2009 may have been a cracking year for Morrisons, as profits boomed and the supermarket took market share from its bigger rivals, but the departure of CEO Marc Bolland for M&S in November rather put a dampener on things. So nervous investors will be relieved to hear that Morrisons has finally appointed a replacement CEO: Dalton Philips, a former Wal-Mart director and COO of Canadian supermarket Loblaws, who will start in March. And if Philips wants to maintain the supermarket’s recent stellar run, he might want to start with customer satisfaction: a Which? report out today showed that Morrisons came sixth on a list of Britain’s best-regarded supermarkets. Not ideal – although the Big Four will argue that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, i.e. market share...
Philips’ appointment has a familiar air about it: the supermarket founded by Sir Ken Morrison has plumped for a relatively unknown executive from overseas for its top job, just like when they nabbed Bolland from Dutch brewer Heineken in 2006. Philips has some big shoes to fill, but he has a pretty decent CV. Canadian firm Loblaw, where he is currently COO, apparently turns over $30.8bn (£18bn) - similar to Asda and considerably more than Morrisons. What’s more, Philips is yet another protégé of Allan Leighton, the respected former chief executive of Asda, who also numbers current Asda boss Andy Bond and Sainsbury’s Justin King among his previous employees. Not a bad retail stable to come from, we’re sure you’ll agree.
Speaking of Philips’ peers, this Which? customer satisfaction survey won’t have made happy reading. The so-called ‘Big Four’ supermarkets – i.e. Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – came in below discount stores Aldi and Lidl. And they were all miles behind top dog Waitrose, which left its competitors eating dust (it scored a full 30 points more than Asda and Tesco). Its loyal brigade of shoppers waxed lyrical about how buying at Waitrose was ‘a pleasure’ due to its ‘uncluttered stores with their wide aisles’, while others raved about ‘the quality of both its products and staff’. A ringing endorsement indeed – it’s clearly not just the frozen goods aisle that’s attracting shoppers…
Still, the Big Four won’t feel too dejected. In subjective surveys like this, it’s quite likely that shoppers who deliberately opt for the likes of Lidl and Aldi will be particularly zealous about their charms. And Waitrose has always been able to count on its loyal upmarket disciples. By contrast, mid-market players like Sainsbury’s are less likely to attract this kind of fandom (which could leave it vulnerable, some argue). Besides, for Philips and co, the most important figure is always the number of shoppers passing through their tills.
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