Does Distance Lend Perspective?

As is my need in January, I have been off enjoying some sun and reflection. Having been in the Cape Winelands for the last few weeks, I’m already missing the sun, heat, light … and of course the wine. Having gone to escape the worst of the Scottish january weather and supposedly to relax and detox, it is surprising how quickly the effect wears off. Being based in the Winelands and with the current exchange rate there was no hope of detoxing, rather the reverse. Detoxification on South african wine and food is not a bad way to pass the time and makes up for an abstemious Christmas and Hogmanay.

Unfortunately the blessings and curses of modern academic life are never too far away. Answering mobile calls from journalists who have my number – given out in the name of REF Impact obviously – and spending batches of time culling emails doesn’t take too long, and is at least on my terms. The upside however is that I remain informed, albeit at a distance of some of the ongoing UK retail issues. Thanks also to the newly US relocated @NeilRetail for his now evening summary of the UK retail stories.

Now I don’t really know if distance does lend perspective or whether being “always on” means I can better pick and choose what to look at and think about, but a couple of themes continued to occupy my Twitter and other social media updates – Tesco and Black Friday, but perhaps not in the obvious ways.

Tesco is of course going to be the story that continues to give for some time, but two aspects caught my eye again. I have not (yet) seen the Panorama programme (my holiday viewing stretched as far as the nearest wine bottle, not the TV) but I could not but help read about the Leahy/Clarke fallout. There can be no doubting Terry Leahy’s role in driving telco to being a clear No. 1 in the UK, but the end of the reign did see some misadventures, including the USA. Phil Clarke seemed to become isolated quickly and never got fully to grips with the issues at home. As I have noted in these pages and elsewhere before, Tesco’s market share stagnated in the UK from 2006 onwards. Given the ongoing capital expenditure at home, this had to mean operational problems. Sales began to be confused with returns and profits and eventually the wheels came off. Just how is being investigated by all and sundry it seems with the Grocery Adjudicator the latest to announce (more on this another time perhaps, as it does seem that Tesco may not be whole story here, given he lack of remedies).

And the sales point is the second story for me that continued to rumble, Black Friday cast its pall over December for many retailers and I doubt we’ve heard the last of it. Sales seem to have been pulled forward but not increased and margins were probably given away – as I wrote in The Conversation and this blog at the time. But what struck me from the wine farm in SA was the ludicrousness of Christmas sales figures as a consequence. Some releases were LFL; some were not being total sales, Some included Black Friday; some did not. Sales after Christmas made it on occasion; but not always. Periods seemed to vary from a few days to almost half a year; I wonder why? (No, not really). And only in a few retailers did profit or margin get a look in. This is another gift that will keep on giving one suspects, as the truth of Black Friday and profits emerges in the coming audited accounts (well, one hopes so, but feel free to insert your own Tesco joke here!).

As I get back to work and do a proper February detox, two other things amused me somewhat. Along the lines of “we’ve been here before” Scottish retail sales in December were down according to the SRC, yet footfall was apparently up again. My recent comments on just what do we think we’re measuring still stand. We do need to get a grip of things here.

And the second one? Daffodils are not vegetables. I know I should not laugh and people have been ill through the confusion, but to any Welshman it’s obvious. If your national emblem is green then eat it, and if it’s yellow then smell it. The other way round causes misery. Just pity the Scots with their thistles and hope they know what to do with them.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Internationalisation and Graduate Studies.
This entry was posted in Alcohol, Black Friday, Christmas, Food Retailing, Margins, Profits, Scottish Retail Consortium, Scottish Retail Sales, Tesco, Wales and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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