Tesco is not a supermarket, it’s a superracket. The store near Watford’s town centre has just been refurbished. According to Tesco, this is to provide its ‘loyal’ customers with, as Tesco describes it, a “food first” shopping experience, but in reality it is just to provide some competition to a new Waitrose store due to open almost across the street.Signs all over the store make a big play on the words ‘your store’, as though they are doing something purely for the benefit of the customers. In reality, it is just Tesco doublespeak. It is clear that the gigantic organisation follows the Orwellian ‘Airstrip 1’ philosophy when it comes to dealing with its loyal customers, i.e., tell them the same thing enough times and they’ll start to believe it.
I’ve shopped in the new store on one occasion, and I will not be returning. Admittedly, the new store is an improvement on the old one in the respect that the foul smell from the drains near the butchery and fishmongery departments has gone, but this has been replaced by a malodorous atmosphere caused by the legions of management goons strutting around the place keeping the troops in order. By troops, I mean both the shoppers and the Tesco staff. Gone are the morose faces of all the checkout staff. Gone are the insouciant shelf stackers who could not care if you found what you were looking for or not. Gone are the serving staff who always had something else better to do than serve. The same people are still there, but now they have been subjected to a ‘Room 101’ re-education that has resulted in a force of ‘automatons’ trained to smile while retaining the same glassy eyed look of indifference. Woe betide any of them caught without a smile, I dread to think of the consequences, probably tortured like Winston Smith with the rats that were running around in the stinking sewers.
Of course, not everyone of the staff has been brainwashed, not in Room 101 anyway. The management goons are the equivalent of Orwell’s ‘Inner Party’. They are the upper echelons, the ones whose job it is to keep the Winston Smiths in line. I watched them marching around the store in groups of at two and three, all trying to outdo each other in their worship of ‘Big-Brother’. Stern, unsmiling, caring only that the system works. It has to work, even if the customers don’t like it, it has to work. It will work, and here I veer off into Animal Farm by using poor old Boxer’s mantra,”I must work harder, I must work harder”, it will work, it will work. It all seems so obvious and familiar.
I plucked up the courage to approach one of these goons when I could find nowhere in the massive new bakery department to get my ‘fresh that day—store baked’ loaf of bread sliced. The goon broke off from lecturing one of his unfortunate shelf-stackers to glare at me with a look that would turn bread stale, “We don’t slice bread in store anymore—it’s not our policy!’ Not our policy…to slice bread, in a bakery department! I would dearly love to have been a fly on the wall in the committee room where that was decided.
The new CEO of Tesco has been slinging some mud at his ultra successful predecessor, Sir Terry Leahy, for not concentrating on the Tesco core business. He is supposed to be putting into place a set of measures to make Tesco do what it has done for years until Leahy departed, and that is to trash the opposition. Well, they used to do that by outdoing the others, by selling cheap, by giving the customer what he wanted. That is obviously not ‘core’ anymore. Well, in my opinion, he had better do a bit of a rethink, because Tesco are never going to return to their previous dominance by copying niche supermarkets like Waitrose. However, if that’s what they want to do, good luck to them. I know where I’ll be doing my shopping, and it does not begin with a T.