Tesco and The Environment Agency's Websites
Tesco is Britain's largest food retailer. It employs over 240,000 people worldwide and last year made a net profit of over £1 billion. It has been "leading the trial experimentation of electronic shopping in its sector" (De Kare-Silver, 2000) and its website is one of the most regularly visited in the UK with over one million registered users. The site offers over 20,000 different products for sale, including groceries, CDs, DVDs, videos, books, electrical goods, clothes, flowers as well as personal finance. (Tesco, 2001).
"The information on our website forms an important part of our commitment to corporate social responsibility. It illustrates the steps Tesco takes to contribute to the communities we serve, whilst outlining some of the specific achievements we have made in reducing our environmental impacts during 2000/2001" (Terry Leahy, Chief Executive, Tesco PLC, 2001).
One major way in which Tesco and the Environment Agency are improving relations with their customers through their websites is by providing a substantial amount of information online. The Environment Agency provides information as part of its legal duties and through the Environment Information Regulations. The website is an additional medium for viewing this large document portfolio which includes its Environmental Vision, setting out its aims and objectives; Corporate Plans, outlining its three-year targets; Annual Reports and Accounts; Yearly Environmental Reports; Research & Development Results and Projects and also Statistics on such issues as bathing water quality and pollution incidences.
It also publishes the minutes of its meetings on its website. The general public are encouraged to actively participate in the agency's Open Board meetings, Statutory Committee meetings and Area Environment Group meetings, which were set up to "include community issues". To improve relations with the public in future, the agency could hold online meetings on its website, which could be accessed by many more people than at present. Referring back to its "Environmental Vision" which states that it needs the co-operation and input from as many people as possible to achieve its goals, it would seem logical to hold the open meetings in a forum that provided maximum accessibility.
Similarly, Tesco publishes a large amount of information on its website. The site outlines the company aims and objectives and states its responsibilities to customers, suppliers and investors. It also contains useful information on issues that are of concern to consumers such as organic farming and GM foods. The site acts as a useful public relations tool, incorporating a section entitled: "Tesco and farming questions and answers", where it defends and justifies what it perceives as misconceptions about the exploitation of farmers by supermarkets. It answers such questions as: "Are supermarkets making excessive profits at the expense of farmers?" and "Do supermarkets have too much power over suppliers and farmers?" It then goes on to cite the example of how Tesco is buying "some of the two million 'light' lambs produced by British farmers for the continental market" which farmers feared they wouldn't be able to sell due to an export ban. All this comes at a time when British agriculture is recoiling from the devastation caused during the BSE and foot-and-mouth crises. It states how "Tesco has stuck by British farmers throughout the foot-and-mouth crisis and this is another way we can hep the industry get back on its feet" (Tesco, 2001).
Both websites enrich the customer's browsing experience by providing additional features that are unique to their websites. Tesco's website contains a rather large collection of news release articles, which provide detailed information on the company's activities over the past few years, together with Notes to Editors.
The Environment Agency has an "easy-to-use" interactive feature called "What's in your backyard" where browsers can retrieve environmental information right down to local level. This includes floodplain maps that show areas at risk to flooding and maps of main rivers for each area covered by the organisations Statutory Flood Defence Committees. The section also includes a Pollution Inventory revealing the amount and type of pollution-released from large industrial sites. The Pollution Inventory, together with other information on issues such as bathing water quality is updated regularly, users being able to view data on a "week-by-week" basis.