Tesco Reported £250m Profit Error – A Warning to Wholesalers?

As you must know by now, Tesco had a disastrous week recently, reporting a £250m profit error and seeing its sales crashing to 11 year lows. How such a big retailer could have got into such a mess, and is this a time bomb waiting to explode for other retailers, and indeed wholesalers too?

To see how this loss came about, we need to understand where this profit adjustment came from.

In most retailers and wholesalers, the big manufacturers e.g. Kellogg’s, Coke, Gillette pay them to help fund promotions to shift their goods. In this way they may contribute to advertising campaigns, special displays, or when items are discounted e.g. from £1.99 to £1.49. Here the suppliers typically pay the difference.

Most of this is linked to performance, so the rebate may be paid for the number sold. e.g. a penny in the pound for every 100 items sold.

Tesco had to estimate how much rebate it would receive from suppliers by forecasting sales. If this was too high, then the rebates are more than collected and the profit is overstated.

This rebate system also is prevalent with the wholesalers, and so if this could happen in the largest supermarket, can it also happen within the largest wholesalers too?

The answer would depend on how they book these rebates in their accounts, and how good the Finance Director is at his job. Tesco was in an awkward position as it didn’t have a Finance Director since April, and so this is where the error has occurred as nobody was taking control of the situation. Now may be a good time for all existing wholesalers and supermarkets to review their accounting practices in regard to the rebates received from manufacturers.