The boss of supermarket giant Asda has pledged to win back the hearts and minds of customers via a mixture of pricing and technology.
In his first media interview since assuming the role of chief executive of the Leeds-based firm, Roger Burnley told The Yorkshire Post that the rise of discounters like Aldi and Lidl gave the supermarket industry “a big wake up call” and that the drive for greater efficiency in the business would continue.
Mr Burnley said that winning and retaining consumer trust was a top priority for the business and said Asda was leading the way on matters such as banning energy drink sales to under-16s and reducing packaging.
In a wide-ranging interview Mr Burnley, who took over from Sean Clarke as chief executive in January, said that the role was his dream job and denied that the ownership of multinational giant Walmart was a constraint upon the business.
Mr Burnley said: “We have had the most loyal customers in the past where the brand has really resonated and I am hellbent on getting that back.
“We have had a year of getting back to doing the right things.
“If I have one line about where we will continue to see progress it is trust. We have long aspired to be the most trusted retailer. And trust has never been more important in society probably, let alone as a retailer.
“I will be much more unhappy on something that loses trust than something that loses money, because we can fix the thing that loses money. It takes longer to win back trust.
“Customers expect us to make decisions for them on quite complex issues. We have launched our position on plastics where we have adopted a strong stance, next year we will reduce plastic usage on our own labels by 10 per cent. Innovation will prevail.”
The battle the supermarket industry has faced since the arrival of discounters was one still being waged Mr Burnley said.
“Over the last few years Asda and all of the big four really have been quite obsessed with the discounters,” he said.
“They came and changed the world and everyone got pretty obsessed with getting efficient and being as efficient as possible.
“And that is still as important as ever. We will always be fanatical about price and our price position will always be the bedrock of what we do.
“We are under no illusion that price is the first thing that matters to customers but we know we are in a unique position to bring a lot more interest in terms of what comes around it.
“But I am clear that we will not win the hearts and minds of the next generation of customers and colleagues for that matter with efficiency alone. There is a lot talked about with regards to big boxes and bricks and mortar.
“Bricks and mortar retail is not dead but boring retail probably is. So [we are] adding in some extra detail, interest, theatre and relevance.”
Mr Burley said that the company was a key part of American multinational Walmart.
“We have a huge degree of autonomy,” he said.
“Having Walmart as a parent company has an awful lot of benefits. The headlines tend to be a lot about Asda people going to Walmart but we have a great deal of people coming from Walmart to Asda. Andy Murray my chief customer officer, is an expat here for a few year who is making tremendous amount of difference and have a lot of people who come that way.”
Technology would continue to play a pivotal role in the business, Mr Burnley said
“If in the past technology has supported the organisation, in the future technology will drive the organisation.
“Ten per cent of our food business is online, 10 per cent of our George business is online and the fastest growing part of our business is click-and-collect.
“We will have more innovation in our stores.”
Mr Burnley, who was born in Dewsbury and attended Heckmondwike Grammar School, worked for Asda between 1996 and 2002 before returning as deputy chief executive in 2016 after a period working for Sainsbury’s.
Getting the top role he said had made him “very very proud”.
“It is my dream job,” he said.
“It does feel like coming home.
“Many chief execs would say this but I am genuinely keen to be judged on my legacy and how the business does in the years after I am here just as much as when I am here.
“I feel every colleague letter, loads of customers write to me directly and I read every single customer email and letter.
“We are microcosm of society.”