Are the Big Names Fooling the Nation?

By Ben Graham

The largest supermarkets in Britain may be psychologically coercing staff and customers according to workers at major supermarket chains.  Although companies such as Asda and Tesco are now a driving force in the global economy (Tesco being the top supermarket in Britain, closely followed by Asda), there have emerged a number of revelations surrounding store conduct and in particular the process of staff feedback.

Known in Asda as the ‘We are Listening’ questionnaire, this form of staff company interaction has come under scrutiny lately from a number of sources, arguing that due to intervention from superiors, the staff are highly unlikely to write honestly about their superior staff and company overall. An anonymous Sales Assistant in the branch of Asda in a store in Edinburgh explained that before undertaking the form, staff are shown ‘a short presentational video’ pertaining to the ways in which ‘Asda provides the utmost care for their staff’. When asked if he saw this as a possible means of trying to better guarantee a positive response to the company, the anonymous Sales Assitant admitted that he saw no other reason for the video and free ‘goodie bag’ than to coerce the staff into providing more ‘company friendly answers’. The ‘goodie bag’ features sweets, deodorant and other small items.

The requirement for such ‘company feedback’ is not uncommon in supermarkets, yet many would claim that it is the lack of any trade unions that has led Asda to require a quantitative picture of retail bliss for both customer and staff.

George Monbiot wrote of Asda’s ‘Big Eat Trails’, a PR campaign in which schoolchildren are led around a number of Asda stores in order to ‘raise awareness for healthy eating’, as a means of ‘implant[ing] in them the habit of shopping at Asda’. Other stores, including Tesco and Morrisons have embarked on ventures such as these themselves, inluding promotional deals with schools and sports clubs.

A number of different psychological techniques have been found in supermarket chains, ranging from things as simple as the ‘impulse buy’ section by the tills to the size of tiles on the shop floor, as the size of supermarket floor tiles have been found to correlate to the speed people browse the shelves of their supermarket.

In response to the growing influence of supermarket chains, a number of different websites have grown in popularity over the past few years. Frequently visited websites include corporatewatch.com and tescopoly.com, both of which deal with the negative effects of mass consumerism and supermarket dependence.

When asked about the ‘we are listening’ process, the UK Asda head office said they conducted the surveys ‘in order to maintain the high quality’ of retail. Asda declined to comment when asked if the process before  filling out the questionnaire could lead to biased feedback. The Head Office for Tesco also declined to comment, however both companies assured me that should I wish to further inquire into the feedback aspect they would be happy to send out an information pack.