Bond Offers a Licence to Sell; CITY COMMENT

Article excerpt


IN the world of superegos that is British retailing, the name of Andy Bond hardly rolls off the tongue.

But the chief executive of Asda/Wal-Mart - who has the courage to wear his own George brand faded jeans - could be the tiro to watch.

He is acknowledging what any of us who ever push a trolley around the aisles of a supermarket knows - shopping is boring.

Instead of retailers blaming interest rates and council tax for the drop in High Street sales, they should look at themselves. The reason Bond believes Tesco is doing so well - with some 30pc of the retail market - has less to do with its brilliant offering than with the fact that it has more stores than anyone else.

The genius of Lord MacLaurin, Sir Terry Leahy's predecessor at Tesco, was that he saw the demand for edge-of-town shopping before anyone else and plastered the country with stores.

Leahy has been doing the same with convenience stores. The result is that grocery shopping has been turned into a commodity rather than an experience.

Despite our reputation as a nation of shopkeepers, it has taken foreigners to change attitudes in Britain.

The idea that fashion lines could be turned around in four to six weeks came with the arrival of Zara in this country, and our stores are only just catching up.

When Philip Green, of Arcadia, first saw the displays in Top Shop he was horrified that the same garments would stay on the front of the racks for several months and immediately ordered change.

As Bond observed, innovation is slow. The men in grey suits, carrying calculators, have taken over from the merchandisers. The Asda man is more able to criticise because his company is not quoted in Britain. Here, the obsession with like-for-like sales figures and regular stock market updates has turned retailers into beancounters. Yet one good product, such as this autumn's long cardigan from M&S, has the capacity to inspire shoppers.

Bond is on to something. Indeed, what he had to say about grocers could equally be applied to banking. British banks would think it inspirational if they could manage to sell clients four or five products.

Wells Fargo, the US West Coast bank, manages to distribute up to 10 services to its customers.

The need for fresh thinking in retail, as well as financial services, is clear. …