Asda searches for crumbs of comfort as sales continue to fall

Official figures showed UK retail sales recovered in April, making the chain's struggles stand out all the more 

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The Independent Online

Clutching at straws. Or should that be stores? It speaks volumes about the problems Asda has had that a 2.8 per cent quarterly fall in sales at outlets open at least a year - the 11th decline in a row - has been hailed as “progress”.

It is if you compare it to the 7.5 per cent tumble reported in August last year, which is truly dreadful for a supermarket. 

But even if the ship has been somewhat steadied, Asda remains the struggler among the big four grocery chains, the one that has suffered most from the depredations inflicted by Aldi and Lidl. 

That shouldn't come as a big surprise. Let’s be honest here: the big supermarkets are all fairly similar. Convenience plays an important role in which one shoppers choose to go to. 

But outside of that, what has been the main reason for going to Asda? Why walk a little further to go there to do your weekly shop?

That would be price.

Morrisons has its fresh food, Sainsbury’s has its middle class cred and its “values”, Tesco, when it’s working, is sort of like Superman. It does everything quite well, and CEO David Lewis did himself no harm when he took on his old employer Unilever over the price of Marmite

The problem for Asda is that Aldi and Lidl have taken away its USP. 

The German duo have also managed to establish a reputation for stocking high quality product something Asda hasn't always enjoyed.

So to that "progress" its bosses speak of. It’s true that the pace of decline is slowing at Asda. Just not by much - the previous quarter was down 2.9 per cent.

It's targeted price cuts have, we are told, resulted in the beginnings of “improved customer traffic numbers” (spare me).

But if that is a step forward, it's a baby step at best. 

Sean Clarke, who joined last July from owner WalMart’s Chinese operations, needs to do better than that. 

Apparently Asda has set it’s sights on becoming Britain's biggest craft beer retailer. It has also done a deal to add to the “gin renaissance”. Oh, and management back Andy Reid, 51, from Fife who caries a pager with him at all times so he can dash out and save lives with HM Coastguard before returning to his job as, erm, a “produce colleague”. 

So, see, we’ve got values too! 

Seriously, good on Asda for facilitating that. But you’ll probably find similar stories at other supermarkets. 

Elsewhere on planet retail, official figures showed that high street sales revived in April as the sun came out. Despite prices rising faster than their incomes, the British remain terminal shop-a-holics, which only makes Asda’s struggles stand out all the more. 

“Sequential improvement,” says Wal-Mart, of its problem child. That's American corporate speak for “Christ, what can we really say about this?” Actually, that says it all.