly undersold. My mother shops there, I shop there and I bet my children will shop there too.

Here are four recommendations for keeping close to shoppers:

1. Stand for something 

The fastest growing retailing brands have a strongly defined experience, personality and offer reflected in their shops: The Entertainer, The White Company, Poundland – they’re not trying to be all things to all people. They smartly focus on inspiring people to buy rather than big price drop signs and sell, sell, sell. 

2. Create the right mood 

Action alleys and unending offers created a hunting type of behaviour. The larger grocery stores struggled to change the mood between categories and focused on pure need fulfilment rather than exploration and building personal relationships. In fact, relationship management tended to be left to the loyalty programme, well beyond the door of the store. 

3 Innovate

Just like George at Asda. Twenty five years ago the so-called fashion "King of the High Street" made his aspirational design available to more people – and became a huge trip driver for Asda. It was retail innovation and differentiation on a mass scale. It’s been a long time since many of the big grocery players launched something that put clear blue water between themselves.

4 Delight with novelty

Zara superbly translates catwalk trends quickly into its stores, for a short seasonal period. Same for Aldi’s "get it before it goes" limited edition stock – remember the Wagyu beef burger frenzy last summer.

Dave Lewis hit the nail on the head when he said, "This isn’t about having a conversation about the most share of voice, we are interested in the customer experience above all else right now."

Sarah Todd is the chief executive of Geometry Global London 


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