Tesco: great example of the perils of data driven marketing & neglect of the customer experience?

Tesco continues to do ‘badly’ in the UK

The other day I was reading the business press and the following piece on the poster child loyalty schemes/analytical CRM/data driven business management caught my eyes:  Tesco UK sales fall for more than a year.

If you don’t know then let me remind you that for many years the loyalty/CRM folks were holding up Tesco as the shining example of how to run a business intelligently/smartly and out compete your competitors by harnessing data and using this insight to drive/run the business.  And about a year ago the wheels came of the bus.

What got Tesco here?

Looking at it from the customer perspective, I say that the difficult economic environment forced customers to take a closer look at Tesco.  Some of these customers noticed that the ‘great deals’ from Tesco were actually more marketing gimmicks than genuine value.  And they noticed the poverty of the overall shopping experience – stores, products, service….. Here is a comment that speaks of the marketing gimmicks:

“..   It is consistently more expensive than Asda, Morrisons, even Sainsburys. It’s offers are phoney.  Strawberries “half price” at £2. Never seen them at £4 at Tescos or any other supermarkets. Asda had them at £1 so Tesco offered 2 for £2.50 next day, but smaller punnets. Their price drops are a joke, they drop from inflated price (Sometime BOGOF price) and are still expensive. They must think the public are fools and I suppose some are – they don’t even look at prices.”

As a strategist and business consultant, I say that like many successful businesses that end upon hard times Tesco’s strength became its weakness.  Put differently, Tesco placed pretty much all of its emphasis on data driven marketing and business management.  And in the process it gradually sucked the life out of brand and the customer experience. Rather like a television whose picture quality degrades gradually such that you don’t even notice these small changes until one day you happen to view a television that works properly. The recession was the wake up call for customers.

The data driven marketing allowed Tesco to maximise response and sales by personalizing the offers and coupons to the needs/interests of shoppers.  One the business management side, the Clubcard based analytics allowed Tesco to stock the right products in the right stores.  It also allowed the business to penny pinch on various areas including the stores, the products and the staff in the stores.  This is the classic example of the ‘extraction’ mentality powered by data driven analytics – in my view they power each other.  If you have worked  with database marketers you might have learned that their focus is on optimising return on the campaign as opposed to maximizing the long-term value of the customer. Often what optimises the ROI on the campaign does the opposite for longer term customer lifetime value and loyalty.  The opposite also applies.

What do retail experts say?

According to the Guardian piece (bolding is my work):

“At its annual results in April, Tesco’s chief executive, Philip Clarke, announced a £1bn makeover of the UK chain designed to “put the heart and soul back into Tesco” after domestic profits fell for the first time in more than 20 years. With more than 2,700 stores, Tesco’s domestic chain pumps out two-thirds of the group’s profits and Clarke admitted it had taken “a little bit too much away from the shopper” during years of penny-pinching to boost the bottom line.

And according to the Telegrah piece Phil Dorrell, a director at retail consultants Retail Remedy, says the following ( the bolding is my work):

“Tesco is treading water but the paucity of its long-term marketing strategy could still drag it under. Tesco… continues to offer a bland and soulless shopping experience and will be hard pushed to maintain its market share over this financial year. The leadership still seems to be focused on the quick fixes, more appropriate to running a store than a business”

And finally 5 questions for you to ponder

1.  If Tesco was genuinely customer-centric, all those years that it was touted as being the poster child of customer-centricity, then why is it in the state that it is in today?

2.  Is it possible that customer-data/insight centricity (which is what often passes of as customer-centricity) is not actually authentic customer-centricity?

3.  If intuition is such a poor guide to decision making and salvation lies in data driven insights that drive rational decision making then how is it that by pursuing this path Tesco has ended up here?

4.  Is it possible that what is rational over the short-term is not rational over the longer term?

5.  Is it possible that what occurs as rational to data scientists and data driven marketers and business managers is actually irrational because customers are human beings and as such irrational factors such as the brand, the customer experience, authentic customer care matters and weaknesses show up over the longer term?