Yesterday's latest Kantar Worldpanel data brought little comfort for any of the UKs Big four retailers. The 0.4% drop in Sainsburys' share versus last quarter highlights Justin King's personal astuteness in calling time on his own leadership at just the right moment. His touch is almost as measured as was Sir Terry Leahy's departure from Tesco.
But spare a thought for everyone still at Tesco. Retail is tough when your weekly numbers are perpetually red. Missed targets drive stress and undermine confidence in equal measure. This is especially hard when you are still market leaders. You should be winning, you should feel like winners. You don't and everyone senses your pain. It is suffocating.
So what can they do? Tesco need a radical response and reset the clock on everyone's expectations.
First, Tesco should explain to the markets what a great job they did historically in driving national UK coverage. Noting Asda's announcement this week of their intensifying moves South; Tesco can proudly note they are the only one of the top four UK retailers with a truly national footprint. They got there first, it has provided a competitive advantage for a period of time, but not forever.
Second, it follows Tesco should reset long-term expectations of their natural market share being somewhere between 20%-25% of the UK market. This will cause pain to the share price in the short to medium term - but it is a statement of inevitability. Tesco cannot open new physical stores as fast as others because they already have their footprint. And they can't acquire anything meaningful given their market share position. Furthermore, for all the success of on-line, the evidence so far is that it’s only a mechanism to slow Tesco's rate of share loss.
It is worth recognising for every new store opened by a competitor, as a rule of thumb, 30 pence of every pound through their tills comes directly from Tesco. So with Aldi, Lidl, Asda and Waitrose still expanding; who knows what course Mike Coupe will set for Sainsbury; and Amazon / Ocado expanding their remits: holding as much ground for as long as possible is Tesco's challenge.
Third, Clubcard needs a structural rethink. Critics note it has evolved from being a strategic builder of store loyalty into a driver of supplier promotional investment. If the phoney price war ever starts, suppliers will be caught between the investing directly in price or through Clubcard mechanics: both may not be affordable.
A simple switch in emphasis could prove powerful. Instead of offering schemes to let you redeem Clubcard vouchers outside of Tesco, they should work with third parties to give Clubcard vouchers to reward non-Tesco purchasing. Eat in Cafe Rouge - earn extra Clubcard points and bring the spend back in store. Likewise with Petrol: Tesco’s pump prices are already competitive- stop giving money off fuel in-store, give store vouchers on petrol sales instead.
These points are not panaceas. They bring pain. Yet they will allow Tesco to celebrate "still above 25%" on each set of results, enable them to approach right-sizing based on a reframed future and refocus Clubcard on driving traffic in-store. Most importantly, they reset the clock on market expectations and buy Tesco some much needed breathing space.