Investment firms and analysts

People in the financial sector never really visit stores in my experience, unless they are invited by a retailer to an official ‘store tour day’ where they can travel with the executives and other professionals and visit the shiny store, meet happy colleagues and see a gleaming example of what all their stores look like, (allegedly).

Everyone goes home happy, with a goody bag and a ringing endorsement from the retailer’s executive team about their strategy and why they are on the right path.

However, the reality is that this is often the equivalent of a royal visit – whilst everything looks bright and shiny, it doesn’t reflect what is truly going on in store. We never draw meaningful conclusions from any shiny new store visit as we know firsthand that they simply do not reflect the reality of the situation.

When I worked at Sainsbury’s back in the early 2000s, a visit from the Operations Director meant almost every colleague was present in store, colleagues were sent to nearby stores to collect stock to plug the gaps, people were instructed to smile and there were colleagues up and down every aisle. The availability problems plaguing the chain weren’t harming Bradford, nor was the supposed lack of people – there were colleagues everywhere!

After that visit, overtime was cut, people were asked to take holiday or go home unpaid if they wanted to, gaps quickly opened up and the whole store fell apart. Of course it did; that visit was effectively built on sand.

However, those lessons learned have enabled us to build a view and a narrative based on every retailer we visit, the market they operate in, and their stores as a whole. One poor store is one store too many; we must never forget that. Customers form perceptions of retailers on every single visit – perceptions which enable them to decide whether to return or not.

We are obsessed with visiting stores, and these visits enable us to spot trends and look across the market in a unique way every single week. We are able to build a picture of how a retailer is developing their offer and what they’re doing – for example, supplier-sponsored signage all over the store may point to a retailer struggling to make the numbers.

Gaps and availability issues in one specific category may point to strong sales or a wider issue with availability, but experience teaches you that it’s important to build evidence for any assumption, not a knee-jerk reaction to one bad store. Anyone can take pictures of empty fridges on a hot summer’s day; that’s not what our work is about.

The magic in what we do is visiting a store on a cold Tuesday afternoon in January and spotting nuances and details which may escape the average customer’s eye. We use this to build an overall picture of what’s happening in that chain, and then marry this up with the retailer’s stated intentions in order to provide our verdict into what’s really going on.

We can help you by providing impartial advice, guidance, and insight into the food retail market, supporting this with imagery to show how things are shaping up at any given time. Whether we focus on one retailer for their upcoming results and how they’ve really performed, or the wider market to adjudicate performance with the context of the marketplace, the value we provide remains the same.

We can also deliver ad-hoc, detailed pieces of research around wider market forces and trends, such as the growth of online retail and the benefits of picking online orders in store, or the rise of technology and innovation.

Don’t waste time or money trying to work these things out for yourself; leverage our expertise and benefit from our trusted, unique perspective to help you with your decision making.