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Tesco – does every little REALLY help?

May 13, 2010
Image of a shopping basket

Every little helps? Marketers need to provide clarity and honesty to pricing in order to develop strong long term relationships (Image: courtesy of the Guardian)


In business, it is crucial to match a marketing pitch with service or product delivery.Here in the UK we are well used to supermarket chain Tesco telling the consumer how “every little helps”. This statement appears across their brand experience and, on TV commercials, is uttered by a woman with a northern accent to give it added credibility. Except… 

Yes, except. If every little really helped, Tesco would be championing the rights of consumers to enable them to make easy choices to help them get the best from their purse with their weekly shop. But they don’t. They would ensure all their prices are the lowest. But they don’t. 

With Tesco, never look at the price, look at the information that lies behind the price. Take jars of olives – try to compare prices and you find that some labels give you price per 100g whereas others give you price per dry weight kilogramme. Was the 100 grammes dry weight or wet weight? Is it possible to make a like for like comparison? No. The same for tinned Tuna. 

Or take a look at packets of crisps. Recently, we examined the price of typical child staple “Mini Cheddars“. At Tesco, you can buy a pack of 12 for £2.47 or buy a “special offer” pack of 6 for £1.00. This is clearly a loss-leader promotion but a common consumer perception (identified in Nagle & Holden’s The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing as the “fairness effect”) is that if you buy more, you expect to pay less. We can conclude from this that the pricing of “Mini Cheddars” is designed to get people to pay more when they think they are paying less. Certainly, if their pricers had read Nagle & Holden, the only answer is that they must be pricing cynically (or possibly being inept). Or maybe they had made a mistake. 

Tesco will no doubt come up with some cock and bull story about how their pricing is very clear. At A Brand Day Out, we think not. Tesco may also claim that their customers aren’t stupid and can work things out for themselves. At A Brand Day Out we call that a red herring, an abrogation of duty. 

And of course, when it comes to paying (something Tesco really does try to help you with), the installation of self service checkouts is the ultimate in the development of a solution in search of a problem. Approval needs to be sought if you buy alcohol, so the checkout stops. If the food you place in your bag does not match pre-programmed weight criteria, the machine stops and tells you there is an “unapproved item in bag”. Queuing at one of these soul-less devices is one of the most unhelpful and stress-inducing experiences on the planet – the reduction of human contact in the pursuit of corporate gain. 

And finally, Tesco is the master of creeping commercialism. Cometh the hour, cometh the presentation of goods you never thought you really wanted. In our local branch, Tesco are now selling England World Cup shirts as you enter the shop (to buy your weekly food and drink). At Christmas time they insist on playing the most horrific of piped Christmas carol music at extremely high volume to “put you in the mood” (for spending more). In such an environment, before you know it, an emptier purse – the route to a higher credit card bill on the never-never. 

To help customers altruistically, companies should avoid statements such as “every little helps”. Tesco should put themselves in the minds of their consumers in straitened times. Keep costs low, make pricing easier to understand, and avoid the cynical exploitation of the hurried mind. 

In business, trust is born of consistent behaviour, fairness and the self evident demonstration of the marketing pitch. Our local branch of Tesco will shortly have a very close competitor in Asda (part of the uber-low priced Wal-Mart chain). We suspect that Tesco will be more willing to help the consumer when they have a genuine competitor on their patch. Then, maybe every little bit extra will help. Just maybe…

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2010 2:10 pm

    The Grocer magazine runs a weekly analysis comparing the prices of the main supermarkets – “The Grocer 33”. Tesco is not a frequent winner.

    In fact it is Asda who regularly come out on top and last year they notched up a 12th successive year as the cheapest supermarket in the survey.

    Could it be that “more for you for less” is a more honest and committed promise than “every little helps”?

    • May 14, 2010 9:10 am

      Bang on – better to state a promise than to create an illusion. Thanks, I Thank You, for your comments


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