Our retail image of the day – Truth – Thursday 10th June

The challenge with living in a post-truth world is that lying, or bending the truth has become an art form, where people know that half truths and lies are being told, but it occurs so often that people are either desensitised to it being bad, or can find something to explain it away.

There are numerous fans of Line of Duty on the BBC and their chasing of police corruption, from people on the sick but working elsewhere, or fiddling expenses to a network of corrupt officers who are running organised crime groups.

It’s often referred to by the legal advisor to the Police and Crime commissioner (herself later revealed as being on the wrong side of the fence) that people “want the police to find the odd rotten apple but not so many that the public lose confidence in the police.”

Indeed, finding too many and it becomes full scale corruption, resignations and all that goes with it.

But that’s an example of where the truth falls down, straight away, those not being admonished for their crimes are allowed to get away with it, under some banner of keeping the public from being angry, or losing confidence.

Whichever way one looks at it, it’s not telling the truth, or being creative with the truth.

The truth about retail

For retail, this has gone on for an age. The mere prospect of an announced visit would see overtime shipped in from all angles to fill the shelves, get the out of stock lines from nearby stores and put on a real show for a visting director.

He would wave, have a presidential style walk around, then leave, happy, presumably that all was well.

But that’s a little like the queen’s butler. He doesn’t tell the queen that the Corgi relieved himself on her favourite chair, they clean it up, sort the chair and the queen is none the wiser.

So how much of that culture of a royal visit is about the director not wanting to see a store that hasn’t been filled for a week, where things are dire and where checkout queues are regularly longer than your average arm?

Or how much of it is about the self preservation of those beneath the director who don’t want a kicking, or sacking even, for the state of one of their stores?

I think that if a senior person in retail doesn’t know about a terrible store that is literally no excuse.

If they don’t know, they’re not doing their job. If they do know, then what are they doing about it?

It’s a catch 22, which is the worst crime?

Post truth retail world

In the post truth retail world that we can find ourselves in, not knowing is preferable to knowing and having an action plan to sort the store. But you have to ask questions if a senior executive doesn’t know that a store is having a bad time, it’s their job!

But not knowing is preferable; because that action plan takes time to implement and results are not immediate. Thus not judged. Or judged less harshly.

A poor store on turnaround often gets worse before it gets better as the metrics get worse as the truth has to come out. You can’t lie to yourself, or others, forever.

If availability is weak = then shrinkage goes up as the store actually counts things properly and nils out things that aren’t there.

Dare I say labour also rises as the store uses overtime and buses people in to start turning the screw, indeed, wastage may also rise as stock is found and accounted for properly. The list goes on and on.

Time becomes the issue and in a short termist industry, it’s always a problem, but that’s no excuse for losing sight of the truth, or the right way to do things or that the customer comes first.

Because there’s no excuse for it.


Delusion is as bad. Especially internally, I have been asked what the 13/10 brigade are when I’ve had taken folk to task on Twitter about this very thing.


The 13/10 brigade was something the Tesco new breed used to do on social media, back in 2011/2012 when they were in the brave new era of socials. They tweeted images of full shelves and used to give it 13/10.

Showing how low the bar had fallen, because by that token, what isn’t good?

Especially if it’s just celebrating overnight fill. Or the fact that someone opened a checkout when there were queues. But that’s your job, where’s the stretch to get even better?

The problem came where they were handing out Chocolates all the time, or similar, to people for doing a good job, which is nice when it’s noted that someone has had positive feedback or exceeded expectations.

Always a photograph of it too; but the challenge with cult like behaviour is that those outside the gates so to speak, who don’t agree and who are not controlled, are free to say what they think.

Which wasn’t ideal by any means for this ‘movement’.

Not that people were rude per se.

Truth in retail Sainsbury's range issues
I don’t think anyone was fired when this sign went up in Sainsbury’s as they admitted their error.

But there was a lot of delusion going on with accusations of people managing their social media channels better than their stores, customers were barely mentioned and we all saw numerous images of cleaned warehouse floors.

But when the sales fell off a cliff and there was just one more picture of a binned end, or clearance area that was an embarrassment to everyone in retail, it looks bad.

This culture of endless positives, almost refusing to accept criticism and dismissing any contrary thoughts or criticism as ‘negativity’. Then making it a ‘behaviour’ issue, thus dismissing any sort of constructive feedback or whistle blowing, is frightening.

Oh it’s so weak, in one of the most competitive environments in the world as well!

Note that criticism is never banned outright when the praise patrol come to town. But the surge of positivity from these fundamentalists means that there are very few lone voices who dissent and try to rise up.

They’re in the minority in the first place but stand no chance against the sea of positivity raining down on them, especially when their regional managers and directors are often copied in on various posts, tweets, internal comms.

The Tesco problem sorted itself out when the sales tanked and folk ended up looking a bit silly, but other retailers are doing it, the same thing, just saying all is great.

Which is fine, but why do it so openly all the time over your socials?

This culture always eats itself.

This culture always, always eats itself for a number of reasons:

i) The wrong people leave. No one is saying wanton abuse, we’re saying the truth! We can’t progress if folk are lying to themselves, it just ends up upsetting good colleagues who give up and move on. Head office also need to be told that things aren’t working right….

They don’t want head office thinking bad of their stores!

The biggest proponents of this ‘culture’ meanwhile, stay, these folk are the ones who have the most to lose (in my experience).

The biggest cheerleaders of endless praise are the ones who would struggle to deliver in a brutally truthful environment. Which retail is, of course.

I won’t judge you, the customer will.

ii) The awards and praise have to be rotated. It turns in to a primary school where the weekly award goes around the class, even the kid who assaulted two of his mates the week before gets it, weakening the award, raising valid questions from 8 year olds for parents to try and field about right and wrong.

The bar is lowered, with ever more desperate attempts to highlight praise on the social channels meaning that you end up getting an elbow bump and a box of Roses for turning up on time with your name badge on.

Someone who has more sick calls than shifts worked over the past year gets an award and a picture, with morale amongst the colleague battalion falling even lower.

Yet no one has worked Herbs for a week and a half. Worse still, no one has noticed.

Don’t put that on socials.

iii) You lose the feedback loop – the sort of person that I am, I’d rather know the negatives. I’m pragmatic, nay miserable.

We all like positives and let’s wrap ourselves in that warm glow!

But where are the things that are impacting our customers, today?

What can’t our guys get hold of, to serve our customers better?

The front line have all the answers because they’re picking up the problems daily. Things that can be sorted easily, adding only 0.0005% to the bottom line perhaps, but still, an improvement.

Day to day, week to week. That’s all you need.

iv) There is no control and excuses become commonplace – this way of life can become very uncontrolled with the customer feedback going the same way as Jean on ambient merely asking why no one worked the Pop overs when it was 28 degrees outside and the aisle was empty by 2pm.

Come on Jean, didn’t you see the great job the guys did on Clothing? Check out the hashtag!

Excuses made for this, that, or the other based on any number of excuses, perhaps valid reasons – but your customer does not care that the truck was late, or you had sick calls.

Tesco truth in retail
Tesco recently. No one wants this to be commonplace again. The truth worked out well for them,

They’re off to Aldi, they don’t write and give 3 weeks notice, either.

In this world of positives, fairies and unicorns.

People stop questioning,

They think there’s no point in raising anything, they spend so long dressing up their question so that it’s not viewed as negative or dismissed as mindless criticism, that they never get around to sending it in.

That’s the biggest crime.

v) It then runs out of steam – after a while, the positives that are introduced are not serving the purpose because the bigger picture is getting worse, perhaps sales have slid further, a few bad visits? Senior executives not monitoring the internal social channels and are immune to the positivity?

Quarterly sales in reverse? Where’s the answers? Everyone has been back slapping for months about how great it all is, what? You mean it’s not?

Then what? How do you reverse out of that?

It’s painful

Truth telling is painful, but when done properly, things get fixed and people progress with their lives and things get better.

Morale is a hard balancing act in a store, at times, things are bad, the wages are too low, the conditions can be poor and work expectations can be woefully unbalanced at the same time.

But to just pump positives about everything and how good everything is, or worse, to not try and measure it up, or slow it down. To let it gain momentum….

It hurts, eventually, but not instantly.

It’s also cheap, power of socials and few boxes of Chocolates/Beer/Flowers etc which is why it’s so addictive….

Those who push this retail way of life to the front line don’t want it to stop. It shields them, all is well! But why?

in the absence of information (nay suppression)

Our stores are perfect, working at 100% and there isn’t a problem out there.

Until there is.

The day of reckoning

There is always a day of reckoning with this strategy (if one can call it that).

Customers are the ultimate judge.(remember them!)

They fall away, sales weaken, standards worsen further, that display doesn’t matter because no customer will notice it, night shift have cleared (what’s clearance actually mean = 10 different answers).

Accepting the unacceptable becomes a way of life.

(What is unacceptable? I haven’t scanned gaps in 5 days!)

Excuses become ever more common (anything will do), customers almost blamed for complaining, culture is weakened, people stop pushing, stop questioning, stop agitating, stop improving.

Target truth in retail
Is there ever an excuse?

Then people turn on each other internally. Blaming each other for the situation they’re in.

They forget the enemy is the rival down the road, or those across the city.

Let’s recognise the good, recognise the people doing their best and indeed exceptional service, there’s plenty of that. By all means, let’s do it.

But social posts every time? Finding a daily example to showcase? Look, we are doing our bit for the firm, great store, great people!

Yet if visited, or inspected by someone further up the chain, they are throwing rocks at the negativity!

There is no positive to this way of working, not long term at least.

Just be honest with your people.

Look after them, the best you can.

That’s the only way through retail.

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