Sunday, June 10, 2007

Tesco comes in for an awful lot of stick. Some of it is deserved. The supermarket is humungous; it holds a huge land bank, it drives uncompetitive small shops out of business, its requirements from producers tend to mitigate against artisans and small businesses and its treatment of dairy farmers was, until recently, appalling. Tesco is one of the things that people give up for Lent.

On the other hand…

It has a better stock of olive oil than any other supermarket, it gives yeast away free, it is beginning to source some of its produce locally and it already stocks a lot of organic stuff. All this in response, I would guess, to customer pressure.

Anybody who has worked in business knows that there’s a lot of lip service paid to customer satisfaction, but usually it comes from HR. Imagine my surprise therefore when, in response to an email, I got a real letter from Sir Terry Leahy, Chief Executive of Tesco. This man is one of, if not the, most important retail chiefs in the country. You don’t see much of him, although he does occasionally pop up in person on the Today programme, because he seems to spend all his time rushing around doing deals with China.

I had the misfortune to take a tumble in one of his stores. Usually people rush up and ask you if you are all right. We will gloss over what actually happened, but it wasn’t that. I came home seething and fired off an email. I took a guess at the address and lo it was right! Three days later he returned from China and I got a real letter, on real parchmenty type paper. Signed by the real person (I assume). And not the usual two line brush-off either, but a considered, grammatically correct reply that showed that my complaint had been understood and remedial action taken.

Don’t tell me I shouldn’t have been surprised and that it’s his job and that I’m a customer…I was ASTONISHED!

You can’t let these tiny moments pass unnoticed so…a round of applause for Sir Terry Leahy please.

And now let’s get back to the barricades.


Joanna said...

Hope you've recovered by now .. and you're right, we should applaud little acts of kindness, especially from strangers.

I'm most intrigued ... they GIVE AWAY yeast? Fresh yeast? From the "bakery"? Who'd have thought it? I've been trying to find fresh yeast round here for years, it never occurred to me to ask in Tesco of all places! Is that really right?

Best wishes

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Nice story. Whatever one may say about Tesco, their customer service concept is to be envied.

June said...


I tell people about the yeast boon whenever anyone asks me how to get hold of the fresh kind. Just go to the bakery section and ask politely. Sometimes they give you the crumbs and sometimes they cut you a slab, but either way it is more than you could possibly need unless you are operating your own bakery. I freeze what I don't need - no need to take advantage and end up chucking it away. And of course, I buy some of my flour there!

Jasmine said...

I'm sorry to read about your tumble, but am impressed with the corporate note back to you. Obviously someone at Tesco's understands such matters. Free yeast?
Wow...wish our big scary megamart would do something like that...


Bonnie said...

Oh June, I hope you are much better now...

On yeast - apparently there is an ancient law forbidding grocery stores to sell anything that's alive - yeast is one of them. Sainsburys charges about 20p because noone seems to mind. Tesco give it away because it's probably less hassle than not.

Your email reminded me of a friend that used to work for Apple. He was so disgruntled about the working conditions in Australia that he wrote a very rude email to thinking that a minion would read it. Low and behold Steve Jobs did receive the email and people above my friend got fired.

Well done you!

June said...


Maybe that's it - if it's against the law to sell it then that's why Tesco gives it away. So Sainsbury's are breaking the law! I think, with you, it's just too much hassle - think of the bar code - and not very many people ask for it.

Nice story about Steve Jobs!

Jeanne said...

Now that is impressive. And well done you for giving credit where credit is due!

Did you see the interesting article recently (was it in the Guardian?) to the effect that small specialist food stores and delis are far more threatened by Waitrose than Tesco, ASDA & the like? A very interesting perspective.

June said...

You are so right! People who wouldn't be seen dead in Tesco simply flaunt their Waitrose supplies! I was careful to say that Tesco puts uncompetitive small shops out of business, because it seems to me that its broader, cheaper range actually encourages people to go to specialist shops. I shop there because I draw the line at free range loo rolls and organic tinfoil but on the whole I do prefer to get my tasty stuff elsewhere, where I can find it for much less than at Waitrose.

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