* “I am not going to M&S,” says Asda CEO Andy Bond
* Asda launches drive to get customers more involved
* To put webcams in processing plants, head office
* Customer panels to help choose products
By Mark Potter
LONDON, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Asda boss Andy Bond ruled himself out of the running for the top job at Marks & Spencer (MKS.L) on Thursday, as he unveiled plans to get customers more involved in the Asda business and counter the loyalty schemes of rivals.
“I am not interested ... I am not going to M&S. End of story,” Bond told reporters after delivering a speech at the London Chamber of Commerce.
Marks & Spencer (M&S), which is Britain’s biggest clothing retailer and also sells food and homewares, has said it will appoint a new chief executive next year to succeed Stuart Rose, who will stay on as chairman until July 2011 at the latest.
Rose has come under fire from investors for combining the roles of chairman and chief executive, against corporate governance guidelines.
Problems at broadcaster ITV (ITV.L) in finding a successor to its executive chairman, Michael Grade, have sparked fears that M&S might run into similar difficulties. [ID:nLP493693]
Rose said on Wednesday that M&S had a clear succession plan and was confident of implementing it. [ID:nLT484259]
Bond was seen as a strong candidate, in part for his success at driving growth at Asda, Britain’s second-biggest grocer, and also his experience in running Asda’s George clothing business.
M&S has said it would prefer an internal candidate, with finance director Ian Dyson and food chief John Dixon the most likely contenders. But it has said it will also look externally.
Bond said involving shoppers and winning their trust was a more effective way of securing their loyalty than the reward programmes and voucher schemes offered by rivals.
Tesco (TSCO.L), Britain’s biggest retailer, and Sainsbury have both recently stepped up their investment in customer reward schemes. [ID:nLE403515] [ID:nLR89078]
“I firmly believe that customer loyalty cannot be bought with plastic points or discount vouchers; it has to be earned,” Bond said.
“Events over the past year mean that faith in big businesses is lower than it’s ever been, because people have stopped trusting what’s going on behind closed doors. So, from today, there is no ‘behind the scenes’ at Asda,” he said, announcing three new initiatives aimed at engaging customers.
The first, “Chosen By You”, will see an existing community of 18,000 regular Asda shoppers given access to products before they go into store. From January 2010, the panel will influence purchasing decisions, product development and packaging.
The second, “Your Asda”, will be centred around a new blog called “Aisle Spy” and will allow consumers to monitor its processing plants and head office on webcams.
The third, “Bright Ideas”, will see Asda offer 100,000 pounds ($159,400) to any shopper who comes up with an idea that saves the firm 2 million pounds.
Asda is owned by U.S. group Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N), the world’s biggest retailer.
Additional reporting by James Davey, Editing by Will Waterman and Elaine Hardcastle $1=.6273 Pound