Survey suggests Groceries Code Adjudicator is making a difference to UK retail
The GCA claims its collaborative approach with retailers is making a difference

Survey suggests Groceries Code Adjudicator is making a difference to UK retail

Gill McShane
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The Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) claims real progress is being made in improving retailer best practices after asking suppliers to speak up about their good or bad trading experiences with the 10 major UK supermarket operators involved in the consumer-driven initiative – Aldi, Asda, the Co-operative Group, Iceland, Lidl, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose

A YouGov survey carried out on behalf of the GCA shows a drop in the number of suppliers reporting Groceries Code-related issues in their dealings with those 10 retailers during the last 12 months. The number fell to 70% in 2015, compared with 79% in 2014.

At the same time, a larger proportion of suppliers say they would now consider raising issues with the GCA – up nine percentage points to 47% – although concerns about retribution remain the dominant reason for holding back.

The survey results were released at the GCA’s second annual conference under the theme ‘Working Together, Making a Difference’ where adjudicator Christine Tacon hailed the findings as a sign of making a difference in a challenging year for suppliers and retailers.

“We still have some way to go in important areas but this is a clear sign we are on the right track,” she says. “Suppliers are more aware of the GCA and its work and fewer now believe the GCA will not be able to do anything if they bring an issue to me.”

Tacon describes the past year as one of milestones – including the launch of the GCA’s first investigation – and claimed her collaborative approach with retailers is making a difference.

Consumer complaints issue closing

During the conference, she announced that she is closing another of her top five issues after a full analysis of the way retailers handle and charge for consumer complaints. She also proposed a best practice model for future complaint handling by retailers.

“Many suppliers have told me about their concerns that they were being overcharged by retailers for handling consumer complaints about products supplied,” she says.

“I raised this issue with retailers and they have all had a good look at their processes and charges. I am aware that some have changed their approaches as a result, with one more change to be implemented in August this year.

“I found that the charges range from £0 to £45. In some retailers up to 97% of complaints are resolved in-store – which is a cheaper way of handling matters. Of those retailers applying charges, some only do so in a small proportion of cases but all retailers charge for serious failings such as product safety issues.

“I have also gone further and proposed a best practice model for future complaints handling by retailers and I am pleased to say the retailers have supported my proposal.”

GCA’s best practice model for future complaint handling by retailers is to:

  • Ensure that suppliers understand the basis of any consumer complaint charges applied;
  • Provide detailed complaint information to suppliers about what was wrong with the product within five days to allow the suppliers to take swift action; and
  • Aim to resolve more complaints in-store to keep costs down and charge a lower amount for this type of resolution than where head office or third party involvement is merited.

The Adjudicator has now declared the issue of consumer complaints closed, along with forensic auditing and discrepancies in charging for drop and drive performance.

But she reminds retailers: “If I receive further evidence on these issues it may lead to an investigation”.

Training still lacking

A disturbing issue highlighted by the survey was the low number of suppliers receiving training in the Groceries Supply Code of Practice – at just 29% overall, with only 9% of the smallest suppliers being trained.

“In my meetings with suppliers over the year it has become increasingly clear that there has to be major push to get them to do more about being trained in the Code. Far too many are still coming to hear me present to learn for the first time about a law that is there to protect them and has been in existence for over five years,” Tacon says.

“Retailer buyers are well-trained in the Code, so for a supplier to challenge a request or requirement as non-Code compliant, they need to know their rights. In this coming year I will be encouraging all the relevant trade associations to play a stronger leadership role in relation to the Code by offering training for their members.”

On September 29, 2015 Tacon will be hosting a workshop of suppliers to focus on packaging and design charges. Further details will be issued shortly. Packaging and design charges are one of the Adjudicator’s Top 5 issues and their place among suppliers’ main concerns was confirmed by respondents to the YouGov survey.

View the full results of the GCA’s annual survey results for 2015 here.

Download the presentations from GCA’s 2015 annual conference here.

Further useful materials

How to contact Grocery Code Compliance Officers
How to raise an issue with GCA
What constitutes evidence
How GCA deals with issues raised
Code clarification case studies
GCA annual report March 13 2014
YouGov follow up survey January 2015

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