Selling England By The Pound
At times it seems as if it is open season on the supermarkets, and especially Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer. In the same way that Barclays – by virtue of its dominant position in the banking sector – is the first to be attacked for closing branches, outsourcing and imposing punitive bank charges, so disquiet about supermarket practices in general often becomes condensed into specific complaints about Tesco in particular.
Last week’s BBC1 programme Shopping The Supermarkets, and Monday’s Dispatches programme The Supermarket That’s Eating Britain on Channel 4, are recent examples covering familiar territory. Local councils, like mine in Stockport, are bullied in the planning stage and Tesco builds stores that breach planning permission; they hold “land banks” that reduce competition by blocking other retailers from developing sites; they squeeze suppliers into bankruptcy from their powerful oligopsonistic position; they exploit numerous tax loopholes whilst cosying up to government; and they have really, really irritating adverts (sorry, that last one wasn’t on Dispatches list, it’s just one of my bugbears).
Dispatches also highlighted the Clubcard scheme whereby customers’ purchases are monitored and scrutinised, providing a wealth of information ascribed to each individual so that discount vouchers can be posted out tailored to our disparate needs, so that our every whim can be twisted, teased and coerced into profit. Such data mining raises some privacy concerns, and it is this matter that forms the subject of this post, and which has determined why I feel Tesco and its cohorts must be engaged in battle and defeated.
For instance; take a look at this section from my Clubcard statement that arrived this morning. Ignoring the general voucher for the princely sum of £2 which I can spend as I like, we see below the unique, targeted vouchers for my use as prescribed by that infamous, omnipotent database. So, drawing on my many years as a Tesco customer, following the trends as I turned from callow youth into a callow father-of-two, let’s see what they make of me.
You may not be able to empathise, but reading the coupons I feel a distinctly eerie feeling, like someone has just walked over my grave. How do they do it? What witchcraft is this? How could they possibly know that I drink milk? And eat bread, fruit and vegetables? That my wife uses cleaning products? Or that I take all my goods home in a bag? Truly the power of Tesco is mighty, other worldly. I feel invaded, violated, as if someone has been dipping around in my brain, has delved into the depths of my very soul.
Join me. Help me to fight this menace, before Tesco discover other secrets about me – that I wear clothes, shoes – and send me unsolicited vouchers for them too. They must be allowed to go no further. This must end here. Now.