Have Your Say – the Co-op Calls

Old Co-operative StoreEvan was very impatient on the Today programme with Euan in spite of being separated by only one consonant. Euan (Sutherland) the CEO of the Co-op was eager to ask all his customers to have their say and Evan (Davis) was keen to understand what Euan had already identified as the priorities for the Co-op after a very dodgy year – reputation in shreds etc. Evan put Euan in a classic consultative bind –  if Sutherland gave his views, some would have seen the consultation as a sham. Not an open exercise without preconceptions but one where the main issues already agreed upon in executive minds with the organisation now seeking endorsement of what has been decided? Euan manfully resisted the temptation but was forced to raise the veil a little on what he thought.

Questionnaire – bit of a give-away

The questionnaire from You Gov does give the game away a little more with lots of questions about stores and the links with the local and also discussion of how to use profit, should we keep the divvie and links with the Labour or any other political party. I take a traditionalist view in that these are all beside the main point – the Coop has first to become good at its job – the best bank, the best funeral business and the best supermarket etc. At the moment the Coop businesses that I know anything about seem to be market followers and now it seems to be using its consultative processes to re-examine tired old ideas like using shops to be bases for local volunteer activity, support of local causes etc. Fine but there are people do this already and probably do it better. Their immediate goal as retailers is to find a ground that is not already held either by the Germans or by Waitrose/Sainsbury. Where would that be? An alternative to Tesco for committed members of the Labour Party?

Integrity with Interest

My vote would be a rebuild around integrity wedded with being interesting – using its historic political position to re-invent itself. But then people have been saying that for ages. When I was being trained as a Unilever marketing man in late 60’s, the mantra was ‘The Co-op – the Sleeping Giant’. Large, lumbering, dormant, stock rooms filled with our unsold products. Now much slimmed down and more efficient but duller and less distinctive even if Mr Hannah thinks they are guuuud with fuuuud and the bank recruited a chairmen with disturbing personal problems. Can morality be the platform? No giraffe steaks here?

Building the Moral Business

The moral business is always an interesting and idealistic prospect but how to build it? What is the key to making it real and giving it a bit of glamour and energy?   Should it become the first organisation where both employees ( the John Lewis model) and the customer/ members of the Co-op come together? The first communal organisation that brings together both of these groups to create an organisation that is both for us customers and for those who work there and provide the service?

Enough Moral Problems of My Own, thanks

Now I must do my bit as a moral customer and wrestle with my conscience and the compensation claim form for my card protection policy. All I have to do is agree that the failings of the product as identified by the Financial Conduct Authority affected my decision to buy a card and I can collect a refund of all my premiums since 2005. Tempting – especially since it has been one of the Direct Debits that I have been meaning to cancel for years but every time I think about it, I find it was paid the previous month already.

But actually I think I always knew that the cover offered of £10k for unauthorised transactions after notification or £5k for those transactions before was rubbish or certainly should have done.  I was actually working at the Office of Fair Trading soon after the Consumer Credit Act became law. I was not in the Consumer Credit Division itself but I did read (well, dip into) the legislation or at least the excellent leaflet explaining it and knew that such vast liabilities were precluded by statute. So why buy this expensive product and continue to buy it? Because  I actually used the card replacement service and it worked after my wallet went astray in Australia. Now I can get if not all my money back then nine years worth of premiums – up to £200 – just so long as I sign a bit of paper saying I was bamboozled. But my actual memory of why I bought this over 20 years ago is as hazy as any witness recollection of events 40 years ago. No question fortunately of my recall being tested in court. This is automated redress – fill this in, press this button and the money comes out of the slot.

Take the Money?

My duty is clear – moral businesses need moral customers and I should turn down this prospect of self-enrichment. What to do? What would my moral business mentor John Timpson do? I have until 30 August 2014 to decide – by then of course the question will have been resolved because I will have lost the form and no copies are accepted.

 

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