/ Food & Drink, Shopping

A Tesco in every postcode – what’s the problem?

Tesco, the supermarket behemoth, will soon have a store in every UK postcode – that’s over 2,700 stores. But is a “Tescopoly” really such a bad thing? Why do we have such a rocky relationship with Tesco?

Riot police on horseback patrol the streets. An abandoned police car is attacked. Whispers abound of youths carrying petrol bombs. You may be forgiven for thinking this describes the recent riots, but no – this was a warm April evening in Bristol, the site of a protest against a new Tesco Express – the city’s 18th.

Death of the high street

Today plans for a new Tesco in Harrogate have been approved, meaning it’ll lose the accolade of being the only postcode area without a Tesco.

Like others before them, opponents of the store allege Tesco is killing the high street, as shoppers move away from town centres. Increased traffic and a soulless shopping experience are also cited as reasons for curbing Tesco’s growing power.

I’ve never really understood why Tesco is so vilified in the press and why people, running frantically for Waitrose, treat it with such disdain. I’ve always shied away from criticising Tesco – in fact I’m a bit of a closet supporter. If Tesco allegedly takes £1 in every £7 spent on Britain’s high streets, surely it must be offering a service lots of people want?

A local asset

Surely having a local Tesco is an asset? I often hear people, when discussing their new flat or house say “…and there’s a Tesco nearby”. In today’s fast moving world, I don’t have time to visit a host of small shops.

Tesco offers everything I need from my shopping experience; handy store locations, convenient opening hours, well stocked shelves, an excellent delivery service, tempting offers and a nice atmosphere. I’ve always found their staff polite and willing to please – in fact, having occasionally ventured into a Waitrose I’ve not found the experience there any better.

Still, Waitrose did come out top in our latest supermarket satisfaction survey, with Tesco appearing at a sorry second to last place. The main complaints were the quality of produce and the store environment.

But personally, I’ve never had a problem with Tesco’s produce nor its stores, which I find easy to navigate. Of course, I’m not blind to its rather bizarre pricing practices – 99p each or 2 for £2? I think I’ll pass…

Tesco – the Opera?

Plus, without investment from Tesco, it’s arguable that some sites would remain an eyesore in local communities. In Liverpool, where I used to live, Tesco spent several years and considerable expense cleaning a derelict former tar works site to be a new superstore. I visited it a couple of months ago to find the store doing a very brisk trade.

Despite the many parodies and protests, for me, Tesco offers a 21st century shopping experience and can be held up as a British success story. It continually seems to be innovating, every day entering a new market, from mobiles to insurance, gold to car tyres. Its growth has been mesmerising, similar to the likes of Facebook. We’ve had “The Social Network” – so why not “Tesco – The Opera”?

Then again, you might not be as happy as me about Tesco having a store in every postcode…

With a store in every postcode, has Tesco expanded too far?

Yes, Tesco's taking over (69%, 703 Votes)

No, Tesco provides a valuable service (20%, 199 Votes)

Only time will tell... (11%, 117 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,019

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Though I have criticised Tesco on these pages, at least it is British and one of our few big successes. It provides employment for a lot of people. More could have a job if we were not forced to use the self-service tills, which is what I hate most. I hope that those who shop in overseas Tesco stores are not confronted with these and the notorious phrase: ‘Unexpected item in the bagging area.’

Michael Holland says:
9 September 2011

Maybe Tesco “provides employment for a lot of people”, but it has taken away jobs from independent retailers. It is a fallacy that supermarkets create employment, often cited as a benefit of building new ones, and the jobs are low-paid part-time replacements for the full-time work that smaller shops provide. If you think about it for a minute, it is obvious that building a new supermarket cannot somehow create from nowhere the pay of its employees; the income has to be diverted from other businesses where the customers shopped before. Moreover, the profits of supermarkets are taken away from their host communities and go to head office, while in contrast the owners of independent shops spend their profits locally for the benefit of their host communities. Therefore supermarkets are a drain on the communities in which they are built and their presence serves to impoverish the High Street. Of course, we all like the convenience of Tesco, but at what price? A world dominated by Tesco is not one I want to live in, therefore I will never shop there. It only encourages them.

I take your point, Michael, but we cannot ignore the fact that supermarkets are now the main players. Tesco is the largest of the British supermarkets, but there is substantial competition from others that are owned or managed by overseas companies. Most people would agree that it is desirable for British people to work for a British company. That was in my mind but I did not say it.

The reasons why supermarkets have killed off competition from small businesses have been well documented, but convenience is high on the list. Where small businesses can compete is by offering products and services that supermarkets do not offer, and what will be successful will very much depend on the area. Until there is legislation that prevents supermarkets competing in certain products and services, small businesses need to focus on specialist products or services that are unlikely to be of interest to supermarkets.

Though I loathe Tesco it is extremely convenient and, unfortunately, the only local option.

I shop in Tesco quite regularly (I say ‘in’ – I do most of it online), although I do always feel guilty that I should be supporting my high street shops. The only shopping I do tend to do fairly regularly outside Tesco is fruit and veg – it’s just much much cheaper. I live in East London and from the little fruit/veg shops/stalls near my house I can get a huge bowl of grapes for £1, loads of potatoes for £1, in fact, everything is a quid for roughly a large bowlful – bargain most of the time!

It does seem odd when one type of shop can be found in every single postcode, and it’s important to make sure that Tesco does have good competition to keep their prices down.

My main question, though, is … will Patrick allow me the excuse to post the hilarious ‘tesco goes to war with Denmark’ Youtube video? Let’s see…

[I have embedded the video for you Nikki 🙂 Thanks, Patrick.]

The Prince Harry bit made me laugh out loud.

I don’t like Tesco food so I don’t shop there – the nearest Tesco is an Express – no parking spaces – nearest parking space is about £1 an hour – no use to me.

I prefer Sainsbury food which is also in our local Shopping Mall surrounded by around 200 various other shops and a sheltered market with stalls for those who want it. Parking for 3000 cars within the Mall at £2 an hour so I can do my shopping under one “roof” with a choice of 250 shops close to the car. They still have human cashiers.

As a supermarket, meh

As a business, a different story. Try working for one of tescos suppliers, they squeeze the bottom line so much that sometimes companies are actually paying for the privilege of having Tesco as one of their accounts.
I don’t deny that Tesco negotiators are indeed excellent at what they do, it’s just that they are killing the small businesses at every level.

Their own brand food is terrible though, not a patch on Sainsburys

In some places here in Scotland the Co-op really needs a rocket up the a**e, so when a new Tesco comes along, it’s rather a good thing.

It has now been confirmed that Harrogate will no longer be the only postcode area in mainland UK without a Tesco superstore…

One retailer having so much dominance is not good. It’s not good for competition and not good for consumer choice. I never shop at Tesco, I don’t even buy petrol there anymore. It’s always so crowded for one thing.

I am not sure what it will take before the Competition Commission step in.

Tesco don’t always get their own way. A planning application to create a much larger store near my home was turned down. What is there is perfectly adequate, at least in size.

Have a look at Nelson, I read about them closing the tesco there a while back.
Perhaps there were not enough jobs/money moving into the area?

Our nearby small town has a tesco on one side and a huge asda on the other, it has been decimated. The shopping centre, established for decades is in ruins, the main shopping street has a selection of charity shops and cafes and the inside/outside market, established since before the war, has empty stalls a plenty.

Supermarkets are making their money though as the area is 35 minutes from a major city via road link and housing developments have increased in the surrounding areas.
The jobs argument for me does not stack up.
The small business spending is I would guess, not even a tenth of what it was pre supermarkets, the jobs and investment for the people of the area as well as farmers and suppliers in surrounding towns have mostly gone now, but are never mentioned when supermarkets are promoting themselves.
I have to laugh when I see asda staff walking around with a stick with a green hand on it… I often ask if that is what they envisaged doing when they were going through school?

Competition between the tesco and asda is rare.
Many “offers” are simply worded differently between them, their prices go up and down on the same day. Independant businesses have cheaper prices for branded goods/fresh produce, which I think is outrageous, as the supermarket buying power is well documented, yet in our immediate area, the demographic of the customer is paramount and we are paying way over the odds for goods.
There can be no excuse for blatant profiteering at the expense of already overstretched household income.

Goverments seem oblivious to the reality that is going on up and down the land, prices are being artificially raised by the big four, in order to promote their own range of the same goods, which they make more profits on.
Regulation is non existant, it would appear that both government and regulators are scared stiff of supermarkets, in the process they have forgotten about the man/woman in the street.
My message for them would be, “This is our area, we have lived here for decades, stop turning a blind eye to big business re planning, profiteering, etc. It’s killing the town!”

Reading my rant back, another thought occurred to me.
How is the continued growth of the supermarkets affecting the “green” issue?

As the town centre shops/markets close down, new businesses and nationally recognised high street names do not want to come into the area.
If I want a new shirt, I have to travel on a 28 mile round trip to one of three neighbouring larger towns to find the nearest high street name.
No company is going to want to open a store in a street that runs alongside a huge asda or tesco are they?
We are told to save energy, yet left with no option but to increase carbon emissions by travelling far and wide to buy goods. This travel also takes yet more money out of the area.

” prices are being artificially raised by the big four ”

Whilst the prices they pay their suppliers are being artificially cut which is why, for example, dairy farmers are only paid 26p/litre for milk that costs 29p to produce.

What do you mean by a “postcode” ?

If its the area code bit i.e. HG3 for Harrogate, then my local postcode area CA12 doesnt have a Tesco !!
Wonder how accurate this claim really is or is it just journalistic hype.

CA is the postcode area for Carlisle.

The independent article you linked to quotes “HG3” as the postcode involved – so they got it wrong !!

Really not a surprising statistic “Tesco in every postcode (area)” as mine CA covers half of Cumbria.

Catherine says:
9 September 2011

I live in a town called Leigh near Manchester and we have one that will be due to open in the next month. It has provided a job for a friend of mine who was long-term unemployed & my partner has been working on the construction of it. While I don’t like the fact that the town I live in now has one of every major supermarket available (which I think is excessive) it has provided work & along with the supermarket we’ll get a cinema (which my town hasn’t had for over 20 years) and some new restuarants. Without a Tesco I don’t think the other companies would have been attracted to the town. I personally won’t shop there much but I must admit there are more pluses than minuses of a having a Tesco come to my town

Grumpy Gedalia says:
9 September 2011

I loathe Tesco….but I still use it.

In the town where I live Tesco is the only decent shop. They stock everything I need unlike the other 2 so called supermarkets so I have to shop there. I remember when I was young and had to go shopping for my mother. This involved trailing from shop to shop to buy different things and was a pain, especially as you neared the end of the list and could hardly lift the bag never mind carry it home. One stop shopping is great and makes life so much easier. I understand the feelings of people who say the high streets are dying but this is not just due to the supermarkets. Local councils can take a lot of the blame for charging exhorbitant rent and business rates thus pricing them out of business.

careful shopper says:
9 September 2011

It is twice the distance to Waitrose, Asda and Morrisons so Tesco wins.
Tesco provides good quality cheap goods, lots of offers on other goods and their finest range for a touch of luxury. There is no need for anyone to go without a good diet, reasonable clothing and many diverse things.
Problem is the need of the public to deride success but I hope the Waitrose, Asda and Morrison fans continue shopping there because it is the competition that keeps Tesco on their toes.

David Akerman says:
9 September 2011

My wife & I and a close friend have avoided this store since hearing the BBC Radio 4 programme “Face the Facts”, in which many stores were shown to have broken planning laws, and treated staff poorly. Long may Which? Local encourage us to patronise local traders offering personal service and good advice for much the same price. This international company with a budget larger than that of some countries wields too much power.

My only concern about the size of Tesco is that competition with other supermarkets is progressively reducing: bad for the customer. The more predominant it becomes, the more we might expect to see prices increase. Other things being reasonably equal, I’d rather shop elsewhere, and do.

One should remember that Tesco brings in a lot of earnings for the UK economy from overseas. Fortunately I live in area with a lot of competition and good transport so I have a good choice of where to shop from big supermarkets to outdoor markets and corner shops. I feel somewhat for people who live in areas where there is only one nearby supermarket, be it Tesco or one of the others. Personally I dont think Tesco should be allowed to dominate the scene (or any other supermarket for that matter).
They should now diversify into other areas and their car supermarket is one good example.

Angela says:
9 September 2011

I don’t like Tesco and I very rarely shop in there, and then normally only for a few items. While I appreciate that a “one-stop-shop” for pretty much everything might be desirable to many people, I am concerned that the sheer power of Tesco is not conducive to consumer choice or healthy competition on the High Street. Neither do I think it is particularly beneficial to us as a nation to drive food prices so very low, however attractive this may seem at the present time. Not only does this place local food producers in this country at a disadvantage as they take their goods to market, but could drive them out of business laying us open to foreign investors taking over of farms and market garden enterprises. No doubt Tesco provides a much needed service for many people, but I don’t want to wake up one morning and find it’s the only choice on offer in my community.

Sowerbutts says:
9 September 2011

Now we are going to have a Tesco in Ambleside in the Lakes.Big illuminated signs in th middle of the conservation area and 10metre delivery lorries on the main road blocking the traffic.They do seem to think they have a right to disrupt every small village!

Dont think their delivery lorries are any bigger or worse than those that deliver to the small supermarkets ( SPAR etc) and the corner shops.
A decent supermarket in Ambleside will give encouragement to the Coop to improve and hopefully encourage holiday makers to shop locally rather than use Tesco or Sainsburys delivery service or worse still bring all their weeks supplies with them.

People speak of Tesco being to big, but little is said about Asda (Walmart) ,an American company that dawrfs Tesco & is trying very hard to be the UKs number one supermarket.
I like many like the idea of shopping in small independants, however the reality I prefer the convienance & choice offered by the supermakets & surely they have all got to be where they are by giving us what we want, after all we all have a choice.