Retail

No corporate activity is as dispiriting, as futile, or, unfortunately, as common as blame-shifting. The tawdry process is familiar to anyone who has worked in business. However, the temptation to lay blame first and ask questions later is greatest at big companies with their web of complex, global suppliers.

Andrew Hill

I predicted that HMV would fail – two years ago. The survival of the venerable British brand, defying doomy analysts’ forecasts, the digital musical revolution and generalised High Street decline, was arguably more surprising than its eventual slide into administration overnight on Monday. It still hurts – even if there is sense in the cold argument that “zombie” companies need to be cleared out before recovery begins. Everyone has shopped at HMV. Its demise has left my son as an unsecured creditor, with £30 of unspent HMV gift vouchers that now have purely souvenir value.

The fact the company lasted this long was partly down to the misfortune of rivals like Virgin Megastore, Woolworths, Game and Zavvi, whose earlier collapse drove CD, DVD and computer game buyers to the few remaining physical outlets. Read more

Andrew Hill

Coffee chain to open in Vietnam. Getty Images

Much is being made of Starbucks’ plan to open an outlet in Ho Chi Minh City in February – “taking on Vietnam’s coffee culture”, as the FT headline has it.

In fact, Starbucks is a little behind schedule – it intended to open in Vietnam in 2012 – and, in any case, I wonder if the significance of the move is not in the headline but in the small print, where the Seattle-based group makes its now familiar commitment to “work closely with local farming communities”. Read more

The post-Christmas come down is a depressing time for a lot of people. For many retailers it is the final straw, when they have to admit that even the December shopping binge has failed to provide enough cash to keep the business trading legally.

As a result, insolvency practitioners and shrewd business journalists will be watching like hawks this week for filings at Companies House, when those in dire straits need to admit that they are planning to call in the receivers or look for a fire sale buyer. Read more

Andrew Hill

There is no need to ask who will be to blame if and when Tesco’s US adventure is brought to an end. Sir Terry Leahy, ex-chief executive of the UK retailer, has already admitted it will be him.

The Fresh & Easy venture comes under “Courage” in Sir Terry’s book Management in 10 Words, published earlier this year. In the book, he called the investment in the new brand “a calculated risk” and pointed out that “even if the entire investment ultimately had to be written off, it would not threaten Tesco’s underlying viability”.

He reiterated that he was “certain that Fresh & Easy [would] be a success”, well-placed to benefit from economic tailwinds “thanks largely to the courageous people who stepped forward to turn an ambition into a reality”. Read more

Andrew Hill

Troy Carter, Lady Gaga’s manager, says he wants to know “how the fans smell”: he walks the arena during the star’s show to get a sense of how they’re receiving the act. Phil Clarke, chief executive of Tesco, has set in motion a retraining scheme for the UK retailer’s managers called “Making Moments Matter”, preparing them for face-to-face contact with customers.

Yet both men work for organisations (if Gaga can be described that way) that have also pioneered the use of technology – the Little Monsters Gaga fan site, the Tesco loyalty ClubCard – that helps them know their customers and run their businesses more efficiently.

The mixed approach they advocate illustrates a theme that emerged strongly from this week’s FT Innovate conference, where both men spoke: how to put the personal touch back in technology? Or, as Aimie Chapple of Accenture summarised at one roundtable session: how do you add the love to Big Data? Read more

Jeff Bezos is on a mission to seek out and destroy military metaphors at work. “You ‘target’ your customers,” Amazon’s chief executive told an audience in New York last year. “I’m, like, what? Why would you do that? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Andrew Hill

Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to reintroduce attendants to the forecourts of Britain’s petrol stations is bothering me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of better service, but, as everyone knows, such improvements – particularly the personal “shall I check your tyre pressures, madam?” service promised by Shell – cost money. I’ll drink a litre of unleaded if the Shell plan isn’t really based on selling more stuff. Read more