It’s a strange thing to read about yourself. The Grocer magazine’s ‘Power 100’ list is just out and has "No. 1 Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com" ahead of the new boss of Tesco at No. 2. Yet, as I tweeted when I first officially heard…how come I still have to queue for 15 minutes at Morrisons?
When I first got a tip off about this on Friday, I was sceptical, thinking it frankly rather bizarre. Yet, having read the nomination this lessened somewhat. The ranking is far less about me and much more about the specific power of the users of MoneySavingExpert.com and the general power of consumers across the UK.
Here’s a short extract from The Grocer list, (to see it online you need to be a subscriber).
I still find it strange to be described as an ex-stand up comic – that’s slightly over-egging the pudding of a post-uni hobby.
"His following is biblical," said Tesco UK CEO Richard Brasher of the former stand-up comedian and his hugely popular moneysavingexpert website in March. And with five million subscribers to his free weekly emails, a weekly News of the World column, and regular appearances on ITV’s Daybreak, we believe Lewis currently tops even Tesco in terms of power.
In truth, this top spot finish is as much about the burgeoning power of the consumer as it is about the man himself. In the age of the internet, a shopper can now compare prices instantly, online, or even in-store via their mobile phones. But Lewis is the man at the front who waves the consumer flag, rallies the troops and shows them the way. In the process, his website (tagline: ‘Cutting your costs, fighting your corner’) has pioneered not only rival sites such as hotdealsuk.com; it has superseded Which?, Watchdog and the nationals as the consumer’s ultimate champion.
Lewis is happy to acknowledge he is very much part of a movement. To Brasher’s comments, Lewis responded modestly: "While the comment is attributed to me, it is of course about the site and the weekly email rather than me as an individual. I suppose if the boss of Tesco is sitting up and taking note, we’re certainly mainstream now."
This type of accolade for the power of consumers from a (or perhaps the) key trade publication of the retail industry is crucial. For years we’ve heard the phrase "the customer is always right", but it’s been a flaccid mantra rarely met, or at best met at a superficial customer service level rather than any deeper level.
Yet, with the growth of the internet the power of collective consumerism has blown the face off this. While there is still a long way to go, the soft end of consumer activism – finding the best deals, working together to try to find the best solutions and not be mis-sold to – has seen the agglomeration of information speedily redress the power balance between companies and consumers.
These days if companies get it wrong, it’s not just a case of them losing out on sales, but they may be swamped with hoards of complaints or people taking advantage of lax terms and conditions of promotional deals, in much the same way as the companies have taken advantage of consumers for years.
With consumers at number one in the power list, albeit with my boat race as a symbol, it’s a realisation that the game is changing and if they want to be successful, retailers need to understand that it’s consumers who can make or break them. As the editor of the magazine says in his editorial comment, "The consumer is no longer king. She is an empress."