Retail multinational learning: a case study of Tesco

Mark J. Palmer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issuepeer-review


Purpose - This article examines the internationalisation of Tesco and extracts the salient lessons learned from this process. Design/methodology/ approach - This research draws on a dataset of 62 in-depth interviews with key executives, sell- and buy-side analysts and corporate advisers at the leading investment banks in the City of London to detail the experiences of Tesco's European expansion. Findings - The case study of Tesco illuminates a number of different dimensions of the company's international experience. It offers some new insights into learning in international distribution environments such as the idea that learning is facilitated by uncertainty or "shocks" in the international retail marketplace; the size of the domestic market may inhibit change and so disable international learning; and learning is not necessarily facilitated by step-by-step incremental approaches to expansion. Research limitations/implications - The paper explores learning from a rather broad perspective, although it is hoped that these parameters can be used to raise a new set of more detailed priorities for future research on international retail learning. It is also recognised that the data gathered for this case study focus on Tesco's European operations. Practical implications - This paper raises a number of interesting issues such as whether the extremities of the business may be a more appropriate place for management to experiment and test new retail innovations, and the extent to which retailers take self-reflection seriously. Originality/value - The paper applies a new theoretical learning perspective to capture the variety of experiences during the internationalisation process, thus addressing a major gap in our understanding of the whole internationalisation process. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-48
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Journal of Retail and Distribution Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • international business
  • learning
  • multinational companies
  • retailers


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