Waitrose is the supermarket division of the John Lewis Partnership, occupying 2,1% share in the UK supermarket industry. It has 143 stores mostly concentrated in the south of England. Its key feature is the partnership structure. Due to successful strategies implemented by the company in the second half of 1990s Waitrose managed to substantially increase its revenues in the conditions of the slowly growing industry revenues (20% against 6%) and become one of the small-share leaders with a strong position in its market segments. Waitrose has a well-developed R&D and technology base and is oriented at providing innovations in food industry and anticipating any changes in the customers wants. Its two quality food publications serve the promotional purpose. Class leadership approach offers an overall view of the distribution chain, maintains good linkages with local growers and suppliers and provides full control over the quality of goods. The streamline chain with growers and suppliers also allows to lower costs.
SWOT analysis of the company’s work revealed that Waitrose has many strengths and opportunities for further development. Because of financial support, debugged distribution channels, the company has a strong position in its market segments and as part of the John Lewis Partnership modern R&D and technological basis, supportive legal position, stable workteam interested in the business’s development, skilled and creative management team. These strengths ensure further success. Obviously the supermarket chain has to expand geographically, currently operating on limited territory. However, it is difficult to realize in the conditions of the mature market, where most of the segments are occupied by the share leaders, such as Tesco, J. Sainsbury, Asda, Safeway, Somerfield, Co-op, William Morrison, Marks & Spencer. Besides, there are a number of threats to be aware of: the market conditions may change due to the competitors’ new strategies, changes in customers’ preferences, new low-cost entrants form abroad, acquisitions and mergers within the domestic market, etc. On the other hand, the same factors may turn out to be favorable for the company’s development. Thus it becomes clear that Waitrose is to be ready to any changes. So, the two major objectives of the company are: 1) to maintain and strengthen its present position, and 2) to expand its market share.
This paper outlines strategic alternatives that a company operating within the supermarket industry should adopt to attain the stated objectives. After a thorough study of the classical universal methods, potential threats and advantages, suggestions on the best strategies and tactics for Waitrose’s further operations became possible. It is recommended to use the combination of defensive strategies, including fortress defense (with concentration on superior service differentiation providnig customers intimacy), flanker brands (focus on high-quality products) and a niche strategy (with a maximally differentiated position, high price and low advertising outlay), together with such share-growth strategies as increased penetration, extended use and a market expansion strategy.
Alternative Identification and Discussion
Our discussion of the strategic alternatives for the company is based on the life cycle framework. By the year 2000 UK supermarket industry had nearly finished its mature period. The major supermarket chains started up early in the twentieth century. In 2000 there was a stable list of leaders in the industry, including such names as Tesco (16,2% of market share), Sainsbury (11,5%), Asda (9,5%), etc., with only 2% occupied by Waitrose. In 1990s intense competition started between the leaders, who wanted to maintain their profitability. The market was occupied by the major supermarkets, many of which had to revitalize their operations and marketing strategies in order to survive. The shakeout stage began, leading to the failure of weaker businesses, so that they started being acquired by other firms or simply withdrew from the industry.
Though mature markets seem stable, the primary challenge of the survived businesses is to maintain their competitive position and hold their existing customer. Not all the brands and segments reach maturity simultaneously. Moreover, aging brands may be revitalized through successful marketing strategies, on the basis of cost or product differentiation advantages. Old products may be promoted for new uses. In fact, there is a variety factors providing threats and opportunities for the company in a mature market, including changes of customers’ preference, increased raw materials costs, product substitutes, alterations in government regulations, entry of low-cost foreign producer, merges and acquisitions, etc. (Walker, Boyd, Larreche 2005, p.231). As we can see, mature market does not mean impossibility of further growth. There are several opportunities for this: a company may move into new markets or market segments, steal the customers from its competitors, acquire its competitors’ businesses or launch some new products in the existing market, thus capturing new target segments. There are a number of strategies that may help achieve both share-maintenance and share-growth objectives. While it is impossible to expand business without a strong market position, first one should focus on the choice of defensive strategy, then think of growth strategies.
Walker, Boyd and Larreche (2005) speak of analyzer, defender and prospector strategies, where the first two can be successfully implemented for the achievement of the defense objective, while the latter is useful for the share-growth business plan. Though it is considered that defender strategy works well in the food industry, which does not require complex basic technology or dramatically change in the short run, Waitrose keep to the analyzer strategy, investing into R&D, service improvement and viewing innovations as critical.
A firm positions itself demonstrating its strengths. In his books of 1980 and 1985 Professor Michael Porter introduced the idea that these strengths fall into two categories: cost advantage and differentiation. The application of these strengths in a narrow or wide scope leads to the implementation of one of three strategies: cost leadership, differentiation or focus. These competitive strategies were called generic or universal, while they do not depend on the type of industry or firm.
- Low cost strategy. It is used most effectively for the realization of the services of mass demand, and directs the company at the production and sales of a great number of goods in extensive market. The firm sells its products either at average industry price or even below it. The minimization of the inputs gives possibility to realize a service at a low price. The increase in the sales volume leads to the increase of profitability of the enterprise (Quick MBA 2007).
There are several ways to keep a low cost location. One of the approaches is to sell no-frills products, removing any frills and extras. This method is used by Tesco and Asda and was implemented by Sainsbury. However, a no-frills strategy demands the resources to withstand a possible price war with the competitors that may also cut on prices. So Tesco and Asda can afford the strategy, while they are able to lower their prices in an attempt of driving out a weaker no-frills competitor. The strategy is not appropriate for Waitrose, while the company has limited resources and only 2% market share. Besides, this low cost strategy leaves little resources for further improvement of service quality or marketing activities.
Another opportunity to implement a low-cost strategy at Waitrose is low-cost distribution. This includes both low purchasing prices and cheap distribution channels. The former may depend on the innovative product design, cheap raw materials, or innovative production processes. The latter is connected with competition between the distributors and the distance. The distribution is cheaper if to buy from local farmers or producers. It is always preferable to seek the lower-cost distribution channels. Waitrose’s “Class Management” plan significantly expanded the company’s profits. Their idea of the streamline chain, instead of lower-price negotiation with suppliers and growers is not bad, and may bring additional profits to the firm. Low-cost distribution provides a possibility of lowering costs for products of daily consumption, like bread, milk, vegetables and the like. Reduction in overhead is one of the strategies necessary for the survival in the intense global market. Sometimes it is better to lower prices in order to maintain the loyal customer, who can easily switch to another supermarket offering the same products, but much cheaper.
- Differentiation of product, brand or service is the strategy aimed at creation of unique features valued by customers and perceived as better or absolutely different from the products and services of the competitors. This value added by the uniqueness allows the company to set premium prices. To succeed in differentiation strategy a firm must have such strengths as strong R&D department, highly skilled and creative work teams in all the sectors, perfectly-trained sales personnel, and strong corporate reputation. Differentiation is used by both analyzer and defender strategies. A business has few chances to survive without implementing differentiation.
Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersman (1993) modified the described Porter’s strategies, stating that market leaders usually pursue at least one of three basic “value disciplines”, creating customer value and providing a sustainable competitive advantage. These are operational excellence, resulting in lower cost, product innovation or customer intimacy, reached due to superior service.
The low-cost and differentiation strategies cannot be used separately. Customer won’t pay for the products of poor quality, no matter how cheap it is. Poor service also leads to the reluctance to purchase from the firm. On the other hand, even high quality products and services should be offered at reasonable prices. Thus low-cost defenders should constantly seek opportunities of improving their quality and performance, while premium price sellers should be ready to lower their prices to accommodate to their competitors’ ones.
- Focus, or segmentation, or niche strategy was viewed by Porter as a modifier of the first two. The idea is to concentrate on one segment of the market basing on a low cost advantage or differentiation. The risks of the focus strategy indicated by Porter are possibilities of imitation or changes in the target market. There are also chances of bypass or direct attacks from a broad-market leader, or niche attacks from the direction of challengers, including flanking attacks (concentrated on one large untapped segment) and encirclement (targeted at several smaller underdeveloped or untapped segments simultaneously).
In the course of time, it became clear that firms not only can succeed using a combination of strategies, but must do it in order to survive. It also often happens that a firm has to implement strategies by turns, which depends on the changing market conditions. Though Porter’s views as to obligatory adherence to one and the same strategy have proved to be erroneous, he was right stating that not to be “stuck in the center “large firm will differentiate the implementation strategies between the business units.
To understand growth strategies better let us turn to another classical matrix offered by Igor Ansoff (In ACFE). Though also considered as having a limited value, it serves as a reminder and indicator of the strategic options: market penetration, market development, product development and diversification.
Market penetration is the strategy, when a firm aims at increased sales of its existing products in the existing markets. In this case revenue growth requires investments into the development of sales and marketing activities. As a result of promotional actions, the firm is to increase its market share by gaining the competitors’ clients, attracting non-users or convincing current customers to use more of the product or service. This is the least risky growth strategy; however, the growth is limited by the size of the market.
Market development strategy presupposes selling the existing products in new geographical markets or new market segments. As a rule, UK supermarket chains begin vast overseas expansion. This strategy usually requires high investments: it is necessary to acquire or built premises, refurbish them and organize promotional actions aimed at creating awareness of the firm in the new market. Global market expansion is realized sequentially. There are two optional routes: a home market – developing markets – developed markets or a home market – developed markets – developing markets. On the one hand, huge supermarket chains can afford to use the first expansion path. This saves input costs and provides an opportunity for huge profits in future. This route was used by Tesco. In 1990s it acquired stores in such developing countries as Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, South Korea and Thailand. In the XXI century it continued its expansion purchasing 13 hit supermarket chain in Poland, stores in Malaysia, the major stake of Turkish supermarket chain Kipa and Lotus chain in Thailand, and additional 45 stores in Europe. In 2003 it entered Japan, in 2004 – China (Tesco 2007). On the other hand, the second expansion path is considered more appropriate for the food sellers. Moreover, in case Waitrose decides to start the global market expansion, it is preferable to keep to the premium price policy, which can be set only in the developed countries like the UK. Other way the company will have to cover input costs.
According to Walker, Boyd, Larreche (2005, p. 193) the tasks of the firm that entered a new market are 1) to create primary awareness, aggressively building brand awareness and motivation to buy for the first time, and 2) to encourage and simplify repeat purchase. This requires vast investments into marketing activities aimed at promotions and advertising. To motivate the selected demand and repeat purchase among the customers new entrants usually have to adopt low penetration price strategy. Besides, it is important to position itself as unique and different form the competitors, which demands increased attention to the quality of products and services. When the primary demand is created, it is also important to establish reliable distributional channels to provide availability of the products.
Department stores or supermarket chains may enter a foreign market through joint ventures or subsidiaries (a sole ownership strategy). Joint venture means a joint ownership arrangement between the firms (e.g. one in the UK and the other in the US) to market goods in a foreign country. It is a commonplace practice in cases, when one of the firms produces goods under its own label. It provides an opportunity to avoid quotas and taxes, to share investments costs and gain local market expertise. However, companies usually act through a sole ownership investment entry strategy, building or acquiring stores in a foreign market. Thus the parent organization retains total control of the overseas operations and revenues (pp.198-99). On the other hand, strong centralization and inability of the top management to share power with the overseas management often results in poor adjustment to local customers’ needs. The implementation of the direct investment strategy requires restructuring of the company and setting at least one additional department dealing with the overseas subsidiaries. Clearly, global expansion can be started only in case the company has firm grounds at home. Marks and Spencer demonstrated a bright example of strategic mistakes.
In early 1990s M&S started their overseas market expansion. This strategy was entirely erroneous. Having opened stores in France, Germany, Spain and Belgium, as well as stores via joint venture in Canada and in America (operating under the name of Brook Brothers,) M&S turned out to be only one of the brands of the kind, and not the most famous one. The expansion failed, having caused great losses. At the same time the corporation started experiencing problems in the domestic market, where they implemented expansion of the floorspace and refurbishment of the old stores in the UK and where customers’ dissatisfaction with the stores and service had been growing for several years. Lack of focus on differentiation strategy and customers intimacy in domestic and later in foreign markets almost led the company to the bankruptcy, and it took much time and effort to revive the business (Johnson, Scholes and Whittington 2005). It is not recommended for the Waitrose to start global expansion at the moment, while it will cause more losses than profits.
Product development is the strategy of product innovations and range increase in the current markets. This is the strategy used by Waitrose, as in case with mangoes or Turkish figs. New products gain new customers. On the other hand, introduction of a new product is always associated with a certain risk of losses. One should feel the customers’ needs or be skilled enough to persuade the customers to use the new product. The strategy demands investments into promotion. Besides, creating demand for the product the firm also shows the way to gain profits to its challengers. However, the pioneer firm gets the distributional advantage, possibility to pre-empt scare resource and influence the consumers’ choice creation and attitudes (Walker, Boyd, Larreche 2005, p.187). Another implementation of the strategy is to refresh the old products due to promotional activities (cooking books, lessons, TV shows, etc).
Diversification is often seen as a high risk strategy. It may be related or unrelated. The related diversification means that a firm starts selling new type of products in the new markets. Unrelated diversification refers to the development of quite new products for the new markets. An example of a successful business working on the basis of diversification of all types is Tesco. A corporate strategy is “an inclusive bid,” referring to the desire of the company to cater to high, medium, and low-income consumers in the same stores. As David McCarthy, Citigroup retail analyst put it, “They’ve pulled off a trick that I’m not aware of any other retailer achieving. That is to be appealing to all market segments (Liptrot 2005). Even in Tesco’s own brand products, this range is demonstrated, checking from the upmarket “Finest” to a low price “Price.” The diversification is used in the firm’s six UK store formats, differentiated by size and range products on sale: Tesco Extra (out-of-town hypermarkets), Tesco superstores (standard large supermarkets, selling groceries and a smaller range of non-food household goods), Tesco Metro (sized between normal Tesco stores and Tesco Express, located in city centers and on high streets of towns and villages), Tesco Express (neighborhood convenience shops, situated in city centers and selling main food, concentrating on higher-margin products) and Tesco Homeplus (stocking Tesco’s range of non-food products in warehouse-type units in retail parks in order to capture clients for Extras). One Stop stores are Tesco’s smallest shops selling low standard products at different pricing. Besides, Tesco is known for its unrelated diversity. Originally specialized in food, it has entered business areas such as clothing and consumer electronics, the selling and rent of DVDs, CDs and music downloads, as well as Internet service consumers telecoms, budget software and consumer financial services. Recently the company has moved into housing market and has its own advertising website Tesco Property Market (Corporate Watch 2004).
As we can see diversification strategy is a possible decision for the company like Waitrose. However, it takes many years and much input costs to establish such a business. Another problem connected with the diversification is poor client service, while it is difficult sometimes to control all the business units of the corporation. So Tesco experienced much critics of different kind, yet the company continues its growing and attracting new customers.
Now as we have discussed the universal strategies for share-maintenance and share-growth it is possible to provide recommendations for Waitrose’s further operations. While Waitrose has relatively small market share in UK supermarket industry, it should strengthen its current customers’ loyalty and attract new customers, due to leapfrogging its competitors by superior quality and customer service. It is also possible to gain new market share focusing on peripheral segments and niches, and expanding the market. Thus it is recommended to use the combination of defensive strategies, including fortress defense, flanker brands and a niche strategy, together with such growth strategies as increased penetration, extended use and a market expansion strategy.
Fortress or position defense strategy has the objectives 1) to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty and 2) to encourage and simplify repeat purchase. This can be achieved due to low-cost or differentiation by superior quality and service. It is recommended that Waitrose continued sticking to the differentiation strategy based on the superior service setting premium prices for its products. It is also significant to focus on one segment of market, offering unique experience. While middle class is the widest segment of UK market, the company should continue viewing it as its target customers. At that it is very important to consider customers’ perception of the firm.
It is vital to ensure that the products and services entirely satisfy the requirements of the customers. Yet many analyzers underline that it is not enough any more to differentiate through product or price only. A satisfied customer is not necessary a loyal customer, says Dagmar Recklies (2006). In 1997 Joseph Pine and James Gilmore published their book introducing the concept of Experience Economy. According to the authors it is not enough already to offer product and services only. What the customer wants is positive experience. “Any corporations that relegate themselves to the shrinking world of goods and services will become obsolete. To escape this fate, you have to learn how to stage a rich and persuasive experience. “Recklies (2006) stresses the same point: the presence of thoughts, emotions and the perception of customers the brand become crucial for gaining sustainable advantage. “Not like a physical product, the core value of services is the spiritual experience and understanding of customers,” echoes Huawei Service (2007). Constant improvement of product quality and personnel training is crucial for Waitrose.
Dissatisfaction and loss of customers usually happens for the reason of gaps in people’s perception and reality. There are five major gaps: 1) gap between the customers’ expectation and the marketer’s perception; 2) gap between management perception and service quality specification; gap between quality specification and service delivery; 4) gap between delivery and external communication; 5) gap between perceived service and expected service (Walker, Boyd and Larreche 2005, p.236-237).
Certainly, it is always clear that the customer is not satisfied with the supermarket by the drops in sales. As soon as it happens the sales staff should immediately report about the problem. Waitrose is a partnership of the employees, so they are interested in its development. It is also possible to introduce additional rewards for those, who point out to the current troubles. Then the company is able to quickly react to the issue.
However, it is better to prevent the problem than to solve it. For this purpose it is necessary to control the customers’ perception of the company. In a number of ways, this can be achieved. Basing on the company’s experience, Tom Albrecht (2003), President of aQsi, All Quality Standards, Inc., advises to use the following combination of methods as an optimal way of assessing customers’ perception: 1) an annual survey, 2) monthly telephone interviews that make contact with a representative sample of the customer base, and 3) a formal customer complaint handling and tracking process. “This combination, – he says, – provides for an annual checkup as well as monthly pulse checks to help achieve wellness in the customer base” (Albrecht 2003). When Justin King needed to assess clients’ perception of Sainsbury Plc in 2004, he ordered a direct mail campaign to one million Sainsbury’s customers asking them about their expectations and possible improvements for the company (Townsend 2006).
Another thing to be remembered was underlined by Gene Zarkin (2007): “Keeping customers loyal starts with their ability to consistently recognize your brand”. When introducing innovations in brand image, a company should not change this image radically, too often or stray from its core niche, throwing customer into the state of confusion. “While brand consistency—if it meets customer expectations and resonates with their needs—will lead to increasing customer loyalty and favorable word-of-mouth that will strengthen the brand’s position even further”, concludes the author. Whereas Waitrose image has been popular among its customers and associated with stability, high quality, superior service and strong corporate culture, it is recommended that the company continued keeping to its brand features and stores format.
The usage of modern technologies is also vital for the modern company. Minimizing the time spent for purchase and making it a more pleasant experience, introducing flexible and convenient paying methods (via various credit cards), the firm guarantees the repeat purchases.
Flanker strategy is useful in fragmented markets. There are always some segments of market that were not developed by the share leaders or where thier position is weaker. Arranging stable distribution channels Waitrose should continue occupying favorable positions offering high-quality, premium price products, like exotic fruits (the line already developed by the company). This way the firm not only ensures safety of its brand, but also expands its market share. The strategy is appropriate only when a firm has sufficient resources to develop and fully support its entries. Thus it is recommended to deal only with high-quality products, while the streamline channels organized by the company and Royal Warrant granted to Waitrose are additional guarantees of success.
A niche strategy is very profitable for small-share competitors like Waitrose. Occupying peripheral segments, which are too small to appeal to share leaders, it is possible to establish a strong differential advantage and brand preference in the segment, avoiding direct confrontation with share leaders. Carrying out empirical study of the second movers in various spheres of business, Carpenter and Nakomoto (1996) mathematically proved that ‘value strategy always produces more profit than a penetration strategy “(p.345) and came to the conclusion that the optimum variant is ‘ to adopt a niche strategy with a maximally differentiated position, high price and low advertising outlay ‘ (p. 325). Though Waitrose is not a second mover, it is still a small-share competitor, having limited resource. Since a niche strategy must be very profitable for the company.
Increased penetration is an effective strategy for the industry’s share leader, when there is a low penetration in some segments of the market. Though we do not possess entire information of the products, stocked by Waitrose, we know that fruit market is still underdeveloped in the UK, while historically fruit were not a part of the national diet. This is only one of the possibilities of increasing the proportion of users, the proportion and frequency of the product usage (and that is brand) in the market. While the strategy is aimed at non-users in the existing market, where the brand name is famous, it is easy to gain new share due to advertising and promotion of the products.
First, it is necessary to discover, why nonusers are not interested in the product. One of the reasons may be absence of product value for the customer. Thus explaining the value of fruit eating for health, which can be done in the company’s publications, Waitrose can enhance the value of the product to potential customers. Another way to enhance the product’s value in food industry is to show the way the product may be cooked. Thus cooking recipes provided in the same journals, online or at live lessons should increase demand for the promoted products. Direct promotion is also necessary for creation of primary demand and to encourage trial. For instance, it is possible to organize free trial of some exotic fruit among limited number of customers, who will tell about the products they liked to other potential clients. At last it is essential to ensure the availability of the product when the demand is created, expanding distribution channels.
Extended use strategy is aimed at stimulating increased frequency of products’ use. It is somewhat resembles the increased penetration strategy. In fact they are based on different universal approaches: market penetration and product development. There are several effective methods of achieving the objective. One of the options is to sell goods in larger packages. For instance, the customer may be left no choice and have to buy 2 kilos of vegetables, just as they are packed up. The design of the packaging also may contribute to use frequency. Customers will certainly by those fruit and vegetables that are accurately packed for easier transportation. Promotional actions, like multi-item discounts or two-for-one deals, or specially developed advertising have the same purpose. New Recipes tactic mentioned above also serves the objective. Another way of stimulating food purchasing is by making offerings for seasonal entertainment and special occasions, like barbeques, parties, birthdays, weddings, and the like. Reduced prices for product of daily consumption will make customers buy more. Enrique Burgos (2007) advises to ‘generate future clients by merchandising for kids’.
Market expansion may be achieved due to gaining new customers in existing market, in underdeveloped segments or due to acquisitions in the developed segments of the market. Waitrose needs to increase its position in the domestic market, spreading its business to other parts of the UK, at first focusing on the major cities of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and other parts of England. The task of the company is to use all the possibilities of purchasing the shaken out competitors’ premises. Another opportunity is to build up in the underdeveloped markets. Any expansion demands investments. However, Waitrose have demonstrated stable growth of its revenues. Thus further market development should bring greater profits.
The combination of strategies offered needs basis for its implementation. These are technological and structural requirements. First of all Waitrose has to create its Web-site, which is a cheap and reliable means of communication with customers in any part of the UK. The wide range of products sold in several geographical regions requires special organizational structure. It is preferable to create a combination of product and regional market management within business units, consisting of a product manager and several category market managers. A product manager will be responsible for planning and implementing a national market program for the product, while market managers will be involved into work with salespeople, and development of promotional programs to a particular market segments or geographical markets. On the one hand, category management affords involvement of skilled managers in brand development, price coordination and marketing activities. On the other hand, this structure offers decentralization and regionalization of the company, providing better chances for coping with regional retail chains (Walker, Boyd and Larreche 2005, pp.297-299).
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