Reports that “Tesco sales hit a 20 year-low” AREN’T true

I’m writing this having just watched the Wednesday (5 October) BBC Ten O’clock news, which twice had Hugh Edwards reading this headline…

Tesco’s worst UK sales performance for 20 years.”

Frankly I couldn’t believe it, 20 years ago Tesco was far smaller, but when I googled the story I found over 500 articles from broadcasters, newspapers, websites and more all reporting the news in a similar tone. For example:

Now, if true this’d be more than worrying, as if Tesco’s UK sales were less than they were 20 years ago, it would be a massive and cataclysmic decline in the UK’s supermarket mammoth – whose growth has exploded over the last few years.

So I read through some of the articles, but still most didn’t clarify this stat, until finally I found where it came from in the Sky piece

It is Tesco’s first like-for-like decline since 1991 at a time when consumers are cutting back to cope with high inflation and low wage growth.”

In other words it’s not sales which are the lowest for 20 years, but sales growth. Its sales are still massive and I would suspect still bigger than any year in history, with the exception of a year ago (ie. they’ve dropped slightly this year).

To put this into perspective, it’s a bit like saying a car that started at 20mph, accelerates to 80mph and then drops to 78mph is now “slower than when it began”, rather than the accurate “it’s the worst acceleration since it started”.

What surprised me here isn’t that this was a mis-phrased headline that could be read the wrong way by one paper – that happens, I’ve done it myself. Yet this was an across the board interpretation. My suspicion is a newswire used the phrasing and people picked it up and ran with it. But for me, it’s simply wrong.

Am I being too much of a pedant?

When you saw the news heading, did you think its sales were worse than 20 years ago? Or did you realise it was simply the sales growth that’d dropped?

I’m all in favour of plain English, and use headline speak myself sometimes. So was this something that everyone really would’ve understood what it meant, and thus I’ve been overly pedantic and totally off base? Or did you read it as something else…?

Do let me know your thoughts below.

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